They provide the grand soundtrack to our historic moments, call out for our celebrations and toll sadly in empathy with our grief.

They call us to wake, to pray, to work, to arms, to feast and, in times of crisis, to come together. Above all, bells are the sound of freedom.

The bitter-sweet sound of just one bell or the majesty of a whole peal has become part of our English heritage and much of the country’s history can be traced through the history of its bells. The ancient art of bell ringing is an activity like no other – a unique mix of physical exercise with mental agility that is widely practised and still evolving –providing a familiar soundtrack to our cities, towns and villages.

Situated at the confluence of the rivers Thames and Ock, Abingdon’s St Helen’s Church has stood since Anglo-Saxon times. Its tower houses a modern ring of 10 bells, graded from the smallest treble to the biggest tenor, cast by Whitechapel Foundry in 2005 and weighing over three tons in total.

As I ascended the tiny spiral staircase up the 12th century stone steps to the ringing chamber, I could feel the movement of the wooden frame above our heads in the belfry - as Friday evening’s regular practice took place.

I was told the biggest danger here is not being lifted to the ceiling by the rope, but developing a lifelong addiction to this noble art.

The first stage in learning to ring is to develop the skills to ‘handle’ the bell. You begin by practicing each of the two strokes – holding the hemp rope correctly, moving with it and catching the woollen sally at the right place and time – then putting the two together.

This is done on a one-to-one basis and is often on a silenced bell. Here in Abingdon, they even have 21st century technology in the form of a chiming computer simulation - to hone their skills for “Sunday best” without waking up the neighbours.

Steeple Keeper Isaac O’Shea has been a budding musician since the age of twelve, but he’s had to adjust his sense of rhythm to add this string to his musical bow.

Change-ringing music is like no other. It is not written on a standard score, but performed entirely from memory and is learnt by the path of the order that each bell sounds.

Developed about 300 years ago, these infinite sequences are known as methods and local favourites include Abingdon Surprise Royal and the “most musical” Bristol Peal - consisting of over 5,000 changes, non-stop for up to 45 minutes.

Abingdon Society of Bellringers has dozens of members, aged eight to 80, with decades of experience between them, and Tower Captain Brian Read and his colleagues are keen to pass their unique skills from generation to generation of passionate music makers.

It may take a lifetime to fully master, but with concentration and dedication you too can learn the ropes quite quickly and play your part in continuing this wholesome tradition for centuries more to come.