As my train rolled over the Runcorn bridge I admired the scenery in front of me, reaching out over to Frodsham and the surrounding hills, and I realised just how hilly it actually is. It was at that point that I realised just how different this years Young Bell Ringers Cycle Tour had been to the past couple, when the relative flat of Norfolk and Huntingdonshire had been our playgrounds.
Two weeks earlier I pulled up to outside Frodsham church and looked around for people I knew. There were a lot of cars parked up, most with bikes either in pieces in the boot or mounted on the roof racks, so I was confident that I had the right place, but I didn?t see any ringers anywhere. Having wondered around the churchyard for a few more minutes I finally found the friendly face of MJ and we started looking where we thought it was most likely to find the others?the local pubs. A phone call finally told us the right one and we joined them for a pre-tour pint (or two!) before heading back to the church for a ring. At least the week started the way it meant to go on!
The Foxhill Centre in the hills above Frodsham was to play host for the week and we all assembled there on the Sunday evening, having been to yet another local pub on the way. Many of us were bemused by Steve?s assurance that there was pub in the next village that was really good, especially when he revealed that this opinion was based solely on a satellite picture from google earth. However, on inspection it did prove to be very good. Perhaps we should all try this way of assessing such establishments?
On Monday morning the tour began and despite the predictions of yet more rain, bearing in mind at this point a large proportion of the country was still under several metres of water, the sun came out. We assembled our bikes and prepared for the day and it was then that we realised a major problem with the siting of our accommodation, it was on a hill. At first this might seem like a bonus, starting the day downhill, but it was not. As we turned out of the drive we then had to climb up for nearly a mile at a gradient Edmund Hilary would be at home on. We were glad to finally get to the first tower at Tarvin where the ringing kicked off properly. Monday?s route was relatively short by cycle tour standards, heading down into Chester for lunch, whilst enjoying the eight at Eccleston as well. Many took advantage of a Subway in Chester before basking in the sun before the ringing. A couple of the tour, however, having rung at Eccleston decided to take advantage of a Chester pub that offered no less than 15 ales. The gauntlet was down but neither of them managed to try all of them. This did not improve the Stedman Triples at Old St. Mary in Chester and I was amazed that the nameless person, who was clearly quite merry, managed to get up and down the intimidating ladders there! Having foregone the last tower these two decided to head back to the pub and it was during dinner back at the digs that they finally turned up. One of our intrepid heroes was battle scarred and blooded and it was revealed that he had had trouble staying on his bike, as one point even riding into a wall! Wally of the week nominations had started!
Some of us decided to take the route home on the canal path and enjoyed some lovely scenery, before descending on Foxhill for the first proper night. Delightfully the beer, provided as always by Phil Butler (with help from Ben Willetts), had already been set up and by the time we sat down for dinner we had enjoyed a few pints. This year it came from Northern Brewery and over the week we managed to drink a firkin each of Northern 45, Blakemere Navajo and Blakemere Wheatear. Ben Willetts had also acquired a firkin of Butcombe Beer from a wedding in Bristol, which we were all very grateful for. The food was also excellent this year as well, which made up for a couple of previous years where this had been questionable.
Following dinner we joined the locals at Dunham Massey for practice night, where a course of London No.3 Surprise Royal was rung by a tour band, before heading back for an evening of relative silliness at the centre (as usual). This did involve, amongst other things, a card pyramid (only built expertly by Dave with tables instead of cards) and some unorthodox hymn singing that involved the tune of one hymn with the words of another. This descended into anarchy when the innuendo filled words of one hymn got the better of the assembled crew.
Tuesday saw the tour head north and into immediate difficulty. The aim of the day was to head in the Liverpool direction, but this involved negotiating Runcorn on the way and it was at this point that the tour descended into something out of the wacky races. Cyclists were reaching junctions to see other cyclists coming from completely different directions and heading off in completely the wrong direction again. Others ended up on the wrong side of town. When the Runcorn Bridge, which needed to be crossed, was finally reached the problems only continued. Anyone who has been across the bridge will know that it is busy at the best of times and to make matters worse the side path was closed for work. Some brave souls attacked it head on, joining the mass of traffic in a daring manoeuvre into the middle lane. Phil and Ruth decided to wait for the bus, which was helpfully provided to ferry people who would usually use the path across to the other side. The only problem was that it wasn?t big enough for a bike to fit! Steve decided that the path couldn?t be completely blocked and proceeded to leave tyre marks through 100 yards of wet cement and annoy the local builders!
Finally they arrived at Hale to enjoy the steel bells. The locals had nicely provided tea and biscuits which were all well received. Then it was a peloton past John Lennon airport and into the big city for the start of the adventure. Having rung at Garston, a tower much more easily found on a bike than with a car (as the sag wagon found), the intrepid cyclists headed north towards Much Woolton. Unfortunately some vintage map reading meant that the first time they realised they were lost was when the twin Cathedrals of Liverpool were looming not far away. It was even more unfortunate that half the tour had decided to be part of this group. A revaluation of the situation and some aching legs got them back to the tower in time before heading off to a well reputed pub in Childwall, where some of the tour sat at a table next to six members of the cast of Hollyoaks! Star struck? Not a bit of it.
