My Route from Tower Bells to Handbells

I learned the basics of change ringing in hand in the 1970s at university.  Since then, I’ve had a couple of spells of trying to progress further and prior to March 2020 had rung a total of 6 peals (Plain Bob Minor/Major on 1-2 and inside pairs) and 41 quarter peals including 1-2 & 7-8 for Kent TB Major.  Two experts on one occasion managed to get me through an extent of Cambridge S Minor on 1-2, onto which was hastily added a 540 of Plain Bob to make it a quarter peal.   I survived the Cambridge by a mixture of 2 blue lines, rhythmic gap-filling and very strong guidance.  It was far from pretty and I sadly did not learn anything I could retain. 

There is far less available in print for those learning to ring handbells than tower bells.  Most makes sense on paper to me but does not easily translate into practical skills. Experienced handbell ringers mostly have told me they do not really know how they do it.  This always seemed odd, as in the tower an experienced ringer can explain what they do and can even ring with a running commentary for the benefit of a learner.

In the few chances I’ve had to ring on 10 & 12, I always hoped that 6 & 8 would feel very easy afterwards.  It didn’t.  The most useful tip for coping with hunting patterns on higher numbers, which have greater separation between a pair, came from Peter Church during a session with the Hull Handbells Project. I was finding  it extremely hard to see and/or count 5 bells between my pair. 

Peter pointed out that 2 of these 5 are those which sit between mine in the coursing order.  I started to see this by ringing 3-4 to Plain Hunt Royal, where the two bells in question are 1 & 2, the coursing order being 9 7 5 3 1 2 4 6 8 0. In hunting, the bells between mine would be 3 A 1 B 2 C 4 because 3,1,2,4 hunt in sequence in one direction whilst A, B & C hunt in the other direction. I did not need to much concern myself with precisely which bells A, B & C were, as I was focusing on 1 & 2 in addition my own pair.

This really helped in extending hunting pattern skills, but I still could not progress beyond ringing by linked plain hunting patterns and start to open the door to Surprise methods. I desperately tried to use Abel, both via keyboard input and motion controllers.  Sadly I found myself unable to engage with Abel’s “bird’s-eye” view and found doing it solely by ear was not working.  It felt as if I faced an impenetrable barrier.

2020-2021 Lockdown Learning

As the Covid-19 lockdowns caused the cessation of face-to-face ringing, much energy went into developing e-tools for ringing.  Ringing Room offered a similar interface to Abel, and thus wasn’t for me, but I have been able to productively use Graham AC John’s Handbell Stadium.  Initially it allowed ringing online with others and then solo practice became available. That frustratingly-locked door now stands ajar and, having got to being able to stumble through a plain course of Cambridge S Minor on 5-6, I decided to try to summarise and make sense of how I got to this point in the hope it may be of use to someone else.