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Uncle Tom Cobley leads the Combe Martin Carnival

One of the best Carnivals in North Devon is the Combe Martin Carnival which lasts 8 days but has fundraising activities throughout the year.
Most Carnivals are all over in one afternoon of fun, but the Combe Martin Carnival lasts for a whole week! It starts on the second Saturday in August and ends the following Saturday with plenty of fun and entertainment sandwiched in between.

Meet Uncle Tom Cobley at the Combe Martin Carnival!

The main parade takes place on the Wednesday in the middle of the week’s events. What makes the Combe Martin Carnival stand out from the rest is the amazing quality and quantity of colourful and imaginatively decorated floats. They vary in theme but most of the local businesses are represented, and some have been doing so for decades.

“Uncle Tom Cobley” has been part of the parade since 1911, and for those who haven’t get had the pleasure of seeing him, Uncle Tom is a 20-foot-long decorated wooden horse pulled by a tractor and ridden by seven local riders wearing bowler hats, red neckerchiefs and colourful waistcoats.

The “Uncle Tom Cobley” horse is based on the old song and story of seven gentlemen travelling to Widecombe Fair. The original wooden frame horse was pulled by a real horse and it was regularly invited to attend other carnival parades. Apparently, in 1939, the horse took fright at its strange load and dumped all the riders on the road at Hele Bay! Since then, a tractor has been used for power.

The authentic wooden horse had to be rebuilt in 1978 to conform to local regulations. It was constructed at Lower Leigh Farm where it is now “stabled” between outings. The 2012 Combe Martin Carnival was Uncle Tom’s 100th appearance when I can report he was still looking good for his years!

Uncle Tom Cobley has his own ground crew in fancy dress to help steer the horse through the streets and it is often accompanied by real horses and riders. Traditionally the rider at the tail end flicks the horse’s tail from time to time and gives spectators a soaking, so be warned and stand clear!

Combe Martin Village

Combe Martin is one of my favourite North Devon villages, with a long main street running for well over 3km (two miles) down the narrow valley from beyond the Pack O’Cards Inn to the rocky cove and beach. Old cottages in all manner of styles and ages line High Street which becomes King Street closer to the sea, and the owners get a grandstand view of the Carnival parade.

Combe Martin has just over 2,500 residents and is a beautiful spot to visit, just four miles east of . The remains of silver mines can be seen nearby and Combe Martin silver was used in making the Crown Jewels. Close to the , it has a real sense of community with lively pubs, gift shops, local stores and antique shops.

Locals sit in their front gardens or perch on the garden wall to watch the parade of floats, music, dancers, clowns, and entertainers in fancy dress pass by, waving and smiling. Thousands of visitors line the streets outside the shops and cafés to cheer on this main event. The procession starts at the top of the village where judging takes place, and ends two miles later at the beach where the party starts.

Things to do at the Combe Martin Carnival

Other events during the week include the crowning of the Carnival Queen, a Raft Race on the nearby river, a Wheelbarrow Race, Car Show, live music, side stalls, fireworks and family entertainment.

Prior to the Carnival, fundraising events include a Duck Race, a Strawberry Fair, Bingo and guided tours up the tower of the historic parish church for a small fee. If you live in the area, Combe Martin Carnival can be an all-year-long event. For the rest of us, we just have eight days in August to join in the fun!

Do you live in Combe Martin? Is it as charming as it appears? Do tell us more about the Combe Martin Carnival and/or Uncle Tom Cobley in the comments box below.

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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