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Inveraray could not be more different from Wokingham. The sky does not glow orange at night, the views from the hill above looking over Loch Fyne are superb, and even with the tourists it is a very peaceful place. All Saints church is very different too. It is the Episcopal church, tucked round the back of the high street, unlike the imposing classical style Kirk that forces the high street to go round either side of it. All Saints church building is quite small, in complete contrast to the adjacent bell tower, which dwarfs it. In fact it dwarfs much in the town, standing proudly above its surroundings, and dominating the view from almost every direction. The bells are equally impressive. With a Tenor weighing over two tons, they are the worlds second heaviest ring of ten, and the sound is majestic.
The tower and bells were a gift of Niall Diarmid Campbell, tenth Duke of Argyll, and were erected as a memorial to the Campbells who died in World War I and all previous wars. Work began in 1923 and it took eight years before the bells were hung in 1931. There were plans to join the tower to the church but the delay in raising funds, and the advent of World War 2 prevented it happening. In 1944 lightning struck the tower and damaged the stonework. The Duke died just after the war, and the tower and bells were left derelict until the early 1970s when they were restored, thanks largely to the vision and drive of the late Norman Chaddock.
Unlike All Saints Wokingham, there is no local band of ringers, so the bells are only ever rung by visitors. The nearest ringing neighbour is St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow, some 50 miles away. The Scottish Association of Change Ringers looks after the bells, and ringers travel out from Glasgow several times during the winter to carry out essential maintenance. During the rest of the year, they are available for visiting bands to ring, but the last weekend of July is special. The ringing weekend comes in the middle of Inveraray festival. This year was the thirtieth ringing weekend, with some eight hours of ringing spread over three days. It attracts ringers from far and wide, with about forty present on the Saturday.
During the four years I have worked for a Glasgow based company, I have been to three Inveraray ringing weekends, and each has been an uplifting experience. A weekend away is always refreshing, especially in such lovely surroundings. As well as ringing, one can walk in the woods or up the hills with glorious views over Loch Fyne. Although I was 'on my own' there is a camaraderie among the ringers, with many regular visitors as well as the Scottish contingent. I knew quite a few of them, and I even met one person from Henley with whom I regularly ring handbells!
But above all, it is the bells and the ringing that make the weekend what it is. The sound of Inveraray bells is glorious and cannot fail to move anyone who hears them, but to a ringer it is more than just the sound. Ringing is physical, as well as musical. You have to attune yourself to the feel of the bells and the rhythm of the ringing. Heavy bells ring more slowly, which I find more stately and dignified, and immensely satisfying to be part of. I was at the ringing for an hour or so on Friday evening, and then from 2.00 to 7.30 on Saturday, with a short break for refreshments. Over such a period, the sound and the rhythm of the ringing seems to soak into you. Even as I arrived in Glasgow much later that evening, I could still hear the sound of the bells going through my head. I had been in Inveraray for under 24 hours, but in that short time I had become attuned to the sound and feel of one of the world's most glorious rings of bells.
John Harrison ( August 2002 )
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