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Est. 1637

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Country Meeting in Edinburgh
Saturday, 11th July, 2009

Report by Susan Rothera and photos by Mark Esbester

"O ye’ll tak’ the high road and I’ll tak’ the low road ….. "

In the year of Homecoming Scotland, the College Youths held their first ever annual ‘Country Meeting’ north of the border at Edinburgh. Country Meetings have been held overseas in recent years, but never in Scotland. Such gatherings used to involve a ‘day out’ from London, ringing at a few towers in an area associated with the current Master, a business meeting and lunch, more general ringing then home. More recently they have involved a weekend with a dinner, but this year College Youths travelled by train, air, on foot and in cars to spend up to a week or more away from home, ringing peals, eating, drinking and sightseeing in many parts of Scotland, with a focus on Edinburgh for the weekend of July 11th/12th. The organisation would not have been possible without spreadsheets to show the peal bands where and when to meet, the method and conductor. E-mail contacts and mobile phones were essential to make last-minute changes to all of them.

Members arrived from many parts of mainland Britain, from Germany and Egypt to meet and ring with Scottish ringers, staying in a wide variety of accommodation, at the University, in hotels, guest houses and friends’ flats. Continuing his tradition Chris Kippin walked from Liverpool, where last year’s Country Meeting was held, 120 miles to Carlisle in May, then another 100 miles to Edinburgh over the 4 days immediately beforehand. Walking alone (does he talk to himself?) his only difficulty was with a herd of cows, while Heather in the support vehicle broke down miles away on the M6.

For some members the ‘weekend’ started early, at Newcastle Cathedral on the Wednesday evening where a peal of Cambridge Maximus was rung. On Thursday the historic border town of Berwick was treated to a peal of Bristol Major in the old town hall, where the ringing room is approached through the museum, past the old lock-up cells. The ringers had to lock themselves in carefully to prevent disruption by the guided tours.

Special permission had been obtained to ring a weekday peal on Thursday at Inveraray after the local authorities were told that the peal would be of ‘Homecoming Scotland’ to mark the celebrations, and indeed it did (aka London Royal!). There had been stress and frantic phone calls beforehand, following Easyjet chaos at Luton airport which delayed some of the band; mobile phones proved invaluable. Some of the band had been in the peal at Newcastle the evening before, then driven to Glasgow for a few hours’ sleep (interrupted by an errant fire alarm) before an early start to Loch Fyne. But in the beautiful setting of Inveraray the bells sounded lovely and well worth the hassle.

The peal attempt at St Andrew and St George on Thursday evening almost came to a very early end in the 3rd lead of 8-spliced when the tenor rope broke below the sally, but the Junior Steward displayed real determination and leadership. While some of the band were discussing which pub to adjourn to, he calmly knotted the rope together firmly, said ‘I’ll ring it, let’s get on with it!’ and the peal was scored with minutes to spare before the 9pm deadline.

After all the drama, Bert’s Bar in William Street did a roaring trade in pints of various real ales while news was exchanged and friendships renewed.

On Friday ringers dispersed for peal attempts at Aberdeen St Machars, Dunkeld, Nairn and Inverness while some preferred some retail therapy in the Edinburgh shops. Sadly the attempt on the one cwt mini-ring at Nairn came to grief when one bell dropped irretrievably with less than 2 courses to go, the only loss of the trip. A feature of Scottish towers seemed to be a lack of adequate ventilation (perhaps rarely desirable in the north?) Although cooler than the previous week, it was very warm and airless ringing on the ‘never to be forgotten’ ten at Inverness.

Friday evening’s drinking venue was The Hogshead, where a free buffet was provided but the music proved too overpowering so ringers adjourned to either Wetherspoon’s or The Kenilworth. One car-load had elected to stay in Inverness for a leisurely meal and drink in the Castle Tavern there before the long drive back to Edinburgh.

Saturday was for general ringing at the three Edinburgh towers with their contrasting ringing rooms. St Andrew and St George, the oldest ringing bells in Scotland, were recently restored and are rung from an ingeniously arranged landing between the curving staircases at the back of the Georgian church. Flanges have been added and are lowered into position before ringing to prevent ‘losing’ 2 ringers by a backward step. At the Cathedral, St Mary’s, the ringing room is very spacious with a large ringing circle, while St Cuthbert’s is decidedly ‘cosy’.

The business meeting on Saturday afternoon was held in the Lindisfarne room upstairs in St Cuthbert’s Church. Magnus Peterson from Dunblane gave a warm welcome to the Ancient Society and spoke of the long-standing help given to Scottish ringing and ringers by its members over more than 150 years, starting with Mr Joseph Healey who had joined the Society in England in 1851, moved to Aberdeen in 1857 and taught a band who rang in the first peal in Scotland the following year. His ‘superlative’ service to Scottish ringing continued with other College Youths who followed, installing bells, teaching bands and nurturing ringing in other towns and cities; worthies such as A.E. Wreaks and Joe Sykes at Paisley, J.R. Haworth who founded the Dundee Society and Mr. Reeves of Leith who joined the ASCY in 1869. George Cunningham, Samuel Bennett and C. Cleveland Ellis were all active ASCY members associated with St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh (then a 10 but now the new ring of 12); William Heathcoat trained a band at St. Cuthbert’s, and in 1932 Stephen Wood, from England, founded the Scottish Association of Change Ringers. The help continued and among others in more recent times Norman Chaddock founded the ‘Friends of Inveraray Bells’, making Inveraray a mecca for ringing in Scotland – work carried on by Bob Hancock; John Grainger had led the project for bells and ringing at Dunkeld, and Nigel Booth at Haddington. Most recently Mike Clay had led the restoration of the oldest ring in Scotland at St Andrew and St George in Georgian Edinburgh which had been silent for about a hundred years. Thus a tremendous debt of gratitude is owed to the College Youths by Scottish ringers.

