Annual Bell Ringers' Outing

To The Chilterns on Saturday 7 October

Outside the church a little after 8am, forty-nine of us boarded the coach and set off towards Oxfordshire. There was conversation about the curious route – should’ve turned there, I wouldn’t go this way - but Gabor was driving so why worry. We arrived safely and only a little late at St Helen’s in Benson to ring bells and enjoy coffee in the hall. The church is older than it looks, of 12th/13th century origin but render disguises it. The bells date from the 18th century but were rehung on a new frame only eight years ago – rounds, changes and Grandsire Triples, smooth!

Organisation of the ringers’ outing starts many months before - planning a route, booking the bus, finding bell towers that will be new to the ringers and are part of churches with features of interest to the supporters who join the outing for its bucolic attractions. Then arranging with the local ringers for access at set times to the towers, confirming availability of essential facilities, coffee & buns, places to enjoy lunch etc. A rehearsal outing is essential to work out time and distance, to find the finest features of each church, to explore the local attractions and then there is the ‘ringer’s tea’ – more later. Chris Lomax has done this for some years, has become the expert organiser and with the support of Anita has been our guide, the captain of our expeditions. This year misfortune struck, he was unwell on the day and unable to lead us so his deputy stood in.

From Benson to Dorchester is but a few miles, we arrived a little early! Dorchester Abbey, even older, is large in a small town and strangely vacant with two thirds of its interior unfurnished but for display boards and a dais. It has beautiful light and at its eastern heart an altar finely clothed, a remarkable Jesse window and a magnificent east window above the altar. At its western end a capacious tower holds eight bells that are a delight to ring. Of the eight, five are as old as our own church – they wear well.

Dorchester Abbey

So to lunch at the White Hart, one of several good restaurants in the town centre. 

Back on the bus to East Ilsley, another old church with Norman origins, links to Knights Templar and one of its bells cast in 1399. Post prandial exercise for all was provided by the climb from the village up the hill to the church. We ringers were then able to ring from the ground floor and the bells were light and friendly. The church was decorated colourfully for Harvest and an old doodle carving of the devil eating a man’s soul was worth looking for.

 

The route to South Stoke was again tortuous, and complicated by the location of the village to the west of the main line railway whereas the road lay to the east. The bridge was low, our coach could not pass. After a walk in evening sunlight to the church and then via the bier path to the hall we arrived a little but not too late for tea. Delicious. South Stoke WI did us proud. Cream cheese and ginger sandwiches – who knew? And so many home-made cakes. In the church we then rang the six bells up and round and down. A particular knack is required to control the ropes as they rise through the low ceiling but the sound was fine. Our party’s welcome in South Stoke was memorable even beyond the tea and the bells - a guided tour of the church laid on, an escorted walk to the nearby river Thames with commentary on the local history, even an offer of a longer walk to a celebrated river bridge by I K Brunel. This last is one that the ramblers will no doubt take up at a later date.

We returned to Pinner only a little after the scheduled time. The rain held off until the coach journey home and Chris and Anita’s hard work in the preparation paid off. We ringers and supporters all are grateful to them.

Michael Hetreed

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