I grew up in Devon and the Tar Barrels were just accepted as ‘normal’, but when I moved away from the sleepy countryside it became obvious that they really aren’t!
As the beginning of November neared I couldn’t contain my excitement to see the Tar Barrels after a gap of over 20 years, but I continued to get strange looks from my Northern friends.
Turns out none of them had heard of them, or had any idea of what I was so excited about.
So, for those who have never been, let me explain.
While most places celebrate Bonfire night with a fireworks display, a small town in Devon celebrates with a bonfire the size of a small house and the Tar Barrels.
Generally on a Saturday night, on or around the 5th November, Ottery St Mary in East Devon, comes alive with men, women and kids carrying barrels that are on fire!
Amazingly there are no barriers between those carrying the flaming barrels, and the throngs of people who gather to see this fantastic tradition, but somehow no one seems to get hurt!
Don’t be fooled, there’s no ‘cool flame’, this is the real deal. Men, women and kids use just layers of clothes and gloves made from sacking as protection from the very real flames that burn away at the barrels they carry.
It seems unbelievable, but even with 20,000+ people gathered, the crowd somehow contorts itself around the huge flames that leap into the sky, occasionally fuelled by a marshal carrying a tin of paraffin.
If you don’t believe me, below is a video I filmed this year.
The Tar Barrels event isn’t just about the flaming barrels it’s about the town coming alive, doors are thrown open to shops, pubs, churches and charities selling food, drink and playing music.
Everyone is there to have fun and that’s the best thing about this event.
Anyone who grew up in Devon will know that Anderton and Rowlands fun fair was a regular fixture at the Devon County Show, holiday fun fairs and of course the Tar Barrels, so it was fantastic to see them there so many years later.
Some of the favourite rides from the 90s we’re still there such as the Waltzers, The Cage (also known as the Meteor) and the infamous Terminator.
Whilst the last time I was there it was Shaggy’s ‘Boombastic’ which was blasting out, although the songs were different, the vibe was very much the same. Hundreds of people screaming with delight as they were swung from side to side.
This time the initials of the fun fair have another meaning, they are also the initials of mine and my husband’s first names. 💞
A number of stories surround the origins of the Tar Barrels, but its exact origins are unknown. Many believe it started in the early 17th Century after the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
Although not recommended for kids, elderly or those who hate crowds, I definitely recommend experiencing them at least once in your life.
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