Flaming Tar Barrels on Bonfire Night

A pre-Bonfire Night post today, to get you in the mood for fire and frolicking.

Ottery Tar Barrels

I was hunting through my old photos earlier, and came across an album from exactly a year ago that I completely forgot to share with you. So, without much ado…

Last autumn we hired a Landrover (any excuse), headed on down to Dorset, and took up residence in Wolverton Gatehouse. It wasn’t one of the most exciting Landmark Trust properties that we’ve stayed in I have to admit, but it was very picturesque from the outside.

Wolveton Gatehouse

Wolveton Gatehouse

The first night coincided with Tom’s birthday, so he was allocated the honour of choosing the obligatory fancy-dress theme. After rejecting several inspired ideas (‘dress as a Kevin Costner character from any of his films’, being my personal favourite), he finally alighted on ‘dress as your mum’s favourite TV or film character’. The only stipulation being that you weren’t allowed to explain in advance why you were asking, and you had to go with the first answer she gave. The results were pretty wonderful, but you can see for yourselves!

Fancy Dress Party

So, from left to right, we have: Miranda, Doc from Back to the Future, Spock, Aslan and Tommy Cooper.

Fancy Dress Party

Not forgetting Groucho Marx…

Fancy Dress Party

Fancy Dress Party

…and Robert Redford, from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Yes I have stubble. I went full-Redford.

Fancy Dress Party

I think the conclusion we can all draw from this, is that our mums are AWESOME. And weird… but in the best possible way. So thanks Mum, and all the mums, for being the goddamned coolest.

Fancy Dress Party

Fancy Dress Party

Fancy Dress Party

Fancy Dress Party

The next day we ate a lot of fish and chips by the sea, looked at tanks, and hung out with some monkeys. Really though, we were just killing time before we could weave our way down dark, country lanes to Ottery St Mary.

Nobody knows for certain why men, women and children carry burning wooden barrels coated with tar around the town every year, but it is the West Country, so they don’t need to explain themselves. The size of the congregation was phenomenal, but everyone wandered cheerfully up and down from bonfire to town centre via toffee apples, mulled cider and jacket potatoes, so it never felt claustrophobic. Despite barrels of fire being carried at a run through densely packed crowds, the atmosphere was relaxed and the people friendly.

Ottery Tar Barrels

Ottery Tar Barrels

Ottery Tar Barrels

The barrel rollers wore (presumably dampened/ fire-proofed?) hessian mitts, but were otherwise unprotected. Cameras and camera-phones obviously made the most of the spectacle, but just as many people were happy to simply bask in the proximity of the death-barrels. Flurries of sparks cascaded onto the ground, and flames plumed into the air as they looped and turned through the square. Their centres throbbed with heat, a fierce amber glow that was both slightly alarming and yet also strangely hypnotising.

Ottery Tar Barrels

Ottery Tar Barrels

Some spectators went to greater lengths than others to get a good view (he actually received a round of applause from the crowd when he successfully ascended the street-light, though was forced to relinquish his vantage-point soon after by weary police).

Ottery Tar Barrels

We watched the tar barrels for a while, then made our way back to the now-dying bonfire, picking up cider and mulled wine rations as we went. Finally burning low enough that we could get near to it, we joined the circle and stood as close as we could to the glowing embers.

Ottery Tar Barrels

Ottery Tar Barrels

Ottery Tar Barrels

Ottery Tar Barrels

What are your Bonfire Night plans? We hope you enjoy it, whatever you do!

You might also like:

fancy dress party   Shute Gatehouse   The Imaginarium, York 6

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