Could you hold a heavy barrel of burning tar on the back of your neck, and then run with it? No, I’m not talking about a medieval practice, but a current day event which celebrates Bonfire night.

Each year, on the 5th of November, the small Devon town of Ottery St Mary hosts Tar Barrels, a tradition in which people run through the streets carrying burning barrels of tar on their backs. Being dangerous and at odds with our health and safety obsessed nation, it inevitably attracts large crowds of up to 25,000 people, all eager to be in on the fire-crazed action.


Along with the ‘barrelers’ barging through the dense crowds, their shoulders and heads ablaze; there is also an enormous bonfire and lots of fireworks. Food stalls line the pavements, sizzling loudly, wafting the smell of cooking meat onto the street. Down by the town’s river and namesake, The Otter, a funfair adds to the carnival atmosphere. The long arm of a Bootster ride carrying screaming people is silhouetted by an orange glow and billowing smoke flecked with ash.


David Roberts, a member of the Otter Rotary Club, said: “It’s a great thing for the town. It attracts people from miles and miles away; people from London, people from Bristol. It’s a really exciting night out. There’s a very active carnival committee who organise everything and it runs so smoothly and for the last 30 years that I’ve experienced it we’ve never had any problems whatsoever.”

If you fancy being part of this adrenaline-soaked, fire-inspired Guy Fawkes festival, then check out the Tar Barrels website for more information.

Listen to Hannah’s report from the festival here: