Thomas A. Alspaugh

This essential ringing skill is obtained by watching ringers ring and paying attention to when each one pulls. You can watch the ropes (thus ropesight) at about the level of the ringer's face, or you can watch the ringers' hands or arms, according to more experienced ringers; either works.

Some people pick it up fairly quickly, others more slowly. Many ringers told me that I would simply find that I suddenly get it (which is exactly what happened to me), and until that time one just watches the ropes while other people ring.

Don't get the habit of focusing on the ropes up at the ceiling, one experienced ringer told me, as when ringing you won't be able to look up there. You'll have to be looking around at eye level. So even when standing behind and watching, look at that level.

Which bell is ringing last?

This was the first thing I was told to watch for. It's a useful exercise for two reasons:

  1. It's simpler than keeping track of all the ropes, so it's a good thing to start with.
  2. It's a useful skill when tenoring (ringing behind the other bells).

Start by watching a small number n of bells, and when you can reliably spot the last bell out of n, move up to n+1.

I started with 3 bells which I picked up pretty quickly, then moved up to 4 bells, which took a while, then finally 5 bells which was a struggle to get solid. After working on 5 for quite some time I found that one day I had ropesight for 6 as well, and after that point I started concentrating on other things.

Since usually more than 3 people are ringing (or however many you are working on ropesight for), one can choose a set of 3 (for example) to watch, like the 1, 2, and 3, and watch for which of them pulls last.

Every so often you'll need to have an experienced ringer check your results: at each pull you say which bell you think was last (by saying 2 or whichever one you think it was), and they will say yes or nothing or something like no, the 4.

Which bell is ringing first?

For variety I sometimes watched for this.

Using a ringing program

There are a number of software programs that show an image of bellropes moving in the patterns of the various methods and principles, and some people find these useful to practice with. I did not.

Where's the gap?

This requires you to be one of the ringers. If the other ringers are in the right places, you should be able to see the temporal gap into which your bell should fit: you should be able to watch all the ropes earlier than yours fall in steady sequence, see that there's a gap in which you fit, and then afterwards watch all the remaining ropes later than yours fall in steady sequence.

This means that unless you are on one end or the other (ringing either the treble or the biggest bell in the group), you will need to be looking both left and right. Thus to start with you'll probably be put on one end or the other until you get reliable there.

If you are ringing an inside bell, though, you'll want to develop the skill of looking not fully right or left but instead somewhere in the middle, so you can see all the bells at the same time. That means you can't be looking straight at any one of them (unless you are in a really small tower). Once your ropesight gets good enough, you'll be able to tell quickly which bell you need to ring over (that's the bell you're primarily interested in at any particular moment) so that you have time to turn to look at that ringer.

Part of this skill depends on having everything else — your ropehandling, primarily — become a habit, so you don't have to be thinking about that and can devote your attention to watching the other ringers. Several experienced ringers told me there's actually a lot of time between pulls, so that you don't have to rush anything, and this eventually turned out to be true once I had developed ropehandling into a habit. But until that happy day it always felt like a mad rush fitting everything in.

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