REPORTER Hilary Scott has always found the sound of church bells appealing. Keen to find out more, she pulled a few strings to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at Peebles Old Parish Church and discover how the musical magic happens behind the clock face.

AS the familiar clanging of the church bells filled the air in Peebles, it also rang a change for me. It wasn’t my fairy godmother’s stark warning of riches to rags on my way home from a ball, nor the chimes reminding me I was late for a very important date.

The bells of this enchanting Parish Church were calling me to ring and fill the town with its rich melodies.

Invited to the Old Parish to learn the ropes of bell ringing, I am nervous as I climb the winding staircase of the church tower. Visions of being hoisted up the steeple whilst hanging from a rope, limbs flailing and the sound of my screams echoing from the tower fill me with terror. 

I fear this could end up as yet another disastrous Bridget Jones-style reporting job to add to my repertoire.

Once I reach the top, I am relieved to say the rope is firmly tied up, its use redundant to a wooden keyboard. There are 13 bells which are hung ‘dead’, which means that they remain stationary and are struck by a hammer.

The bells were installed by Taylor’s of Loughborough between 1939 and 1940, but remained silent until the end of World War II – and when peace was restored they rang out signifying freedom in glorious victory.

The late Dr Alfred Ernest Maylard, donated the bells in memory of his late wife Jane. Before he passed in 1942 aged 92 years, in dedication to Jane, he had the largest tenor bell inscribed.

Looking around the tower, remnants of bell ringers past and present are laid bare. The daylight shines hauntingly through the clock face revealing the inscription on a beam of renowned ringer – William (Wilbert) Whitie, who was an elder at the church and well-known local bookseller.

Wilbert rang his final bell in 1988, and his legacy lives on by dedicated locals who formed a team to ensure the distinctive sound of the church bells would continue to ring out well in to the future.

Led by Anne Derrick, the team take turns to ring each Sunday and on special occasions throughout the year.

I watch in awe as Anne, and fellow ringer Fiona Taylor, play the carillon, there is no hesitation and it’s clear to see both are highly experienced and carry out their bell playing with passion.

Flower O’ Scotland resounds from the church tower through this Border town into the proud hearts of its residents and visitors.

Anne has been climbing this tower for 20 long years and tells me it’s a great privilege to contribute to the life of the community.

“The reaction from the community is always very positive”, says Anne. “If you play a wrong note then it’s done and you carry on.”

A book sits on the bench filled with bell ringing music which was filled out over a number of years by the late Joann Mellors. Although tempted to give one a try, there is no practice run with the bells.

I opt for simply playing the natural scale and I am aglow with pride, knowing I am the person filling the surrounding air of Peebles with this opulent sound.

The church bells are part of a gentle pastime that is part of the Sunday morning ritual up and down the country.

But they also play for special occasions, such as Red Letter Day on Beltane Saturday, 100th Birthdays and Weddings.

Newlyweds Simon and Rosie Ritchie were delighted when Mairi’s Wedding was played as guests made their way into the church in July last year.

It was a lasting memory for the couple, who decided to mark their first wedding anniversary by returning to the church and ringing the bells.

Rosie said: “The thing that made it really special is that you can hear the bells for miles around, and there we were, right at the heart of it, seeing how it all happens and getting to try it out ourselves.”

I wondered if I could ever find the right words to convey the feeling of the bells. Poignancy, hope, nostalgia? And then Simon told me this – “the bells are the sound of Peebles, so rich and distinct”.

The glorious bells of the Parish are played weekly by a team of members from the church itself, St Andrew’s Lecky and St Josephs. 

Reverend Calum Macdougall told me: “The tunes that are played on the bells cheer the town each Sunday morning and on other special occasions, but more than that they sound a clear message that the church in Peebles is alive and proclaiming the Christian faith.”

Reading this you may wish and wonder how you could become part of this ancient pastime – well you can.

The current team are eager to pass on their skills to rookie bell ringers, and you don’t need to belong to a church. Anyone with an interest is welcome.

Anne said: “The bells are rung each Sunday from 9.30am until 9.50am. You don’t need to be able to read music although it does help. The actual ringing of the keyboard is very straightforward and not at all difficult, especially if you play a keyboard. A starter pack of music is provided to get you going, and the current bell ringers are always happy to take someone up the tower as an apprentice until the new ringer feels confident to go solo.”

Speaking of rumours she’s heard over the years, Anne said that many think the bells are rung by a computer!

As I descended the tower, I began to think about what the bells mean to different generations. To the young revellers who count down the gongs at the dawning of each New Year, the glorious call to churchgoers inviting them to worship, to those of us who have heard them call out in our celebrations and toll sadly in empathy with our grief. 

Perhaps you don’t really think about it because the bells have ‘aye been’.

I on the other hand would like to think that the people of Peebles have absorbed the striking of the church clock and tune of the bells into the inner music of their hearts.

The bell ringing team are: Anne Derrick (leader), Fiona Taylor, Jeanette Mackison, Mary Hudson, Malcolm Lumsden, Kirsty and Kenny Davidson and Rosalie Gibson.

Would you like to ring the bells? The church is hosting an open day on Saturday, November 3, from 10.30-12.30pm. Admission is free and tea and coffee will be served.