On Friday 22nd August, the UL set off to embark on their grand tour of Wales. Some people were travelling by minibus all the way, whilst several of us had the luxury of car travel! Chris, our driver, Becca and I set off from Tulse Hill at some time in the morning and had a long (nearly non-stop) journey to Aberystwyth. At some point we managed to catch up with the mini bus on the way and then we got distracted and lost our way and found a Maccy D’s for a bit of food.
After arriving at the halls in Aberystwyth, there was barely time to settle down as we quickly had to scoot down the hill to Llanbadarn Fawr which was the tower where David learnt to ring and where Rhiannon was Tower Captain. The bells are a slightly tricky ten because they are a bit odd-struck, nevertheless we managed to grasp hold of them and ring several touches before retiring to the pub at the station where we awaited the stragglers who were coming up late from London.
Saturday was an early start for those who did not appreciate what the start time was the night before. We wound our way through the Welsh roads to our first tower of the day, Dolgellau, a pleasant eight where Tom W ran the ringing. We rang a good variety of methods on both 7 and 8 bells and several people tried to show off their tenor-grabbing skills. Next up was Barmouth, a seaside town where the church was built into a cliffe. Katie Lane ran the ringing here where the ringing room was massive but not well lit. I think we found the bells a little tricky and slightly tiring (most of us left the tower before we were due to finish – leaving only just enough to ring down at the end!)
Lunch was a Ty Mawr in Llanbedr and it was amazing to see that the UL had formed an orderly queue for the bar. Some people made friends with a real dog (nope, not the Poodle) which caused a bit of a problem when we wanted to leave and it started following us!
The final tower of the day was Porthmadog, a pleasant but quiet ring of 8 where Asher was in charge. Half way through the first touch we discovered lots of feathers coming through the ceiling of the ringing room and landing on us – a bit disconcerting for some!
After a bit of a dither it was onward to the most exciting bit of the day… Bounce Below! An amazing series of three bouncing nets installed in a mine. We all had to wear helmets and overalls and a couple of our party could only fit into the child sizes! We were sent down in two groups on an old mining train. After arriving we were briefly explained some basic rules and then it was down to business. Some of us had more bouncing time than others due to how easy it was to lose your balance!
For the evening, we headed back to the halls where we were cooked for by Kate, Chris and Luke – Jacket potatoes were on the menu. A streaming of the new Dr Who episode was also shown but for some of us (me) it was proving too hard to stay awake!
On the Sunday we had the option to get up early and go service ringing at Llanbadarn Fawr or get up late and have a leisurely breakfast. I’m not sure how many people were up for service ringing, but there was definitely a good breakfast contingent. At lunchtime, ten of us scored a quarter peal of Cambridge Royal, called by Tim H at Llanbadarn before heading back into Aberystwyth for shopping, food and merriment. Later in the afternoon we had a beach barbecue, mini pub-crawl and then formed a few teams to go to a pub quiz.
We rang at two light eight bell towers on Monday morning – Llanidloes, which are a ground floor tower and slightly challenging where Kate W led the ringing. Lots of Surprise Major was rung and Berriew, where Tom Sibley was in charge, we had our first attempt at firing out 8-spliced!
Lunch was at The Talbot in Berriew. We were snugly fitted into the dining area of the pub and had some good food and beer.
Onward we went to Welshpool where Peter looked after the ringing. The bells are a slightly heavier ring of 8 compared to the morning towers and there was a box for the 12 cwt tenor! We thought this was going to be a lock out as no one showed to let us in for ages, but at last some turned up and we eventually got in and rang some good touches of Stedman and Bristol.
It was then time to say goodbye to Katie, Ed, Joe and Asher who were all off home. Next, we had a 30 minute drive down the road to Llandinam. These bells were a clunky ring of six. For the first fifteen minutes, the people in the cars were the only people there, which left us with just enough people to ring a couple of extents of doubles and some Surprise Minor. Eventually, Emma arrived with the rest of the minibus contingent and took over running the tower – whilst several of us left due to excessive clunking on the bells… We discovered that they actually sounded better outside.
Following this, we had an hour long journey through some lovely (wet, dark) welsh hills to the halls for our final night in Aberystwyth, including an excellent curry at the Station, followed by a pub crawl which turned into a night sitting in an amazing cocktail bar and then returning to the halls.
On Tuesday morning we were packing up, cleaning out and checking that we hadn’t left anything in the halls with some slightly sore heads due to overindulgence. The minibus was absolutely rammed full with everyone’s stuff. Bags had to be loaded and unloaded to let people off out at the towers. I took the sensible option and offered to be the DJ which meant far more leg room and riding up front.
After leaving Aberystwyth behind, 80 minutes later we reached Builth Wells, a pleasant ring of 6 where Lucy was in charge and we again explored our Doubles and Minor repertoire, I think we even rang my favourite method – Norwich!
A quick hop, skip and jump later we ended up in Brecon, at the Cathedral Church of St John the Evangelist. Before ringing here we had negotiate the long and complex walk to the ringing chamber – but it was ok, as long as you followed the rope lights. After a brief tour of the tower we eventually reached the enormous ringing room and began to ring on the easy ring of bells which were in the corner of the tower – they should have gone for a ring of 24 instead of 10! Several people were keen to look back in the visitors’ book to spot their names from previous visits. Rupert led the ringing here and we were able to ring a few nice half courses of Surprise Royal as well as Stedman, Grandsire and Plain Hunt.
Rupert, Becca and I had a quick stop at Greggs for some “elevenses” on the way to the next tower which was right in the town centre – St Mary’s. These bells are a lovely easy-going (but quiet in the ringing room) complete Rudhall 8 dating from 1750. We had some nice ringing here ran by Ben, including the method of the day “Brecon Surprise Major.”
