Ok, a few pics of this year’s Tar barrels in Ottery St Mary. I took them on my phone so they’re not fabulous but I couldn’t let it pass without saying something about the weekend. It’s unique and special, it has to be done. I’m not writing a proper article but do check out 2016 here and 2015 here. Those posts have more info.
You can’t see well but that’s the massive bonfire next to the river, which in turn is next to the fairground. Over to the left somewhere is where I stung my arse on nettles. Someone might have seen but there were a lot of bushes to hide in and I needed a wee. It’s a pity that it was too dark to spot the stingers.
A bonfire is mesmerising. We stood and watched in revery for a while before going off to find a few burning barrels. As usual, the kids went home after the bonfire. Well, we found a safe spot for them to witness one barrel and then they had to go home. Too dangerous for little guys.
The square was packed with people. Although I’m pretty sure it was relatively “quiet” for a Saturday. I didn’t get proper pictures of the barrel being carried. I did a ten second burst as one went by and then put my phone in my pocket for the most of it. I wanted to enjoy it with my eyes. Last year I was too focussed on getting a good picture (not that I achieved it). I’ll leave that to the professionals. If you google the event you can find some terrific footage. You’ll then be able to see that the barrels really are in the crowd. No safety barrier. No illusions.
Once midnight passes the crowds have thinned, with everyone staggering home. I stayed on hoping some magic would happen. It didn’t. Just a lot of trash and a strange quiet. At that point I felt I’d out-stayed my welcome so I dragged myself away to my bed. Roll on next year.
It’s November and I live in Devon, that means one thing to me: Tar Barrels!!
I am alive and well after spending an evening being squeezed and squashed in amongst thousands of people. Saturday night was absolutely mental! It’s been a few years since the Tar Barrels was held on a Saturday night and the difference in crowd numbers is huge. If the 5th of November landed on a Tuesday, for example, it’d be comparatively sedate (I’m lying, it’d still be nuts).
Ottery St Mary is a town in East Devon and it’s been my home for seven years. It’s my favourite place too and there are many reasons why. Pop over to The Guardian’s latest Let’s Move To… for a bit more of an insight as to why I think it’s so special. (I wonder if you’ll spot anything interesting in that article… Let me know if you do! heehe). I can’t believe the article didn’t mention the beavers that live on the river: the only wild ones in England! Ottery obviously has so many good things, they can’t all fit into one article.
I wrote about the Tar Barrels last year but didn’t get many pictures (didn’t get much of an experience at all but that’slast year’s story). This year, I really wanted to get some decent photographs. Since I got my nice camera, I’ve spent the last eleven months practising taking pictures of crochet. I never thought to learn about taking pictures of moving flames, whilst trying not to get trampled in the dark. Silly me. The pictures I got on Saturday are not as good as I’d hoped for. There are people that have taken better on their Iphones. Meh.
The family set out just after four o’clock and made our way to one of the kid’s barrels. Luckily for us, one of our friends has a garden with the perfect vantage point for observing one of the barrel runs. It’s good for kids watching as they don’t always like being in the crowds and this event isn’t really recommended for children. We only take the kids out for the early barrels and the bonfire. After that, they have to go home!
Children as young as seven get the honour of rolling the barrels. It’s local families that do it, generation after generation. It’s a wonderful tradition and it’s a privilege to be able to witness it. This year we got to see Eldest’s class mates do it for the first time and that added something extra too. They’re all layered up so they’re not in too much danger of getting burnt.
We managed to miss the lighting of the bonfire as we’d gone home for tea. It’s one of the best bits, if you ask me! This year, even if we’d given it plenty of time, we still would have missed it. Dolly steps had to be taken to get over the bridge. It was rammed. I’ve been a few times on a Saturday but this is the busiest I can remember. I’ve had a look online today but I can’t find the numbers of attendance. I’ve seen estimates of up to thirty thousand people but I don’t know if that’s accurate. I’ve also spotted figures nearer ten thousand. I dunno. It’s a lot, whatever the number. (It’ll be busy next year as I think it’ll be a Saturday then too- they don’t do Sundays).
The bonfire is fierce. And massive.
We went to the fair as well. A funfair is great but it’s easy to spend all your money, so we ended up being mainly spectators. I love looking at the bright lights and hearing all the screams!
