Susan Jensen, a Washington, DC ringer, has been living in France for a few years and made it to St. George’s Anglican Church in Vernet-les-Bains (the first tower with change ringing bells in France) on Palm Sunday, where she participated in the first service ringing on the newly installed bells. [See also the RW cover article for April 26, 2019, about ringing at Vernet-les-Bains on Easter.]
Vernet-les-Bains, is a lovely, scenic small town in the Pyrenees at the foot of Canigou. It became popular with Brits as well as other artists/writers in the early 20th century.... hence the casino, bains, and English church. It is still a great holiday place for walks & hikes, outdoor activities, the rather famous le Train Jaune (big engineering feat), etc. There aren't that many Anglican churches around here. [Susan is living in Axat.]
I think it's an amazing accomplishment to have a ring of ten bells newly installed in a not-so-large community. The chaplain, David Phillips, seems to do a brilliant job with the locals.
It's a lovely couple of hours drive from my house, mostly on two-lane roads through rugged scenery, cols, vineyards, river valleys, vineyards, rolling agricultural areas, interesting geologic features, and did I mention vineyards? I've been to the church a couple of times for services with friends and was very happy to be there Palm Sunday for the preview to the ten bells. I had already met several members of the congregation, including ringers Jeff Ladd and Michael Strutt [who were instrumental in getting the bells and are working on developing a band].
As we approached the church, they were just finishing raising the bells. Inside there was lots of excitement over the bells and much encouragement to ring. I felt so privileged to be able to join them. I'm not sure if all ten bells were ringable at that point, but the ropes of the 9 and 10 were tied off, and we only rang the light eight. Roy LeMarechal and Andrew Mills from Taylor’s had come to install the bells and were amazing "two-fisted" ringers. [See Susan ringing in this video.]
During the week between Palm Sunday and Easter there was going to be work on getting the sound control right as the bells were pretty loud indoors and not so much outdoors. I've no doubt they got that sorted. I presume [correctly] that like many churches in France they rang on Thursday for Notre Dame de Paris and of course did a beautiful job on Easter.
The band is very welcoming to ringers and is recruiting and planning to teach newbies. There were a couple of French people interested in learning and I hope they will get the bug. There's been nice press in the French news as well. [See this piece broadcast on French TV on Easter – scroll down for the video.]
I don't know how frequent ringing will be, as I'm not sure how many of the current band actually live here or go back and forth to the UK....certainly more seem to be here in the summer. Palm Sunday the church had the most people in the congregation that I've seen, and it seemed a number were French.
Any of you that are interested in this beautiful part of the world, I'm sure you would be most welcome at St. George's. As it's a fair distance from me, I don't plan to participate too regularly. Contact Jeff (firstname.lastname@example.org) and/or their website for schedule/opportunities.
And plan to spend some non-ringing time as well!
Our correspondent in France reports on the first service ringing at the new tower in Vernet-les-Bains.