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Ottery St Mary Bonfire Night: Great balls of fire

It is not often that you come across an event where the organisers make no bones of the fact that it is extremely dangerous and that it could be disastrous if you don't do as you are told. So, if the tar barrel event in Ottery St Mary is on the agenda for you this year, you have been warned!
If you are looking for a form of entertainment this November, which can only be described as ‘a little different’, take yourself down to Ottery St Mary in South Devon on Bonfire night because you will witness something like you have never seen before.

An ancient tradition

The famous Flaming Tar Barrels has been taking place in Ottery for several hundred years, it is thought that it began shortly after Guy Fawkes and his gunpowder plot in 1605 and there are many towns up and down the country who celebrate the occasion by rolling burning barrels down the main streets. Ottery is different though because it is now the only town in the UK where these barrels are not rolled but carried by various members of the public. When you take into consideration that these barrels are coated in tar and then lit, it is not difficult to see why crowds always flock to this ancient town in South Devon every Bonfire night.

The only times when the event does not take place on November 5th is when it falls on a Sunday and on these occasions the tar barrels are carried through the town on the 4th which will be the Saturday.

Much more than a bit of fun!

It would be fair to say that for the people of Ottery, the whole tar barrel ‘thing’ is not something that they just do for a bit of fun, it is a way of life with the same families being involved for generations.

Seventeen barrels are used in the event, each one varying in sizes that are carried by boys, women and then the largest for the men. Each barrel is carefully chosen and then coated in tar over the course of the previous year. The barrels are then lit outside the various pubs and hotels in the town with the last, and biggest barrel being carried through the town at around midnight.

Don’t play the fool!

Something that you simply must remember about this event if attending is that there really is no messing about. Every year there are reports of someone getting burnt or frightened by the flames so don’t think that you can play the fool or allow children to wander around, because accidents can and do happen!

It is perhaps of little wonder that both the organisers of the event as well as the many marshals who are in attendance can seem to be a little abrupt. It is not because they have got out of the bed on the wrong side but because similar complaints are made by the general public every year and can always be avoided by following the simple instructions to view the event safely.

If you are driving to Ottery for the event there is no other option than using one of the two dedicated car parks that will set you back a tenner. The aim of using the car parks is to keep the surrounding roads clear for the emergency services and even though the parking fee may at first seem to be on the steep side, the whole system works really well.

Just play by the rules and you will have a fantastic night and one that will stay in the memory for a very long time.

There must be several other events which are held around this time of the year which are unique to a particular town or village and which dates back hundreds of years, do you know of any?

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