Norfolk church crawl for bell ringers

THEY are normally hidden from view while an unseen congregation rejoices to the sound of their glorious chimes.

THEY are normally hidden from view while an unseen congregation rejoices to the sound of their glorious chimes.

But the nation's bell-ringers stepped out of the shadows on Monday for a breakneck Bank Holiday church crawl around Norfolk.

About 80 fanatics arrived for a frenzied “tower-grabbing” dash in an attempt to ring at 30 of the county's historic churches in a single day.

This esoteric collecting craze - the campanologist's equivalent of train-spotting or peak-bagging for climbers - involves ringing the bells at as many of Britain's 6,000 towers as possible.

A mass open event has not been held in Norfolk for more than 10 years, leaving some “grabbers” with notable gaps to tick off in their dog-eared copy of the bell-ringing bible, the Dove's Guide.

Eager enthusiasts queued for a 9am start at Mundford, near Thetford, ringing for just a few short minutes before battling westwards through Bank Holiday weather and traffic towards King's Lynn.

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By 11am, more than 30 had climbed the narrow stone staircase to the ringing room at St Andrew's Church in Hingham, near Dereham, to ring Grandsire Triples under the watchful eye of tower captain, Chris Brown.

While some were in too much of a rush to talk before chasing off to the next venue, others had time to spare while waiting for others to arrive and complete makeshift groups which matched the tower's eight bell-ropes.

Nick Churchman, a 41-year-old electronics engineer from Rothwell in Northamptonshire, had a simple explanation for the tower-grabbing phenomenon.

“Ringers just like ringing in different places,” he said. “We'd get bored ringing the same places every time, so on days like this we get to go and ring at other parts of the country and meet other people. It is a social activity, really.

“I must have collected approaching 2,000 towers, but I am not a manic tower-grabber - they have just accumulated over the last 25 years. The ardent ones will come out and get the ones they want by coming to practice sessions and service ringing.

“But on these occasions you sometimes get the gems which are not usually open and it is the rare ones which bring out the ardent tower grabbers.”

David Cornwall, 70, travelled from Hughenden in Buckinghamshire with his 68-year-old wife Joyce.

“When we are at home we ring on Sundays - this is the fun part of it,” he said. “We have got about 3,000 towers each, but there are still a lot of places we have not rung at before, and we're after 24 more today. I suppose it is much the same as train-spotting or bird-spotting.”

The event raised money towards a �70,000 project to maintain and add to the eight bells at the free-standing tower of St Nicholas' Church in Dereham where the final chimes of the day were rung.

It was organised by Judy Howard, a member of the St Nicholas' Church Bells Augmentation Fund committee and a veteran tower-grabber who has amassed 2,800 since starting in 1959.

“It has gone beautifully,” she said. “Everybody has been very calm and collected. We've had people here from as far away as Bristol and Yorkshire, and all the visitors have enjoyed themselves.”