After the fair, we got rid of the children and went out to watch the big barrels. There’s no art to this bit, getting a good Tar Barrel experience is mostly down to luck. If you’re not in the right place it is nearly impossible to fight your way to a good spot. And you can’t always tell what will be a good spot until you’re either in it, or stood miles away, feeling sad that you won’t feel the heat or the thrill of getting right up alongside a great big burning barrel. That is certainly the case on a busy night. I’ve found it more fun and been more brave when there is that little bit extra room to move. You can follow the barrels and get closer.
I swapped cameras for the late night stuff. Crikey, I’d forgotten how annoying my old point and shoot job was. The delay on the button drove me crazy and I missed loads of potentially amazing shots. I have many pictures of the back of strange heads, my sister’s boyfriend’s bum (deleted, thanks) and out of focus close ups of the hessian mitts (that protect roller’s hands). The zoom wasn’t instantaneous like I’m now used to either. I’ve become spoiled by a fancy pants camera. However, it was too dodgy to take it back out again.
Even with the point and shoot, I do like those flames. I wish I’d been able to capture the sea of people around them. Next year. There’s always next year….
I’m a bit embarassed to admit that I only managed to stay out until half ten. My back was killing me and two days later it still hasn’t recovered. The plan is to train my muscles for the next 363 days so that I will not be a feeble old lady but have the stamina of a midnight barrel man. I was hearing stories in the playground this morning and I felt envious; people had seen late night punch ups and partying and I missed it! Pah!
We went and checked on the bonfire one last time, which had reduced in size, and heat. Beyond it, the funfair was still full of gusto.
And then I said goodbye to it all for another year…
There’s a little bit of pagan in the air and I love it. I was especially looking forward to last Thursday for a good old pagan fix. In the morning I popped into town to take photographs of all the signs that were being put up for shenanigans happening later in the day.
However, before the day could really begin, a poorly toddler threw up in my lap and I knew that the evening, for our family, had been written off. For everyone else, the roads close and at four o’clock Ottery St Mary becomes a land of awesomeness.
The first time I went to the Tar Barrels was in the year 2000. I was coaxed onto a coach from Exeter without knowing what I was heading toward. I had the best and scariest night ever. Thousands of people arrive every November 5th to stand too close to burning barrels of hot flaming tar. How great is that?
All the shops are boarded up to keep them safe from the hoards of visitors. There’s a risk of the glass smashing due to the massive volume of people potentially being squashed against the buildings. Such fun!
That first time I went I was petrified and spent most of the evening running for my life. Well, not really but that’s how it felt. In subsequent years I’ve found myself running towards the flames, trying to get as close as possible. I flippin love it! I’m not sure you’re supposed to do that. The key is to be respectful and responsible.
Sadly, this year, because of a pukey boy I was disappointed. I could hear all the cheers and shouts from home. The smell of bonfire wafted all over town and it felt ridiculously magical. I took eldest boy out for an hour, so I could say we’d given our support.
These were the only pictures I could get. I had a six year old balanced on my hip and I forgot to turn on my flash. I didn’t want to get too close because the boy gets scared. It’s funny because next year it’ll be his classmates taking part. Kids from Ottery families start “rolling” barrels from the age of seven. There are kid’s, women’s and men’s barrels and they take place all over town. The barrels start small and get bigger thoughout the night culminating with the enormous Midnight barrel. I like the picture on the bottom right. It’s of our walk home but the trees form a circle and the lights reflecting on the road surface look like flames. It’s an upside down barrel! Sort of.
I took this picture in 2011. I can’t be sure but I reckon this is one of the kids barrels. It isn’t big enough to belong to one of the men. A lit barrel is lifted onto the shoulders and the carrier runs up and down the street, giving a little spin to keep the flames going. Hessian mitts are worn to keep hands from getting crispy and then many layers of what are usually rugby shirts are worn to protect the body. Awesome!
There is also a huge bonfire, which gets built during preceeding weeks. I love the ritualistic lighting of the fire, it’s amazing to watch. It is seriously the biggest bonfire I have ever seen and the heat that emanates from it is super intense. I always expect it to still be going the next day but it has always burned to the ground.
I seem to have written an awful lot for someone who spent less than an hour there this year.
Any way, 2016 is going to be an amazing year. It’ll be on a Saturday, so the crowds will be huge. This adds to the atmosphere and noise. Great stuff.