If I were asked to describe Guy Fawkes Day at Ottery St. Mary in three words it would be: insane, scary, and amazing. On the 5th of November, the residents of Ottery St. Mary celebrate Guy Fawkes with running through the streets with flaming tar barrels on their backs. The burning of the tar barrels has been practiced for hundreds of years. Starting at around 4pm the small boys run with small barrels on their backs. These are followed at intervals by the women and finally around midnight the largest of the men’s barrels. As the evening progresses the barrels get larger and heavier. The bearers vie with one another to carry the flaming barrels as far as they can before they get either too hot to handle or disintegrate in a burning heap in the street. Historically, the bonfires, tar barrels and fireworks commemorate the uncovering of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 in which Guy Fawkes was discovered in a cellar under the House of Lords. The cellar was filled with many explosives and the purpose of the plot was to murder King James I and the Protestant aristocracy. Guy Fawkes was not the instigator but the one who was sent to light the explosives on November 5. Interestingly, Guy Fawkes’ face was the mask of ‘V’ from V for Vendetta—epic and awesome movie.
The night of the tar barrels, I saw my life flash before my eyes more than three times. It was chaos and the square was packed with thousands of English residents. I believe 99% of the University of Exeter was also present. Campus organizations charged a small fee for transportation to the little city outside Exeter. It was the most unique night out I have had in my life. There was no way to avoid the crowd, so if you are claustrophobic, it is not the event for you. The scariest part was getting out of the way of the men with these huge flaming tar barrels. I was right in front of the flaming barrels at least five times that night. Every time, I was frozen in fear and amazement. I was screaming at the top of my lungs most of the night. A local told me it is good luck to touch the flaming barrel and then proceeded to push me towards it. However, you can imagine that did not go well. I almost lost my fingers and he may have lost a few if I had. Overall, it was a very exciting event and if a student is studying during the winter term in Exeter or visiting in early November, they should attend.