Traditionally Bonfire night is the night that people set off fireworks and light bonfires. This tradition dates back over 400 years to the date when Guy Fawkes plan was to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament on 5 November 1605 failed.

But in a quiet East Devon town, fifteen minutes from Smallicombe Farm, the locals celebrate Bonfire night in a very different way……they run up and down crowded streets with burning tar barrels on their backs! The history behind this is not exactly known some say it is related to Guy Fawkes and others say it actually dates to the early 14th Century and stems from the practice of setting tar barrels alight to warn of invading fleets.   

It should also be noted that it did used to be common practice, across the West Country, to roll burning tar barrels through the streets. The act has mainly died out now but somehow, in Ottery St Mary, the tradition has evolved into something much more.

During the course of the day there are tar barrels for all ages, with children, youth, women and men’s events.  You must be an Ottery resident to be considered eligible to take part and a committee will decide on the qualification of participants. In total there are seventeen barrels lit with each tar barrel increasing in size.  The climax to the evening being the largest midnight barrel finishing in the main square. Truly a sight to be seen…

What strange local traditions do you have?