Onwards it was to the pub – Tai’r Bull Inn at Libanus. This pub had opened especially for us and had some excellent food and a good selection of beer. Then back it was to be rammed back into the mini bus for the next event…
The Welsh Whisky company (Penderyn Whisky) has been distilling spirit in Wales since 2000 and we were able to have a tour of the operations and get an insight into how Whisky and Gin is made there. Finger-tip tasting was permitted of the spirit which was slightly burning and we could smell some of the barrels where the whisky gets left to enhance its flavour. Before we got our free samples at the bar in the distillery, we were told how to make a gin and tonic, met with amusement by some of us as they had definitely got the Gin to Tonic ratio wrong. Having knocked back my two free large tasters, some of us were feeling on top of the world. A brief mooch around the gift shop followed before heading to the mini bus to go to our next destination – Cardiff!
On the journey to Cardiff, I had ended up with a headache from earlier indulgences but it was all fine by the time we arrived in the big city. The next challenge was trying to find the halls. Well – we could see them, but we just couldn’t get to them because the gates were locked. After a long wait (and a mini bus evacuation due to a massive guff) we eventually got into our rooms, which were nowhere near as nice as the accommodation at Aberystwyth.
Dinner was followed up by a mini pub crawl ending the evening in the Urban tap house, nearby the Millenium Stadium, where there was an excellent choice of Beer and Cider – what more could anyone want! We were joined by several of the local ringers (who some of us knew) to help us empty some of the barrels of beer.
Wednesday was the day for ringing around the Cardiff area. We started off at Whitchurch – a pleasant ring of 8 in a cramped ringing room and slightly swaying tower where Becca took charge, with some efficient no-gaps between the ringing (except at Handstroke leads). Ringing on the twelve at Llandaff Cathedral followed where time was slightly of the essence due to most of us going to a team room for scones which took too long to bring out! I was put in charge of the ringing here where we managed some good Stedman and Cambridge, ending with a ten-bell lower.
The afternoon was dedicated to Barry Island – several of us went for a quick paddle (or in my case – dipped my feet in and wade around for a bit), had Fish and Chips, played in the Amusement’s arcade featured in Gavin and Stacey and sat down in the pub for the afternoon. After Rupert picked us up in the mini bus we headed back to the halls to get ready for the evening meal at “Zerodegrees” which is a Microbrewery with very good food and beer. Further drinking continued back in the halls.
Thursday had our final day of ringing, including the best towers of the week. To start we headed out to Nick Jones’ land to Newport where we rang at the Cathedral Church of St Woolos, an excellent, but quite odd struck, ring of twelve with a Gillet & Johnston front end and a Taylor back end. Nick was given the task of running the tower here and we rang fairly well for the morning service on these challenging bells and we even managed a half course of Surprise Maximus (I think it might have been Yorkshire.) Things could only get better as we headed off to the next tower – the glorious ring of ten at Abergavenny. As we arrived with time to spare lots of us had a quick cup of tea in the Tythe barn, which is now a café and visitor centre. Mariko took charge of the proceedings up the tower and although we weren’t entirely successful with all of our touches (probably due to being distracted by the amazing noise the bells make!) we did manage a nice touch or two to finish with.
Next up was lunch, this was at the Star in at Talybont-on-Usk. Even though the sun had come out for the final day of tour, it wasn’t quite warm enough to sit outside, so some mighty plates of food were brought to our cosy indoor tables, where we had a room to ourselves. On the road again – we headed up some very narrow roads at perhaps not so sensible speeds. D Rob suggested that the wing mirrors should be used as hedge detectors…. Ummmm. So we reached our penultimate tower of the tour – Llanfeugan a Taylor ring of 8 in the middle of nowhere – apparently a peal factory. Chris was in control with several touches of various Surprise Major being rung and (I think) including some people’s first blows of Bristol Major.
Onwards to our final tower Ebbw Vale, a chunky ring of 8 sounding amazing. With the ringing rang by Tim, we had some Stedman and some surprise major. We also nearly had 8-spliced, except some duffer (me) forgot to put in the Bristol and a Bob, so we had seven spliced with a fudged-up lead end. Other things that happened here included Emma getting into an argument with the Vicar about not going to church, Becca getting a wet bum and a bottle of wine which had been rolling round the mini bus all day rolled out when we went to get back in and smashed on the ground.
Winding our way back through the roads to Cardiff we got stuck in traffic, went round diversions and then finally got back to the Halls where Becca and I had to do a quick dash to the Sainsbury’s round the corner to get supplies for the evening’s meal. However, this was itself not without a problem as Mariko’s car didn’t want to start to get there and after parking up, it didn’t want to start up again so we ended up having to push start the vehicle. After a long time of preparation and cooking we eventually produced the meal for 20 – Spag Bol, Garlic Bread and an Apple Crumble by Mariko to finish. Tim Forster was volunteered to do the washing up, although I’m not sure he ever did.
Lots of drinking that evening led to us deciding to do a group Ice Bucket Challenge (video is on facebook). It was freezing, ‘nuff said. Further drinking followed into the small hours.
Friday – Packing up and tidying up the halls happened with a lot of people having hangovers and on a downer because it was time to go home. Although David was being bright and cheery – singing whilst doing some washing up in the kitchen. Once again rammed into the mini bus, we headed off and said goodbye to Wales and to those who were leaving us. A quick stop at a service station to go to Greggs and switch drivers and then we were soon back in the hustle and bustle of London.
I would like to say a great big thank you on behalf of all of those who attended to David and Rhiannon for organising a bumper tour.
by Ryan Noble
(photo thanks to Becca Cullen)