Ottery St Mary - Tar Barrels

Town Centre, Ottery St Mary, DEVON, EX11 1BZ

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  • Flaming Tar Barrels of Ottery St Mary - The Telegraph
  • Tar Barrels
  • Tar Barrels
  • Bonfire
  • Ottery Tar Barrels
  • Ottery Tar Barrels
  • Ottery Tar Barrels
  • Ottery Tar Barrels

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Every year, for reasons lost in antiquity, the Flaming Tar Barrels are carried through the streets of Ottery St Mary to the delight of thousands of townsfolk and visitors. 

Ottery St. Mary is internationally renowned for its Tar Barrels, an old custom said to have originated in the 17th century, and is held each year. Each of Ottery's central public houses sponsors a single barrel. In the weeks prior to the day of the event, November 5th, the barrels are soaked with tar. The barrels are lit outside each of the pubs in turn and once the flames begin to pour out, they are hoisted up onto local people's backs and shoulders.

The streets and alleys around the pubs are packed with people, all eager to feel the lick of the barrels flame. Seventeen Barrels all in all are lit over the course of the evening.

In the afternoon and early evening there are women's and boy's barrels, but as the evening progresses the barrels get larger and by midnight they weigh at least 30 kilos. A great sense of camaraderie exists between the 'Barrel Rollers', despite the fact that they tussle constantly for supremacy of the barrel. In most cases, generations of the same family carry the barrels and take great pride in doing so. It perpetuates Ottery St Mary's great sense of tradition, of time and of history.

Opinion differs as to the origin of this festival of fire, but the most widely accepted version is that it began as a pagan ritual that cleanses the streets of evil spirits.

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.

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