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"Write something worth reading or do something worth writing" A blog by Amy Willis, a multimedia journalist based in London

Ringers know their ropes

By Amy Willis, Hwyl Magazine

Mars has relaunched the “work, rest, play” slogan with a new advert featuring four monks bell ringing. But what is bell ringing really about and can people really end up being dragged up the ropes if they pull to hard? Amy Willis went to a session at Llandaff Cathedral in search of the facts.


IN THE FREEZING mist outside the Cathedral door, people start emerging one by one.

Soon there is a huddle of 15 people waiting for the chief bell ringer to open the Cathedral’s wooden door so they can climb the spiral of stone steps up to the bell tower.

The door finally opens. The bell tower is an oddly shaped room with 12 ropes hanging from the ceiling. Five members instinctively take five ropes and start pulling.

“It is like learning to ride a bike, once you have the basic feel for it, it comes naturally,” said Bob Hardy, 65, of Triscan Road, Cardiff. Bob has been bell ringing for 50 years.

“Sometimes if you are a heavy person it can help you move the bell but you don’t have to be strong,” he says.

A bell from the bell tower

A bell from the bell tower

After the first method, six others join in to create a 12 bell method called Cambridge Surprise. Llandaff Cathedral is one of only two churches in Wales to house 12 bells, the other being Newport Cathedral.

“My father lost his trousers bell ringing in Honolulu once. I have had my glasses knocked off a few times before,” Bob laughs.

As they pull, the circle of bell ringers are watching each other intently. They are counting each other, I am told. They need to count to find their place in the rhythm as there is a delay between pulling the rope and the bell clanging while the bell swings round – the bell only chimes when upside down.
One girl is almost flying up and down the rope as she pulls which looks fairly amusing. As her feet are pulled onto her tip-toes each time she smiles embarrassingly.

“Keep your feet flat on the ground!” someone barks.
“If feet are not kept on the ground, the rope can hook around your leg and drag you upside-down up the bell tower,” my neighbour says.
“You need to be fairly thick skinned to be a bell ringer, there is no time for politeness,” he says.

John Vesey, the chief bell ringer, explains  it is a team effort to get 12 people ringing together with a sense of rhythm. He takes me up to the top of the tower to see the bells in action.

“The skill is to keep same rhythm going throughout,” he says.

Bell ringing also seems to involve a lot of romance. Meriel Gainsbury, 42, a full time mother, of Taffs Well, Cardiff, has been bell ringing since she was 10 years old. She carried on bell ringing at university and met her husband, Andrew, in the university bell ringers’ society.

“Bell ringing has a good social element. It is a portable hobby as you can do it all over the world.

“It is difficult and requires a lot of concentration. There is certainly a lot of mentally agility involved.

“This is a good group as they always encourage you to learn things which makes it a lot more interesting,” she says.

John Baldwin, 69, a bell ringer for over 50 years after his voice broke and he could no longer sing in the choir, also met his wife bell ringing.

“What makes ringing what it is, is that it is quite a close knit community. Everyone gets on very well as we all share an interest,” he says.

One thing I have learnt about bell ringing is that you need to have a sense of humour. While being dragged up the bells does not happen every day- if you lose control of your rope or get your leg hooked it can take you off guard. Perhaps avoid Mars bars before giving it a go.

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Filed under: Features, Portfolio

One Response

  1. Mike Wilson says:

    Just passing by. Btw, your website have great content!

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