On Saturday 8th September, between the hours of 11am and midnight, 22 members of the University of London Society of Change Ringers accumulated in Glasgow, arriving by train, plane and automobile. Our tour was to take in 3 different places of accommodation, 6 cities, 16 towers, roughly 1000 miles travel via minibus, a mountain, a canal, a monster, a steam train, and every possible takeaway food imaginable.
Despite a few technical hitches (one train was stationary for over an hour, one ringer missed their flight, and another was on an aeroplane that only landed successfully on the third attempt!) most ringers arrived in time for the first tower, St Mary’s Glasgow, at 5pm. We then headed for a Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet for the evening, where our tour organiser managed to eat 3 portions of pudding. The next day being a Sunday, we attended service ringing at Paisley, before driving to Inveraray, a lovely lochside town. At 41-2-8, Inveraray are the heaviest 10 in Scotland, and not the easiest ring but, excitingly, the church shop sold postcards of the belfry! We had time for both general ringing, and what turned out to be (unfortunately) a bit of a lumpy quarter. Our organiser Nick had been having a few problems with his wrist, and these were getting worse, so we had it examined by the best medic present — Sean the vet. On Sean’s recommendation, Nick went to the local A&E to get it checked out, where a nurse strapped it up and told him to “stay off the wee bells for a while”. We were all agreed that this meant no handbell ringing, but church bells would be fine! That night, 5 excellent assistants and I cooked for the entire group, whipping up pasta and bolognese, with jelly and ice cream for afters – delicious if I say so myself.
On Monday we rang at Dunblane and Alloa, before going on the Falkirk Wheel — an amazing bit of technology created in 2002 to link the Forth and Clyde, and Union Canals. There was plenty of time for a walk along the canal as well as a trip on the Wheel itself, which lifts boats 24 metres up/down. That evening, we arranged our own food. A group of 12 all ordered Indian takeaway, which turned out to be something of a disaster when it arrived with no description or number on any of the boxes! After some experimentation we all found something that we could eat. We were all up for a night out in Glasgow, especially as we didn’t need to be up particularly early the next morning. The most hardcore of the group eventually ended up at a gay club… It wouldn’t be fair for me to reveal who got chatted up whilst we were there!
On Tuesday we travelled by train to Edinburgh. We split up for the morning; some people slept and arrived later, some were energetic and climbed up Arthur’s Seat, others visited the amazing fudge shop. We rang at St Mary’s (cavernous ringing chamber and ponderous bells), St Cuthbert’s and SS Andrew & George. Wednesday then involved a lengthy journey from Glasgow to Aberdeen, where we’d be staying on Wednesday night. As the minibus had no boot, all our bags had to be piled into the aisle between the seats, making everything a bit squashed!
We stopped off en route at the ruined Cathedral of St Columba in Dunkeld. The ring of 6 is housed in the one part of the Cathedral that still has a roof. The Cathedral is by a river, in a beautiful setting — I would highly recommend a visit to both ringers and non-ringers. We then headed on to Dundee where we rang at another two towers. We finally arrived at Aberdeen at about 7pm. Here we split up according to budgets — some staying at the youth hostel whilst others had arranged B&Bs. The next morning we rang at St Mary’s, where we had some difficulty in being able to hear the bells at all from the ringing chamber, and St Machar (where Nick had reassuringly put in the tour itinerary “We will also need to take turns guarding the minibus”!). We then headed onto Aviemore, our next residence, which is right up in the highlands. On the way we stopped at Dufftown for a tour of the Glenfiddich Distillery. We seemed to acquit ourselves with a certain amount of expertise; Ruth managed to correctly detect pears in the nose of their 12 year whisky and our tour guide remarked of Peter, Clara and Sean; “you’re either connoisseurs or alcoholics”.
Merely being report writer, I would not dare to clarify which of those I’d use to describe them! I also did quite well at the tasting, as I managed to drink most of the driver’s taster in addition to mine. Finally, that evening we arrived at our accommodation in Aviemore, which turned out to be gorgeously decorated bungalows with lovely views, and containing things like real coffee machines!
Friday was a non-ringing day, and so we split up into several groups. The main party were planning to climb Ben Nevis, an exercise which soon sorted the sheep from the goats. The mountain goats pranced their way up quite happily, whilst the sheep were herded up by a Poodle and a Welsh Springer, at a slow but steady pace. Meanwhile, three Billy Goats Gruff decided to go on an alternative, less challenging walk, where they had some difficulty in finding a bridge but didn’t come across any trolls. The remaining small ruminants were taken on a trip around Fort William, with a qualified vet to ensure their welfare. This included journeys on a cable car and (rumour has it) the same steam train a certain Mr Potter has previously used. In the evening we all recombined for — you guessed it — more takeaway.
Saturday was sadly the last day. In the morning there was a variety of occupations, but most people chose to go on the steam train, possibly out of a sense of loyalty to the tour organiser. We then drove off to Inverness to ring at lunchtime, where the ringing room was painted a very attractive shade of pink! After this, we headed to Loch Ness for some monster spotting. We then had our final tower of the tour which was Peter Shipton’s 1-0-11 mini-ring. These sounded very cute, but took a while to get used to if (like me) you’ve never rung on a mini-ring before. Not only did we get to ring their bells, but they also provided plentiful amounts of tea and homemade scones. I had to think about putting this in the report, in case all future visiting bands start expecting such hospitality, but in the end it was so nice I couldn’t leave it out!
As it was the last night, we decided to go to a nice restaurant in the evening, and so managed to get 3 tables at the local hotel after over an hour’s wait. After dinner, ULSCR Master Peter Jasper presented the organiser Nick Jones with a few presents as thanks for his tremendous efforts in organising the tour, including a towel designed to look like a kilt! On behalf of everyone, I’d like to repeat those thanks here in print. It was an absolutely fantastic tour – the ringing was good with no lockouts and a few comedy towers, there were lots of fun activities, and the company was unbeatable.
By Josie Crimp