It is Saturday morning. While I am shopping at the street market, my ears are attracted by a melody which seems to come from the main church of the town. Following the sound, I arrive at the foot of the St Anne Church tower, where a door is ajar.
Behind, there is a steep spiral staircase leading to a circular room. Twelve ropes in purple and white hang from the roof. There are couches, chairs, a kettle and a big box of chocolates. A few people are chatting over a cup of tea. They are the happy bell ringers of Alderney. They practice twice a week, Monday evenings and Saturday mornings, in a friendly atmosphere.
Helen was happy to explain how it works, and Peter was proud to show me the peal of bells hidden in an upstairs room on the top of the tower. Thirteen bells are hung there. One is set apart and operates with a different mechanism: it’s the oldest bell (15th century), and is rung by the vicar when a single bell is needed for services.
The other bells form the only peal of twelve bells in the Channel Islands. Six of them have been in place since 1953. The other six have been cast and added last year. They all have a different size and weight and a different sound, allowing us to play tunes. The lightest bell, which is also the smallest and the highest pitched bell is called Peter. She (because bells are female, like ships) is 3cwt 1lb 11oz (153.5kg) with a diameter of 22.00” (55.88cm). Her note is a C# . The deepest, the largest and the heaviest is Daisy, a 41.63” (105.74cm) bell weighting 13 cwt 1lb 0oz (662.3kg). She rings at F#.
Bell ringing is a very well developed and dynamic activity on the island with more than 20 people taking part. Sometimes groups of bell ringers from the UK come to ring a peal (3 hours non-stop) or to meet the Alderney band and exchange their experiences. In May 2014, the Alderney bell-ringers will go in Guernsey for a 8-ringers competition, and will host an 6-ringers competition in September.To know more about the bells and the ringers, you can visit their website or you can push open the door on a Saturday morning as I did to see a demonstration.
NB: In France, we say that all the bells from all churches leave their towers on Maundy Thursday to go to Rome. They come back on the Easter day, filled with chocolate eggs that they spread on their way everywhere by pealing. Happy Easter everyone!