England, Day 1

May 23, 2019 |  by

England, Day 1: Luckily, getting used to driving on the opposite side of the road whilst (good English word) sitting on the opposite side of the vehicle to drive – opposite being subjective, of course – wasn’t as steep a learning curve as I feared. Flight was rocky throughout most of the night, though British Airways crew handled as if it were a routinely smooth flight. Business Class is decidedly the way to go.

From Heathrow, our self-created literary tour took us to Highclere Farm for our overnight. As the name suggests, it was once held as part of the Highclere Estate (Downton Abbey for fans of the show), and Highclere was within walking distance of the farm. Lovely night, lovely hostess. Slept soundly in the carriage house with the sounds of the farm about.

Spent much of the afternoon walking about the village, with an extraordinary good meal at the local pub. Edith tackled her first stile – in style!

Walking across an access path through a field in Highclere…

Walking home from the pub, we were headed back to Highclere Farm when we were arrested (not in the legal sense) by the sound of church bells in the distance:

The bells, it turned out, rang off and on while Edith and I tried to make our way towards the sound. Through a cut off, three gates, over a bridge, through a sheep pasture, and down an unused lane until we found the beautiful Highclere Parish Church of Saint Michaels and All Angels.

Walking a bit around the grounds as the sound of close bells rang, we found a tiny door ajar, revealing a small circular staircase of stone leading to the bell tower. Embolden beyond the usual by the pints at the pub, I enthusiastically pushed past the door, vaulted (ok, perhaps stumbled a bit) up the stairs, opened a closed door with a dash of elan, only to be completely ignored by 8 serious bell ringers….until they stopped their bell chorus. Then they couldn’t have been friendlier or more accommodating. We learned that church bell ringing – known as English Style Bellringing – is taken very seriously in England, with groups all over the country. Some families in particular parishes have been doing it for generations. It takes a good deal of training. The bells are suspended on a wheel, stored with its “mouth” pointed upwards. You must be able to pull the bell with just enough force to allow it to swing down, chime, and swing back upwards, coming to a gentle stop with the mouth of the bell returning to the upright position. Video of the bell ringers in action will be posted here:

This was really a special evening for Edith and I. The bell ringers of Highclere Parish Church of Saint Michaels and All Angels could not have been more welcoming of us and our questions, and I do believe that our experience will stand as a highlight of our trip – and this was only the first day

View of the church spire (visible above Edith’s head) from the Highclere sheep field we cut through.

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