In true UL fashion, I am sitting here writing the story of a Summer Tour months after I have forgotten everything that happened and yet again wondering why I didn’t write this up 6 months ago while it was still fresh in my mind. Anyway, I’ll try and piece together what I can from a few hastily made notes written in a pub in Belfast over the Summer and with luck, you will find this report will be just like a pint of Guinness. After all, good things come to those who wait, don’t they…
Saturday, 5th September
The 2009 Summer Tour saw the UL head abroad again. Having nearly grabbed every tower in Scotland 2 years ago, the UL attempted to finally grab an entire country and headed across the Irish Sea to invade Northern Ireland.
We all arrived at Arnie’s Backpackers hostel in Belfast to be greeted with a roaring fire and cups of tea. Having decided that although cups of tea and fire are nice, when it was T-Shirt weather outside and Clara had organised a 9-pub crawl, it wasn’t long before a party began an ‘investigation’ into the city’s drinking establishments.
The UL’s first stop was, somewhat predictably the local Wetherspoons to be very pleasantly surprised that ‘Headless Dog’ beer was being sold for £1.39 a pint! As the latecomers joined us, more pints were consumed in more pubs some of which included live Irish music (thankfully of the folk kind rather than Westlife). The first evening finished off with a very good Chinese and chocolate fudge cake before a ‘last one’ in the Spoons. Unfortunately, it might have been one too many for me as I got confused between an open door and the glass wall to the side of it ending up with a large bump on my forehead to much general amusement!
Sunday, 6th September
The following morning was a 7am start as our first tower was 10:30am in Dublin. Astonishingly, we all managed to get into the bus to drive South to the Republic. Oddly enough, the traffic was rather quiet at 7 on a Sunday morning and we arrived at 9, just 1.5 hours early! So, with time to kill in a city where even the public parks weren’t open yet, some investigated the Cathedral bookshop, others the local Spar and Jacqui disappeared on the first of what would become a regular adventure in search of a public toilet (that girl has problems!). Eventually it was time for ringing and we joined the local band at St Patrick’s Cathedral for service ringing. After the ringing there we headed off to the next tower, SS Augustine and John, a beautiful Roman Catholic church that unfortunately was never built to house bells. This meant that the vertical ladder, followed by an open spiral staircase with a beautiful view straight down to the nave miles beneath us saw 3 people defeated, leaving us with just enough to ring all 10 bells. I wish I could say that it was worth the effort when you got there, but a rough, anti-clockwise 10 were made even worse after a certain Poodle managed to break the rope on the 3rd during the second touch!
After taking our lives in our hands for the second time on the descent (which was actually even scarier than going up!) we decided to do what the UL does best and went to the pub. It was here that we discovered that whilst Belfast was ludicrously cheap on the alcohol front, Dublin wasn’t. However despite the Euro exchange rate, we were well entertained by the Irish sport of Hurling, essentially an aerial game of hockey played at head height and just as violent – surely a sport worth considering for the next UL picnic!
After lunch we headed off to Christ Church, a 45cwt ring of 16 with twice the number of bells we are ordinarily used to. After a long dither in the pouring rain outside the tower, we eventually decided that a local beer shop up the road would be the most sensible thing to visit. Guinness is the largest brewery in the world and has been brewing stout since 1759. The tour included the world’s largest pint glass as well as opportunities to pull your own pint of Guinness and various tastings of the beer culminating in a pint in the 360 degrees bar with panoramic views over the city. The beer was not to everybody’s taste, with Quentin explaining that he was “not a stout man”. A sentiment that was not necessarily agreed on by all present!
Following the tour, we headed back into the City Centre to the hostel in the centre of Temple Bar (the city’s main pub district) that we were staying in. The evening started with a meal of traditional Irish Boxty (a sort of meat stew) and after a few beers (including Charles’s round of 4 drinks coming to €28!) we ended up larging it in the city enjoying the Craic including finding a traditional “singalong” pub drinking with the locals until the small hours.
