An inter-village bell ringing competition in a South Hams village last weekend was interrupted by a brawl in the vestry.
There was a cloudless blue sky, mediterranean heat and the sound of bells were echoing up and down the narrow valleys that converge on the Yealm estuary.
Teams from the towers of Shaugh Prior, Bickleigh, Holbeton, Plymstock, Plympton St Mary, Plympton St Maurice and Wembury were being put through their paces.
And, just as Holbeton “B” began their changes, a man burst out of the bright sunshine at the church door and into the shadows of the nave in a state of some distress, shouting and swearing.
Someone exhorted him to “calm down and behave himself in the house of God”, but to no effect.
In fact the shouting grew in volume and it became clear that the man, who lived just above the church, was upset about a car “blocking the road”.
He was assured that, when the owner could be identified, the car would be moved. He was not mollified and, certain the guilty party was one of the ringers, started towards the bell tower, professing equal hatred of bad parkers and bellringers.
At this point the burly figure of Ryan Trout stepped in to block the way, but the protester was not to be stopped in his determination to climb the tower and confront the ringers.
At this point the conflict turned physical, with the pair wrestling before another man joined Mr Trout.
The tea ladies were diving for cover, trying to rescue flying crockery as they did so, with a small child bursting into tears.
The intruder was finally manhandled from the vestry.
Although a rather tall figure and clearly furious, he had stepped into a rather unequal struggle as there were at least a dozen men at the event who would not look out of place in the front row of an Exeter Chiefs scrum and he was unceremoniously dumped on the floor of the aisle.
And here he sat, still shouting to the rafters, invoking Churchill and refusing to move.
Further checks revealed that the car was not actually blocking the drive and the man’s wife has driven past and parked with relative ease. His wife and daughter collected him from the church.
Barry Furzeland, captain of St Peters, was reported as saying the man has previously complained about the parking situation
Eventually, the car was moved and peace returned – save for another three hours of relentless bell-pealing “peace”.
And, in the man’s defence, he was not the only local who complained about the protracted noise as the teams strove on for “excellent striking and a faultless peal.”
But many from the village said it was wonderful.
Will the tradition live on? Ivor Bellan, (89), of the Plymstock team, whose father first taught him in 1945, felt more young blood was needed.
Anyway, the Trout Family Ringers did it again as Shaugh Prior scooped the top prize.
Ryan Trout, captain of the Shaugh Prior A team, and one of a shoal of 12 bellringing Trouts from Eggbuckland and Shaugh Prior, did his best to explain the arcane and majestic world of campanology before the contretemps erupted.
He said: “Here you’ve got six bells. You start with the highest pitched “the treble” and then you have the “second” the “third” and so on, until you get to the lowest bell which is the “tenor”.
“In Devon we have two ringing codes – “method ringing”, where you learn the patterns, and “call changes” where a “captain” or “ringing master” will call each pair of bells.”
“So you start with 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 – then the captain calls “two to three”, and the next peal will be 1, 3, 2, 4, 5, 6.” And so on.
The changes are brought about by either tugging or releasing the “sally” (the fluffy bit) or by grabbing the “end”.
Timing the moment the bell strikes is at the centre of the art.
A full peal takes around three hours. On the day they were just doing “The Queen’s Peal” which is around 15 minutes of changes.
And when they say “around” – they actually mean “exactly” – as somewhere over there, behind a hedge, in an undisclosed garden, sits a team of judges, one of whom holds a stopwatch. And a second over or under, well... points will be lost.
Nobody must know where the judges are, and the judges mustn’t know which team is on the bells.