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Hatherleigh Carnival: A flaming good time

Devon seems to have all sorts of ancient traditions which are celebrated by the locals every year with the carnival at Hatherleigh being no exception. The flaming barrels make an appearance as do the expertly decorated floats but there is an aspect of paganism involved which is a little weird, to say the least!
The Hatherleigh Carnival takes place every year on the second Saturday of November. It has been one of the highlights of the year for this small town in North Devon since the turn of the last century and combines Guy Fawkes Night celebrations with a number of other traditional activities and fundraisers including tar barrel running.

An early start for the Tar Barrels Run

This unique and historic event originally involved pulling Tar Barrels around ten different local pubs. It was a tough job and needed plenty of strong farmworkers to pull the barrels along the tarmac roads. The route was a total of 15 miles!

Nowadays, on the Friday before the big day of the carnival, two sets of heavy barrels are pulled up Market Street by local children, accompanied by musical entertainment. They are situated ready for an early start on Saturday morning. At 5am, the big day starts when the first barrel run begins through the town. Some of the barrels are set alight and are dragged through the town on special sleds, usually by a hardy committee member.

What to expect at the Hatherleigh Carnival

Thousands of people descend on Hatherleigh during the day for the carnival and those in attendance will confirm that it really is very exciting and special. The Hatherleigh Carnival Day includes the crowning of the Carnival Queen, Prince and Princess and there is plenty of family entertainment on the street.

In the evening, the grand procession gathers in the Market Place at 6pm and the decorated floats are spectacular. At 7.30pm the floats are joined by a torthlit procession of locals through the streets.

When it is time for the second set of flaming barrels to run, at around 9.30pm, they are paraded down the street within touching distance of those at the front of the crowd. You can literally feel the heat on your face! The whole experience can be very scary so if you have children make sure that you know exactly where they are at all times! It is all over quite fast and the smouldering remains of the barrels end up on the bonfire at the market.

Don’t tell the vicar!

The flaming barrels aspect of the Hatherleigh Carnival goes back hundreds of years and is thought to have a pagan connection. Nowhere is this more evident than in the celebrations that take place on the night before the carnival. It is a tradition that some of the locals will impersonate other members of the community, all in a fun way of course but it really is like stepping into a scene out of the !

The event always attracts huge crowds so it is advisable for those attending the carnival to arrive early to secure the best vantage points. Parking is well organised and is modestly priced at £1. You can fill in the time by enjoying something to eat as there are plenty of stalls and places offering hot food. The local fish and chip shop is my particular favourite, but queues are likely to be longer than usual.

Many towns and villages host festivals and carnivals that date back many years. Do you have a favourite historic celebration? Why do you think it might appeal to people who have never experienced it before?

About Gillian Birch

Born in Cheshire, Gillian Birch moved to Cornwall at her earliest opportunity and never looked back. After 20 years, her ongoing discovery of popular attractions, quiet footpaths and local eateries has made her a fount of knowledge as she entertains readers with her informative articles on the hidden gems of Devon & Cornwall from a local point-of-view.

Find Gillian on Google+, and Twitter.

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