Monday, 7th September
The President and First Lady of the UL headed off to bed at a relatively sensible hour that evening to be woken by Mssrs Trimm, Bradford and Spalding who decided to give el Pres a mascara makeover at 2am while he was asleep. Rumour has it that the makeover was not 100% appreciated by the President…
The following morning saw the UL in their bizarre waking up rituals. Jacqui sanded her legs whilst Andy jumped out of his bunk wearing very little and giving Jacqui the fright of her life! Breakfast for those that were not having a lie in was followed by an exploration of Dublin including such cultural delights as the “Tart with the Cart”, the “Hags with the Bags” and a play area with a fantastic whispering toy working on the same principal that St Paul’s Cathedral’s dome works (well it entertained a physicist for a long enough period of time!). Unfortunately there were some accidents to report, Sean got himself done by the litter police and Clara managed to bruise her coccyx on a fireman’s pole in the playground. By early afternoon the UL met up again at the minibus to head off to Taney and Drogheda the latter of which saw us meet up with Garry who was joining us so he could complete his Ireland grabbing. Following the ringing we headed back to Belfast to enjoy vast quantities of takeaway pizza washed down with even larger amounts of Port. I cannot remember exactly how the evening ended, but it is a pretty safe bet to assume that some traditional UL singing took place.
Tuesday, 8th September
The morning began with that traditional cold-pizza-from-the-night-before breakfast and then ringing down the road at St Thomas’s, Belfast. It was then followed by a mission across Northern Ireland to get to Londonderry on the Western border with the Republic of Ireland. The town was very badly affected during the Troubles and still has a number of murals supporting one or other side. Londonderry (or Derry if you don’t like the idea of the town being named after an English city), was very much on the front line during the Troubles and is still heavily segregated between the Protestants and Catholics. We decided for safety to park the minibus in what appeared to be a fiercely (and when I say fiercely, I mean bars up at all the windows to stop things being thrown at them fiercely) Protestant neighbourhood next to some “United Kingdom Forever” graffiti.
Following some lunch in the local Wetherspoons where we met up with Katie’s parents who were doing a completely separate ringing outing to Northern Ireland that week, we went for a walk around the city walls before ringing at the 32cwt 10.
After returning to our (still intact) minibus, we drove back to the other side of the country (Ireland, like Scotland is not blessed with the same density of towers that England is) for a ring at Carrickfergus. By the time we arrived there was about 5 minutes for a quick half (yes, a half on a UL tour!) in the local Wetherspoons before ringing. Carrickfergus have an unusual tower being that it doubles up as the gatehouse for the church as the bells were too large for the tower. Following the ringing, we returned to Belfast and enjoyed a meal in a lovely Thai restaurant near the hostel. As Clare was not quite feeling her usual perky self, she ordered the Pineapple Rice as it seemed quite a small, light meal only to later be rather alarmed when it came out served piled high in half a pineapple!
The evening continued with a visit to a National Trust property – the Crown Liquor Saloon. This pub dates from 1885 and includes a number of cosy booths where most of the UL could fit and be safely contained. I for one, was rather disappointed however that my National Trust Card did not appear to entitle me to a free pint!
Wednesday, 9th September
The following morning saw us heading off to what must have been one of the most expensive towers ever rung at on a UL tour costing us £40 for the privilege so it was imperative that we should not be late. Unfortunately however, Quentin insisted on using his Sat Nav to direct the minibus with the inevitable consequences of Trimbo explaining in no uncertain terms that he could not turn the wrong way up a one-way street even if the Sat Nav said we should! We weren’t too late and enjoyed a good ring at the new light ring of 12.
