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Ottery St Mary Tar Barrels

Ottery St Mary, Devon

Location Guide


Ottery St. Mary is internationally renowned for its Tar Barrels, which is held on November 5th each year, unless it falls on a Sunday. It is part of the Ottery Carnival which is split in two parts. The first part which normally takes place on the Saturday before November 5th, is a procession of tableuax and a grand firework display. The second part is the lighting of the annual bonfire and the carrying of the tar barrels through the streets.

It is an old custom originating from the 17th century, where the barrels are soaked with tar and then hoisted up onto people's backs and shoulders, originally they were rolled. During the afternoon and early evening barrels suitable for boys and women are lit but as the evening progresses the barrels get larger for the men to carry, with them getting up to 30 kilos in weight by midnight, which is carried around the square. A total of 17 barrels of differing sizes are lit, one outside each of the 17 pubs/hotels in Ottery are lit, and only those who live in the town for most of their lives may carry a barrel and in fact generations of the same family have competed over the years. The real origins or reason for this event is not really known, but it is thought to be a pagan festival to ward off evil spirits.

On tar barrel day a Guy is placed on the top of a large bonfire which has taken 3 weeks to build from material collected from the community. When completed a week before the event it usually stands about 35ft high and 50ft round. On the evening of tar barrel day it is lit with a flaming torch watched by the local community.

The November night sky is alight with fire on this day. This is primarily an event for the local townspeople, however it does attract many outside visitors and they have worked with this over the years including now providing two car parks to allow people to attend. It gets busy, particularly in the evening sessions with between 15-20,000 people crammed into the small streets of this small town.

The Carnival procession on the Saturday before is an evening procession with illuminated floats and marchers and starts at 7.30pm. Finishing off with a grand firework display.


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Graham Tait

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Location: Ottery St Mary Tar Barrels, Ottery St Mary, Devon

Grid Reference: SY101951 Ceremonial County: Devon

Map Link: Streetmap

Aerial photo: Google Aerial Photo

Getting there: From M5 J29 take the A30 towards Honiton, Ottery St Mary is on the B3174

Access: On Tar Barrel night, you will be guided to one of two car parks just outside the town depending on which direction you come from. Then follow the crowds.
Website: www.otterytarbarrels.co.uk
Other Useful Websites: Ottery Tourism     Photos       Wiki
Email: info@otterytarbarrels.co.uk
Address: Ottery St Mary, Devon
Postcode: EX11 Telephone:
Opening Times: Rolling starts at 4.30pm for youths and women. Car parks for evening events opens at 6pm.

Charges: Free to attend the event however there is a 10 car park fee on the Tar Barrel night.

Nearby Locations:
Other Location Pages: Fire Festivals

Notes: No special parking on the procession night, the Saturday before. On the Tar Barrel night there are two car parks provided and open at 6pm, the roads into the town are closed. The town is completely shut off from 6pm on Tar Barrel night.

They have a Safety page on their website - make sure you read this before you attend. It is good sound advice.


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By: Tracey Park Section: Fire Festivals & Fireworks Key:
Page Ref: ottery_barrel Topic: Activities and Educational  Last Updated: 10/2012

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