Ottery St. Mary Flaming Tar Barrels 2012

When it comes to weird traditions Britain has pretty much every other nation beat, I guess it’s the one thing we still have that makes us great. For anyone who isn’t from around these parts or, at the very least, hasn’t seen V for Vendetta, November the 5th is a very important day for us Brits. It is the anniversary of the day Guy Fawkes attempted to revolutionise terrorism by blowing up the House of Lords. Now we all know he was caught and killed in the nicest possible way, and in the UK we celebrate this failed attempt at destroying democracy by building bonfires and watching firework displays. That is unless you visit Ottery St Mary, a town where things are a bit… different.

This year I finally got to experience the incredible, adrenaline fuelled activity which has put this small town on the map, and it all boils down to 3 simple words – flaming tar barrels. Yes, you read that right, the people of Ottery St Mary get barrels, cape them in tar, set them on fire and run through the crowd. How health and safety allows this tradition to continue I’ll never know, but I’m pleased it still goes ahead each year. I tried to get some decent photos of the occasion yet that somehow proved difficult, what with people running and diving to safety and all that, but I feel the blurry images give it the Basra feel it deserves…

The warning signs couldn’t prepare us for what was in store

Although some people were a bit more nonchalant about the whole occasion

The first barrel we encountered, from quite a distance

And then right in my face

A friend tried to light a cigarette on the barrel, he ended up on the floor with minor burns

Those pictures only tell part of the story, I feel this video sums it up more. Remember, there are no barriers to protect the crowd, it is just a bunch of pyromaniacs running full speed at you and your only way to survive is to get out of the way – a dangerous task in itself, especially when someone throws an aerosol can into the barrel as they did in this 2009 video.

People were injured that year and the event still goes on, which in itself shows how important tradition is. Having a crazy person sprint at you whilst on fire sure beats standing around in the cold watching fireworks, and next time some dick tries to sabotage the event he should be thrown into the barrel so we can finally have a real living Guy to burn (not that I’m condoning vigilante justice of course…).

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