Kings Park, Northampton
Who would have thought that a keen cyclist (with his good lady in tow!) could possibly enjoy a Young Bell Ringers Cycling Tour around churches in Northamptonshire with his local vicar, the vicar’s wife and 37 likeminded individuals? I did and nobody was more surprised than me. The enjoyment came from participating and getting involved with - what’s the Bell Ringing equivalent of Train Spotters? - a diverse number of people.
Firstly, I must sing the praises of Geoff and Ruth Stickland who have, over a period of 36 years, organized these annual trips throughout the country. It takes a lot of time and effort on their part to co-ordinate and find accommodation suitable for over 40 people. Then determine acceptable routes for each day as well as confirm with each church that their bell tower is suitable to be rung and that they have no objections to 40 ringers undertaking this exercise at pre-arranged times (but not all at once!).
As I initially mentioned I cycle regularly and belong to the Gloucester City Cycling Club but my wife is relatively new to the joys of peddling in the fresh air and viewing the countryside. However, neither of us can ring - except a Bicycle Bell - so it was with some apprehension that we approached Geoff to join his tour but to our surprise said, the more the merrier. I thought it was an ideal opportunity for my wife to cycle up to 10 miles, have a rest, tea and biscuits, and a natter then move on to the next tower for another few miles, culminating in distances of around 30 miles each day. Little did we know that he had applied conditions to our acceptance? I was nominated as Chief Mechanic and my wife as the Church Liaison Officer! We felt like ‘Outsiders’. I will explain.
Our fellow cyclists were a mixture of young and mature ringers - I think we were the real ‘ringers’. The majority were young and enthusiastic intellectuals, who have been friends for years, having rung with parents, married bell ringers and had kids who now ring bells - it’s a family thing - nepotism. Geoff and Ruth have watched this larger family of ringers expand and contract over the years but it was a delight to see young and not so young work together and enjoy the fruits of their labour. We were suitably impressed.
On the journey to Northampton I started to consider how the tower ringing was accomplished. How did that number of people ring the bells and keep to an exact itinerary? All became clear as the week progressed, one person is nominated to be in charge of a tower during the week, some more. Their aim is to arrive at that church first and organize the venue depending on the number of bells (a four, five, six or more tower) or ropes in use and allocate the first ringing group. Simple! As more ringers arrive so they take over from first group and so on. Then gradually they all cycle to the next tower.
We arrived at Kings Park in Northampton after an uneventful journey from home, parked, collected keys and looked at our room - smaller than the pictures had led us to believe but clean and tidy - adequate. We unpacked when Ann realized she had left all her makeup at home - disaster!!!!! How can one face the world on a bike without lippy! We waited in anticipation for our evening meal at 19:00 hours which I must say was very good and plentiful, as was every meal during the week - praise was heaped on the chefs before our departure. Introduced to the group we trotted off to bed at a reasonably early hour thinking of all that peddling the following day.
The stop at each church gave the ‘Liaison Officer’ the opportunity to mix with church officials and helpers to heap praise on their individual places of worship. It gave me the opportunity to take photographs of the churches and any particular features. I wish more of them featured toilets - all that tea demands regular stops for some of us but it is a facility most churches seek to establish for their parishioners. During the week we visited over 35 churches and the professionals rang that number of towers and more. We cycled over 120 miles. We ran into some torrential rain on a few days which dampened spirits, my wife got a puncture about 15 miles from base and the Chief Mechanic left all his repair outfit and spare tube behind! It was good to stretch my legs and get the car to collect her - she was propositioned a few times but at least the sun shone! However, to cap a wait of over an hour she also lost her sunglasses!! Another low was arriving for lunch in Long Buckby to find both pubs didn’t serve food on a Monday - that was a disaster - nevertheless, the local sandwich bar’s trade was boosted by a considerable number of cyclists. Ann was really enjoying the experience when on one occasion the vicar stopped suddenly only to find Ann trying to ride tandem on his bike - unfortunately an old injury flared up but it did not stop her continuing with the ride. There were many highs including the delight of locals listening to bells rang with such fervour and a comment of a parishioner near to the Earl Spenser estate that it was the best ringing he had heard in 50 years. For me it was a delight to see traditional Northamptonshire villages and the English countryside at its best.
We were both trying to use this as part of our healthy lifestyle but the food at Kings Hall was so good we both put on weight - despite the mileage!!