With Tuesday continuing to defy the odds and stay hot many of the tourists were getting tired, but only our intrepid leader decided to miss the last tower, complaining of too many added towers, despite the fact that this one was one of his! Perhaps it was the thought of going back over the Runcorn Bridge that he wasn?t looking forward to!
The general opinion was that the tour was harder this year than the previous few, which was welcomed by some but not others. Whilst he maintained it must be a cycle tour, on Wednesday Geoff allowed people the option to drive to the first tower, Tarporley, which was some distance away, but most valiantly decided to cycle. Unfortunately a service at the church curtailed the ringing but Geoff assured us the night before that ringing afterwards may be an option if some were late. The problem was that a number of the tour underestimated the distance and missed first ringing, only to be informed when they got there that second ringing was not possible. Oh well, the bells were quite nice anyway! Steve had been suffering with bike problems from the word go on the tour, and he joined the sag wagon at this tower yet again. His brand new bike seemed to have immense difficulty in keeping its pedal on the bike, which is obviously a bit of a draw back.
It was at Davenham during lunch that the eventual wally of the week earned his prize (little did he know it at this point) when he went into a local deli and proceeded to ask what the bells were like at the church. He received some odd looks and when two more of our party went into the deli later they were given a full rendition of this fellows enquiries. They of course knew immediately whom it was that they were talking about. He also acquitted himself on the bells very well when plain hunting the treble and trying to call a touch of Grandsire Doubles, whilst the rest of the band proceeded to move around him but stayed in the same place. Whilst the rounds at every lead end caused him a little confusion, the rest of the room struggled not to laugh!
In the evening we joined the locals at Rostherne for ringing and they seemed delighted to see so many young ringers. We allowed them to ring a number of things they wouldn?t usually be able to and we were glad to help.
On Thursday it was North West in the Warrington direction that we headed with Peter Triplow stirring people up on the prospects of getting bells in the magnificent spire at said town. What a great idea!
As with previous tours, this day was the resting day with only 5 towers. We had some good ringing yet again, enjoying the heavy 8 at Lymm after lunch. Some of us also enjoyed a rather good burger van as well!
In the evening we visited Culcheth, a loud eight right next to a pub. Whilst the band were attempting to ring Reverse Stedman, a couple of us outside observed a woman thundering up the path, intent on entering the ringing chamber. Like real heroes we completely ignored her and pretended we were nothing to do with the ringing, but the local intercepted her at the last moment. In the end it turned our she was interested in learning to ring?crisis averted!
With thoughts on party night fast approaching, Friday was the day to head west. For the fifth day in a row the sun came out. We could hardly believe our luck. Even the huge refinery on the banks of the Mersey seemed to hold a rustic charm. Some of the bells proved tricky on Friday, or perhaps we were just tired. But even so we still rang well with Surprise Major being rung. We even branched out to Devon style call changes once or twice, some of the best ringing of the week! Phil the Pint proved his name apt after the first tower, opting to head back to Chester and try the rest of the 15 ales rather than ring at any more towers. He achieved his goal and made it back in time for the evening, being loudly disturbed whilst trying to relax and read Harry Potter! Dave, Pete, Steve and myself tried to get a knock knock at Elton but unfortunately were found wanting.
Friday night was party night, as always, and the fun kicked off at dinner with the nominations for wally of the week. It was commented that perhaps the tour is not as juvenile as past years and that the wallys today simply didn?t live up to the days of Geoff being flattened by doors! Efforts must be raised!
Although Steve and Ben had worthy claims to the coveted shirt it was Alex who won the day, with not just one but six separate nominations for the shirt!
After this games night got going with the box game first off. It was delightful that some of the older (only in body) members took part as well with five people managing to get to the point where they had to pick up a flat piece of card off the floor, only using their mouth and without touching the floor with any part of the body except your feet! It hurts after a while, I can tell you!
Many other games followed and the alcohol flowed freely. We even decided to see how many people we could fit in the lift. I forget how many but I know I was at the bottom!
Having finished the beer by about 9:30pm it was onto the wine or whiskey. One or two of the tour may have got slightly drunk. Mentioning no names, but one particular usually tea totaler did have more than his fair share and got extremely smiley. At one point he declared his love for Ben and asked him to marry him! It was greeted with much laughter and only he couldn?t understand why everyone was laughing. He was eventually helped to his room, insisting that he did not need to be held up to walk! We didn?t take the chance.
As usual the tour was great fun. In recent years the average age seems to have crept up, but the atmosphere remains fantastically merry. We are keen to get more young ringers on the tour though and everyone is always made welcome. The standard of the ringing was high yet again, the range varying from rounds and call changes all the way up to eight spliced and London Royal. But the tour is as much about the company as the ringing at it remains a firm fixture in all our diaries. If you want to know more then visit the website (www.ybrct.org.uk ). Next year is the thirty fifth cycle tour and we are returning to flatter country and going to Bawtry
If you want to book a place or would like to know more about the tour contact Rev?d. Geoff Stickland. All contact details are on the website. See you next year!
PWJS, September 2007