Bradfield Ringing Course (England)
Having just returned from the Bradfield Ringing Course (August 15-18 in Berkshire, England), I thought I'd write a few words about the experience. The course offers several levels of instruction, from bell handling up to conducting. I was enrolled in the Plain Hunt group, which they plan to rename Foundations for Method Ringing. The overall approach is perhaps best described by this excerpt from an email received today from the tutor of my group: Thank you for your wholehearted enthusiasm and willingness to throw caution to the winds and go for something out of your comfort zone! While the principles of Plain Hunt were described and practiced, that was not the sole focus. We were also instructed in such things as how to read a blue line, what a dodge is and how it's executed, what long fifths are, and how the Plain Hunt can be expanded to become Treble Bob Hunting. Each group had a contingent of helpers that could form a band of experienced ringers, with each student given the opportunity to have a go at these techniques with a tutor standing behind. There were also numerous opportunities for extra sessions that people could attend at will on a host of topics such as ropesight, place-counting, bell handling, rope splicing, handbells, calling call changes, raising and lowering in peal, etc., presented by personalities such as Steve Coleman. And being in England, ample provision was made for "tea and biscuits" at regular intervals. The cafeteria food at Bradfield College, where the course was venued, was really quite fine, and accommodation in college dorm rooms was spartan but certainly adequate.
One of the most exciting aspects of the course was the opportunity to ring at numerous different towers in rural Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Hampshire. It was wonderful to visit these small yet hugely historic churches, many of them dating from the 12th century. Some had ringing rooms on ground level, one even had the ropes in the center of the transept raised in a "spider" when not in use; others up stairs that make the steps of my home tower, Trinity Wall Street, seem like a ballroom staircase. (As an aside, it was heartwarming to me to see that each of these churches had a small but beautiful pipe organ.) Each ringing room and each set of bells had a unique "personality", and the experience definitely hones and improves one's handling skills.
I returned from the course feeling greatly enriched by the experience, but also with an awareness that taking the course has not catapulted me into the next level, with Plain Hunt solidly in the bag. I've come to realize that ringing simply doesn't work that way; it's like learning a musical instrument, or a language, and progress is only made with practice and over time with instruction. What the course did provide though was an opportunity for extended instruction and focused practice, thus providing a set of tools to help build a solid foundation in preparation for method-ringing. It also provided a wonderful exposure to the social dimension of ringing, which is surely one of its principal attractions and which makes it such an enjoyable pursuit.