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A Tale From a Country Church by Dave Whitehouse

05 October 2012

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We stayed in a small Yorkshire village for three months getting to know the locals and checking out the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales in Springtime. We were taken on a tour of St Mary's Church which has stood on it's hilltop site for a thousand years. Whilst there, the Church Warden told us a story of a stonemason who, a few months earlier, had had a bad Friday.

It appears he had a key for the Church and went on a Friday morning to do some work in the Belfry which is within the bell-tower. The stairs to the belfry are winding and very narrow.

At some stage during the morning he slips and falls and badly breaks his ankle. The Church is perhaps a hundred metres from the nearest habitation and so he starts yelling for help, remembering he is in agony and cannot walk at all. Add to that, the belfry was accessed through a small door (about 600mm high) and along a very rickety boardwalk. After about an hour no response has been accorded him so he begins an extremely painful crawl back along the boardwalk, over a doorstep, into the belfry and along another boardwalk where he passes out between the two bells. When he wakes, and fearing no-one would hear him till Sunday morning service, he reaches for an old piece of wood and starts banging on the nearest bell.

Every Friday afternoon, at no particular time, 'Quasimodo', the local bell-ringer, holds his practice. Being so used to it, the sound of the bells ringing means nothing to the locals until one householder, after a couple of hours, feels enough is enough and yells from her back fence that if Quasimodo didn't get his bells sorted out she would come over and sort him out personally. This she eventually does and after climbing the narrow, thousand-year-old spiral staircase finds, not Quasimodo, but the moaning stonemason in a right old state. She tells him to stay put (what else could he do) while she runs to the local pub to find some help. The regulars at the pub spring in to action by ringing the local volunteer fire-brigade who turn up an hour later to render assistance. The regulars stay in the pub.

The fire-brigade decide the narrow staircase can't be used, either by them nor by the rather large and unfit district nurse, and after trying unsuccessfully, realise their ladder it too short to reach the parapet of the bell-tower. The fire-engine then gets stuck in the soft ground below the church spire. Another regular, using the pub's phone, then rings the fire-brigade in the next town and they turn up with a longer ladder. The regulars again stay in the pub.

Now we have two fire-brigades who still can't reach our stricken stonemason who, after five hours, is now in excruciating pain. So the regulars decide the local mountain-rescue squad should be called. They arrive and eventually scramble into action and after much huffing and puffing lower the stonemason over the parapet to the churchyard below. He is taken away in an ambulance and then the locals and, by now, tipsy regulars are ejected from the pub by the police to help extricate the first fire-engine from the soft ground.

The upshot of the story is: the stonemason broke his ankle in three places., he was off work for five months., the grateful stonemason shouted the regulars a beer forgetting he'd left his bar-tab open., the regulars had more than one beer., the Church warden was censored regarding leaving tradesmen in the Church alone., Quasimodo was given a schedule that told exactly when he could practice ringing the bells - and this whole funny side of the story was heard by two visiting Kiwis.

Quasimodo turned out to be my wife's 2nd cousin!!  TRUE !!

Dave Whitehouse

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