Admittedly, us British folk aren’t as big on the “Halloween” thing as you guys across the pond. I never went trick or treating as a kid, and it’s only in recent years that I have taken notice of this lovely little holiday.
Nowadays, I’m getting much better at celebrating Halloween with fancy dress parties and of course the arrival of Otter St Mary’s annual Tar Barrels Festival. Unfortunately, due to the timing this year, I wont be attending but I’ll give you a little run down of last years festivities.
Now, trying to describe this phenomenon is a little tricky, so I visited their website for a little inspiration:
Those who have visited Ottery St Mary on 5 November, still find it difficult to understand what motivates the townspeople into carrying flaming tar barrels through the streets.
Seventeen barrels are carried during the day. They start in the afternoon and range in size from small for the “boys”, medium for the women and youths, up to “gert big unz” for the men. Traditionally, the barrels are set alight at various public houses and hotels around the town and follow a tight schedule until the final barrel is carried in the square around midnight.
Over a 12 month period, barrels are selected and their internal surface coated with good old fashioned coal tar, available from only one source in the country. Straw and paper is placed inside to help the lighting process and the melting tar does the rest.
The “Barrel Rollers” jealously guard their right to carry barrels. Unlike bygone days, the present day “Rolling” has a high element of control but the fervour and commitment is no less now than in olden days. The motivation is borne from a deep sense of tradition and in many cases this has involved generations of the same family. The Tar Barrels is run for the towns people of Ottery and commercial considerations take second place. Although we welcome visitors, the object of the evening is to perpetuate a tradition, so if you attend it, don’t try and change it, just stand back and enjoy one of the spectacles in our country’s history.
Sounds crazy huh? Yes, it is crazy. And it’s extremely dangerous for those participarting and for those mad enough to stand too close. These
monsters men holding their burning tar barrells will literally run into the crowd. It’s full of adrenaline, but a wonderful evening. If you fancy a little less of a thrill, they also have the largest bonfire I have ever seen!
So, grab your warmest cardies, wrap up snug, pack up your soup and enjoy this once in a lifetime event that will leave you quivering at the knees!