Barrels on Fire

Part of the parades on Bonfire Night, in Ottery St Mary (Devon), seventeen tar barrels on fire are carried by crazy competitors who are watched by thousands of spectators.

The custom is over 300 years old but nobody really knows where it originates from, but there is a popular version that says, “Streets must be cleaned from evil spirits and fires of the devil carried away”.

Each of Ottery’s pubs sponsors a single barrel which is soaked in tar for several weeks before the event on 5 November. The barrels are lit outside the pubs, and once the flames begin to pour out, they are hoisted up onto local people’s backs and shoulders.

There are women’s and boy’s competitions during the day, but the professionals (strong men) come at night and carry barrels up to over 30 kilos.

It is an incredible night to remember – one of the biggest bonfires in the South West is ignited on the banks of the River Otter and behind it are the flashing neon’s of the annual fun fair.

GR8 to Know
“Tar” is distilled from wood or coal, is sticky when it is hot, and is used in road making.

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