Autumn shenanigans in a Devon town.

You are here at your own risk.

There’s a little bit of pagan in the air and I love it. I was especially looking forward to last Thursday for a good old pagan fix. In the morning I popped into town to take photographs of all the signs that were being put up for shenanigans happening later in the day.

Warning Flaming Tar Barrels.

However, before the day could really begin, a poorly toddler threw up in my lap and I knew that the evening, for our family, had been written off. For everyone else, the roads close and at four o’clock Ottery St Mary becomes a land of awesomeness.

The Volly

The first time I went to the Tar Barrels was in the year 2000. I was coaxed onto a coach from Exeter without knowing what I was heading toward. I had the best and scariest night ever. Thousands of people arrive every November 5th to stand too close to burning barrels of hot flaming tar. How great is that?

shutting up shop

All the shops are boarded up to keep them safe from the hoards of visitors. There’s a risk of the glass smashing due to the massive volume of people potentially being squashed against the buildings. Such fun!

crushing crowds

That first time I went I was petrified and spent most of the evening running for my life. Well, not really but that’s how it felt. In subsequent years I’ve found myself running towards the flames, trying to get as close as possible. I flippin love it! I’m not sure you’re supposed to do that. The key is to be respectful and responsible.

Tar barrels in the streets

Sadly, this year, because of a pukey boy I was disappointed. I could hear all the cheers and shouts from home. The smell of bonfire wafted all over town and it felt ridiculously magical. I took eldest boy out for an hour, so I could say we’d given our support.

terrible photo's of tar barrels

These were the only pictures I could get. I had a six year old balanced on my hip and I forgot to turn on my flash. I didn’t want to get too close because the boy gets scared. It’s funny because next year it’ll be his classmates taking part. Kids from Ottery families start “rolling” barrels from the age of seven. There are kid’s, women’s and men’s barrels and they take place all over town.  The barrels start small and get bigger thoughout the night culminating with the enormous Midnight barrel. I like the picture on the bottom right. It’s of our walk home but the trees form a circle and the lights reflecting on the road surface look like flames. It’s an upside down barrel! Sort of.

smallish tar barrel from 2011

I took this picture in 2011. I can’t be sure but I reckon this is one of the kids barrels. It isn’t big enough to belong to one of the men. A lit barrel is lifted onto the shoulders and the carrier runs up and down the street, giving a little spin to keep the flames going. Hessian mitts are worn to keep hands from getting crispy and then many layers of what are usually rugby shirts are worn to protect the body. Awesome!

Ottery Bonfire 2011

There is also a huge bonfire, which gets built during preceeding weeks. I love the ritualistic lighting of the fire, it’s amazing to watch. It is seriously the biggest bonfire I have ever seen and the heat that emanates from it is super intense. I always expect it to still be going the next day but it has always burned to the ground.

I seem to have written an awful lot for someone who spent less than an hour there this year.

Any way, 2016 is going to be an amazing year. It’ll be on a Saturday, so the crowds will be huge. This adds to the atmosphere and noise. Great stuff.

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