The Master formally expressed thanks to Mike Clay, who had invited the Society to Edinburgh and who, assisted by Jonathan Frye, had arranged all the towers and booked the dinner at Murrayfield; and to the Junior Steward who had wrestled with the peal band organisation and to the Secretary for selling tickets and sending out information. This was met with applause.

One new young member from Dunblane, Matthew Frye, was elected to the Society, and after an obituary members stood in silence to remember the passing of Ian Knox of Johannesburg.

Other routine items of business followed; then it was time to negotiate the buses, and the seemingly everlasting tramwork diversions of Edinburgh, to get ready for the evening.

The dinner was held at the prestigious venue of the Thistle 2 Suite at Murrayfield Stadium. Tours of the stadium had been arranged beforehand and 20 members availed themselves of a rare opportunity to see the facilities there, including 15 of the usual offices in the changing rooms which caused some amusement, and Princess Anne’s personal seat in the stands, she being Patron of the Scottish Rugby Union. They were not allowed to step on the sacred turf as it had been recently re-seeded after a pop concert.

About 90 members and guests sat down to an enjoyable 4-course meal, with the menu causing some prior speculation (and trepidation?) for the intriguing inclusion of wilted greens and café au lait sauce with chicken for the main course. This is not an occasion for formal speeches, but after the meal the Master again expressed warm thanks to Mike Clay for the invitation and for all the hard work he and Jonathan Frye had done in making all the arrangements. Mike was called upon to reply and in doing so said he had a ‘small confession’ to make - he had been a College Youth for 25 years but this was the first Country Meeting he had attended, therefore he had relied heavily on the Secretary for advice about what was expected. The President of the Scottish Association, Stephen Elwell-Sutton from Dundee was welcomed, and he was asked to accept a vote of thanks from us on behalf of all the Tower Correspondents who had made their bells available for the weekend. Information about Sunday service ringing was given and diners were encouraged to drink all the beer before last orders at 00.45am – 4 hours away! Time passed quickly though; not all the beer was drunk despite the best efforts of some members, and some people had difficulty finding their way out of the stadium. One individual was apparently seen trying to scale an 8ft fence (unsuccessfully), much to his son’s amusement; another member was stopped by police for straying onto a dual carriageway whilst walking back to his hotel. If Facebook is to be believed, there were a few sore heads next morning. But there was more ringing to come…

Sunday dawned, some members joined service ringing at the Edinburgh towers with local ringers and 4 further peals were rung in the afternoon: at Stirling, Dundee Cathedral, Glasgow Cathedral and Edinburgh St Cuthbert. Only 7 ringers were left to enjoy beer and lunch in Edinburgh at The Beehive Inn in The Grassmarket. Intrepid souls stayed to ring a peal on Monday evening at Dundee Old Steeple.

Altogether it was a very successful and enjoyable venture, worthy of a first Country Meeting in Scotland. New friendships were made and old acquaintances renewed by young and old alike, the weather was kind and the organisation first class. Thirteen peals were rung, on old and relatively new bells, by about 50 members from north and south of the border, and many miles were covered through some beautiful scenery. Hopefully the College Youths will have a ‘Homecoming’ to Scotland in the not-too-distant future.

The City of Edinburgh St Mary's Cathedral
Glasgow Cathedral Dunkeld Cathedral
Newcastle Cathedral St Cuthbert's, Edinburgh Presumably the entrance to Inverness tower ... or is it Inveraray?
View from Inveraray tower. Murrayfield Stadium

The meeting at Murrayfield

Top table.  
The LeMarechals and Rouths.  
  Martin Cansdale and Becky Sugden.
Phil Goodyer, Chris Ridley, Becky Sugden, Martin Cansdale and Michael Williams.  
Is this Michael Moreton booking Phil Rogers into a peal, on handbells, of Stedman Cinques, at Cornhill Vestry? John & Cathy Hughes-D'Aeth.
Jim Clatworthy.  
Graham Bradshaw, Becky Sugden and Katie Town. Hilda Messenger, Robin Shipp and Jo Lovell.
John White and Michael Uphill. Jill Galloway, Colin Parker and Martin Cansdale
  The Master presents Mike Clay with a single malt.
  Post dinner advice.  
John Hughes-D'Aeth discovers a new feature on his phone,  
Pretty in pink. The Master hits the bottle.
Paul Williams with Anne White and Stephanie Warboys. The Treasurer, on discovering the bill.

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