Tar Barrels, Ottery St Mary, Devon

There are some of the strangest customs in the West Country, among them Tar Barrels, held in the small town of Ottery St Mary in early November each year. This has now become an internationally famous event, pulling the crowds from far and wide to see townsfolk running through the streets with flaming barrels coated in tar held aloft in a tradition that is said to date back to the 17th century, possibly starting after the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. The event is followed by a huge bonfire on the banks of the River Otter and a funfair so you can well imagine the excitement, the buzz in the air.

Quite why the Tar barrels custom started isn’t really known though there is some belief that its origins are in pagan rituals whereby fire was thought to cleanse the town of evil; others suggest it was a way of fumigating the cottages or of warning of possible invasion by the Spanish Armada. Anyway, it's well worth seeing – the atmosphere is amazing.

All information correct at the time of writing

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