Events | Festivals | Ottery Tar Barrels

Ottery Tar Barrels

An ancient fire ritual

Every year on 5 November brave souls carry flaming tar barrels through the streets of the small Devon village of Ottery St Mary as the crowd scatters around them.

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.

Seventeen barrels are carried during the day. They start in the afternoon and range in size from small for the "boys", medium for the women and youths, up to "gert big unz" for the men. Traditionally, the barrels are set alight at various public houses and hotels around the town and follow a tight schedule until the final barrel is carried into the square around midnight.

Afterwards, an enormous bonfire is lit and a party goes on into the night with a funfair and other entertainment.

Watching the runners is an exhilarating experience but you’ll need to be quick on your feet to dodge out of the way!


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