Ottery St. Mary, a small town in Devon, is home to one of the most exhilarating and unconventional traditions you'll ever witness – the Tar Barrels. What sets this event apart is not just the blazing barrels being carried through the streets, but also the attire of the daring participants whose only protection from the flames are clothing made from natural fibres.
### A Fiery Tradition
The Tar Barrels of Ottery St. Mary is a centuries-old tradition, believed to have roots dating back to the early 17th century. On November 5th, also known as Guy Fawkes Night, thousands of spectators gather to witness a thrilling spectacle that involves locals, young and old, rolling flaming barrels through the streets of the town. The event has an incredible sense of community and local pride, and it has gained recognition as a must-see attraction for thrill-seekers and culture enthusiasts.
### The Dress Code: Natural Fibres Only
What makes Tar Barrels even more distinctive is the dress code of the participants. When it comes to their attire, they adhere to tradition by wearing clothing made from natural fibres, like wool and cotton and hessian to protect their hands. This might seem like a curious choice, but it's deeply rooted in history and practicality.
The natural fibres provide some degree of protection from the intense heat and sparks generated by the burning barrels. Participants, known as "rollers," wear layers of these materials to shield themselves while also showcasing their commitment to tradition.
### The Role of Wool and Cotton
Wool and cotton, as natural fibres, offer unique qualities that make them ideal choices for the daredevils of Ottery St. Mary:
- **Wool:** Known for its fire-resistant properties, wool has been a favoured choice for centuries. The natural crimp in wool fibres creates tiny pockets of air that provide insulation and make it challenging for heat to penetrate. This serves as a practical safeguard for the rollers.
- **Cotton:** Cotton, though not as fire-resistant as wool, is breathable and comfortable. It allows participants to stay cool as they engage in this intense activity, which can last for hours. The cotton garments often act as a base layer to avoid overheating.
### The Sense of Tradition
The choice of natural fibres is a testament to the respect and love the people of Ottery St. Mary have for their unique tradition. It's a nod to the past, a reminder of the days when the people of the town celebrated their history with this fiery spectacle. The use of natural fibres is not just a matter of practicality; it's a way to honour the heritage and maintain the authenticity of the event.
The Tar Barrels at Ottery St. Mary is an event like no other. The sight of brave participants dressed in natural fibres, rolling blazing barrels through the streets, is a powerful symbol of tradition and community. It's a thrilling experience that combines history, excitement, and a commitment to preserving their unique heritage. So, if you ever find yourself in Devon on November 5th (or the 4th if the 5th is a Sunday} don't miss the chance to witness this incredible spectacle of Tar Barrels, and appreciate the role that natural fibres play in making this tradition possible.
Photos taken by Terry Ife