With Quentin now relegated to the back of the bus and banned from using his Sat Nav, we proceeded without problems to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. This is a rope bridge that is put up every year by the local fishermen to give access to an island just of the Irish mainland that happens to sit slap bang in the middle of prime fishing grounds. The bridge was not remotely scary after ringing at the anti-clockwise 10 in Dublin and so I seem to remember some UL members trying to find out how much it could be made to swing and bounce around! Following some ice creams and cream teas, we moved on to the Giant’s Causeway.
In my opinion, the Causeway is far more impressive than it ever looks in the photos, especially as when we were there the tide was coming in and breaking over the end. On one particularly dare devil stunt, the immediate past master ended up getting himself stuck on the very end of the causeway on what became a little rocky island completely surrounded by the incoming tide. A lot of photos were taken for posterity which seemed a far better idea than anyone risking getting their feet wet helping him – such is the caring side of the UL!
We moved on to ring at Coleraine and then bought up some vital supplies as Nick and Jess were on mass catering duties that night. The return journey was eventful as an alarm, sounding very much like a police car, went off inside the minibus. After a lot of getting out of the bus and looking at it, the general consensus was that the back step was not quite aligned as we had started off with and possibly the minibus didn’t take too kindly in being driven like a rally car! Fortunately a well aimed kick shut the alarm up and we limped gently back to Belfast. The meal that night was excellent with Nick and Jess cooking a Chicken Curry on what looked like an industrial scale. Well, when I say Nick and Jess, Jess actually did the cooking whilst Nick was relegated to chopping the onion (which, incidentally made him cry… a lot)! The evening continued with card games such as Shithead and Cheat where the huge variations in rules between different schools meant that players could generally make up the rules as they went along and then claim they were playing by the “(Insert Name of School Here) Rulebook”. Following this failure, we decided to drink more and then play the Guessing Game that saw so much silliness on the Canal Tour last year. There were huge variance in abilities ranging from the virtually telepathic who could guess correctly before the mime had even started, to the hopeless who appeared unable to successfully describe the word “Titwank”!
Thursday, 10th September
Breakfast involved crumpets or toast for all except Quentin who needed something nearer to Gutbuster proportions and managed to find himself a 12″ Breakfast Sub instead. Yet, this might have been needed as the first tower of the day was Newcastle. Olly was disappointed that Newcastle wasn’t quite as he remembered the Newcastle he grew up in although the bells were certainly memorable. We were met by a churchwarden who knew nothing about ringing and the first band proceeded to raise the bells in what must be one of the smallest ringing chambers in the world. As they went to stand it was realised that there were no stays on any of the bells! Fortunately only 2 bells went over and as we didn’t have access to the bell chamber to sort them out, we used the next best thing – a large weight to counterbalance them back over the balance. I knew we brought Garry along for some reason!
Following ringing at the next tower, Rostrevor, we found a local butcher who provided a fantastic lunch enjoyed by all, especially Andy with fantastic views from a picnic area halfway up the local mountain. All too soon it was time to head off back towards Belfast (with a quick stop to kick the back step again) and what is probably one of Northern Ireland’s best tourist attractions. In fact, the Giant’s Ring is so famous and special that Mini D came all the way from Kazakhstan just to meet up with us to see it. The tour itinerary described it as a “Stonehenge/Avebury type structure” which it is (assuming you’ve forgotten that both Avebury and Stonehenge have a circle of standing stones!). Actually, there was a circular bank that surrounded a Neolithic burial chamber that we showed due reverence to by seeing how many people we could fit inside it and having a group photo taken on top of it. There was more ringing at Ballylesson before we headed back to the hostel.
The evening saw us hitting the town with a Chinese and then multiple beers at various drinking establishments. The evening goes hazy, but I believe Mary had 3 glasses of Bailey’s in quick succession and then decided to hit the gin…
Friday, 11th September
Today was due to be Loud Shirt Day. Unfortunately this ended up being cancelled as most people were not ready for fluorescent colours after the previous night and secondly because Hugh had a very, very bright orange shirt which was deemed not the best colour to walk around Enniskillen in when a republican bomb had been defused on the border nearby the previous day!
