Fireworks and bonfires are what is expected on the 5th November in the UK. It’s Guy Fawkes Night, a tradition dating from 1605 when a Gunpowder plot failed to blow up Parliament. It’s wearing two jumpers and two pairs of socks, and mittens to snuggle from the cold. It’s buying a hotdog and a cider or two in preparation for the eagerly awaited display. It’s waving a sparkler and writing your name in the sky in fleeting silver letters. It’s standing shoulder to shoulder with family and friends, oohing and ahhing as fireworks erupt above.
Unless you live in the West Country…
There are no fireworks in the historic town of Ottery St Mary. No peaceful standing around. Oh no.
Coaches pile into the town, car parks are rammed and streets full of meandering people. It’s not for the faint hearted and those of a delicate disposition are advised to stay away. For soon there is shouting and shoving and FLAMNG TAR BARRELS!!! Yes, selected locals light tar barrels and run around the town, brandishing the fire towards the crowds!
It is genuinely dangerous! Shops windows are boarded up as a precaution and the emergency services are on standby. In this health and safety obsessed culture it’s nice, if a little surprising, to see that a tradition which is hundreds of years old can continue without the interference of rules and regulations, which would ruin the pulse-raising event. And it’s free to see!
There’s a funfair too and numerous food stalls. One burger seller was set up outside the church; the Vicar was preaching “Heavenly food. Divine circumstances. Endorsed by your local Vicar and bell ringer!” My housemates did try the pork and apple sauce burger and said it lived up to its description.
It was a very bizarre evening. How the tradition began is unknown but I know why it has continued – it’s hilarious. If you are in crazy Devon next year for Bonfire night and you fancy something a bit nuts, Ottery St Mary’s flaming barrels are my recommendation!