Ringing began at Hillsborough after an emergency stop for water for those feeling a little dehydrated and Jacqui to have yet another of her many toilet stops! The UL have probably rung better on a 18.75 cwt 10, but then I’m sure we’ve rung worse as well! Ringing continued at Lurgan where we provided the bells for a wedding (the lucky souls!).
The tour had been so well organised that there had been relatively little chance for dithering, but fortunately lunchtime gave us the dither we had been saving up all week for! Should we stay where we are and eat in Lurgan, move on to Enniskillen and eat there or wing it and find somewhere between the 2? Eventually a decision was made to wing it and even later a small town in the middle of nowhere provided a pub and a greasy spoon to suffice most UL appetites. The bus journey to Enniskillen included the dreaded “Random i-Pod Game”. Here any brave participants passed their i-Pod to the UL’s very own DJ Dyer who would set it to play any song at random from the listing! Attempts were made by some to hurriedly “lose” some more embarrassing songs from playlists, not all of them successful!
Finally, we arrived at Enniskillen to enjoy a lovely ring on the 10 followed by a huge “ringers’ tea” with tea and cakes laid on by the local ringers, surely a tower to go back to. Feeling rather “tea’d out” we headed back to Belfast in fine voice to such favourites as The Quartermaster’s Store, Quentin’s Sock and something to the tune of Londonderry Air. Mike and Andy evidentially started to get fed up with the 99th rendition of the Jacqui Bale Song and thus decided to see whether the radio could compete – (un)fortunately it could and singing had to be put off for a while.
Back at the hostel, it was time for Hugh’s legendary “Huge Stew” with Hellen helping ably in the role of sous-chef. While the stew was, well stewing, Clare found an incredibly out of tune piano in the front room and the singing (oddly almost perfectly in tune with said piano) restarted with a vengeance that managed to ensure that Sean didn’t manage an afternoon nap! The evening ended with another trip out to the local Wetherspoons where there were even more drinks and a night playing with a new kind of triv machine that could double up as a table.
Saturday, 12th September
Ringing began just up the road at St Dunelda and then we headed off to Greyabbey dropping Hellen back off at the airport on the way for her flight home. Greyabbey was a new and tiny little 6. Following a very long dither to buy some lunch in the village, we headed off to the beach and had a picnic looking out over the Irish Sea. Some headed off to have a paddle and somewhat predictably, came back very wet and cold!
The pub beckoned and we had a quick stop in a very windy Bangor to rehydrate. It was here that a bit of i-Phone stealing found that a certain UL member (whose name has had to be censored from this report) had a new app on their phone. “Masturbator Pro” was an app that allowed the phone’s vibrator mode to be adjusted for frequency as well as the period it went on for! The mind boggles, but the phone’s owner did deny any knowledge of it. This was believed by nobody.
Ringing at Bangor was followed by Holywood where half courses of Belfast were scored (sort of) and then we headed back to the hostel to get changed and head out for food. The end of tour meal (having been dithered about on and off since the first day) ended up being the at the Chinese and Chocolate Fudge Cake restaurant near the Crown Liquor Saloon. Here, Clara was given her well deserved presents for organising the tour and the evening was rounded off with a few more beers.
Sunday, 13th September
The last day of the tour dawned and we headed out to ring for Sunday service with the locals. We began at St Dunelda again and rang our last tower of the tour, and for everybody that hadn’t had to get a flight earlier, the last ringable tower left in Northern Ireland, St Donard. We signed our names and included a footnote to note the achievement (for almost everybody there, the first country they had been able to completely tick off in Dove) and then headed back into a virtually completely closed Belfast to find a greasy spoon before heading home with the front pages of the newspapers showing Clara’s flat with postmen (who had been on strike all week) sorting out the post in the road!
Thank you to Clara for organising an excellent tour.
By Peter Jasper