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Best of British: Bonfire Night

BY Anna Walker

30th Oct 2017 My Britain

Best of British: Bonfire Night

Remember, remember the fifth of November with seven Bonfire Night celebrations you’ll never forget.

Lewes Bonfire Night, East Sussex 


Once a year this sleepy town is transformed into a burning parade of lit crosses and flaming pop-culture effigies as the townsfolk board up their windows and take to the streets.

The people of Lewes are honouring a tradition dating back to the burning of 17 local protestant martyrs under the reign of Mary I. Tradition has transmuted over the years to include tributes to those lost in other conflicts,but burning crosses and spectacular costumes have been mainstays of the night for over 150 years.

Keep an eye out for giant tableaus of “Enemies of the Bonfire”. Recent years have seen replicas of Donald Trump, Sepp Blatter and Theresa May all feel the force of the flames.

Says the Bonfire Society’s captain of ranks Mick Symes, “Our tableau is top secret. All I can say is it will represent something extremely well known, although I don’t think we’ll bother with Brexit…everyone’s sick of that!”


Turning the Devil’s Stone, Devon


“Every November 5, the bell ringers of our little village save the world from catastrophe. Not that the majority of people will be aware of this…” So explains Paul Watts, proprietor of the Shebbear village website.

The centrepiece of Shebbear village square is a rather unceremoniouslooking rock known as the Devil’s Stone. Weighing about a ton, it’s unusual because it wasn’t forged from any local rock formation.

Some claim it was once a pagan altar but locals—including Paul—are quick to explain that “the devil is trapped under the rock, but he’s continually trying to dig himself out to wreak havoc on mankind. Fortunately, our villagers turn the hefty stone and thwart his efforts in a ceremony that pre-dates time.” In fact, some believe the stone turning to be the oldest ceremony in Europe.

Visitors can expect to encounter Morris dancers, face painting and a barbecue—fit entertainment for avoiding the end of the world. 


Tar Barrels Festival, Exeter 


In a beloved tradition that’s been 400 years in the making, each November 5, 87 “barrel rollers” descend upon the town of Ottery St Mary, on the eastern outskirts of Exeter, holding burning barrels aloft. It’s the only town in the country to still carry full-sized, lit tar barrels through its streets to mark Bonfire Night.

There are many stories that attempt to explain the origin of this unusual ritual. Though it’s likely to have begun in response to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, some claim the barrels served the more practical purpose of fumigating local cottages or warning townsfolk of the approach of the Spanish Armada.

Three weeks before Bonfire Night, the community begins to gather material for a giant bonfire and with a week to go, it usually stands at an impressive 35ft high, and 50ft wide. 


Skinningrove Bonfire, Yorkshire


Starting life as a village arts project in 1982, the annual Skinningrove Bonfire was originally planned as a one-off event. Such was its charm however, that it’s returned to the North Yorkshire village every year since.

Local children create decorative festoons while volunteers build the bonfire structure—each year a unique, creative design—and organise the event itself, which welcomes around 5,000 visitors.

The night begins at 6.30pm with musical performances, followed by a firework display and the lighting of the bonfire. The event’s treasurer Chris Joy’s favourite structure so far was “the Olympic Stadium, because it opened like a flower as it burned.”

This year visitors should expect the bonfire to resemble a bird in flight, celebrating the rich local heritage of keeping and racing pigeons.

Says Chris, “Our community-led bonfire brings a sense of enormous pride to an often overlooked village in a part of the country many have never heard of.”


Hopetoun House, Edinburgh


With a Game of Thrones-worthy theme of ice and fire, this year’s firework festivities at Hopetoun House are set to be a crowd pleaser.

One of Scotland’s finest stately homes, Hopetoun dates back to the 17th century and has been home to the Hope family since the late 1600s. The stunning 18th-century exterior makes for one of Britain’s most prestigious firework backdrops.

Says marketing manager Louisa Kerr, “This event is a wonderful treat. Attending a professionally organised display lets everyone enjoy the night in our safe and beautiful surroundings. My favourite part— other than the display itself—is the countdown to the bonfire being lit. We spend months here on the estate gathering up the bits and pieces which will go up in flames, so it’s quite a spectacle!” 


River of Light, Liverpool and Wirral


The skies are set to light up on both sides of the River Mersey with a dazzling musical fireworks display in Liverpool and Wirral.

With a show designed by Titanium Fireworks—the same team behind the Mayor of London’s New Year’s Eve Party—the display launches from the water’s edge and huge barges float on the Mersey, with key venues along the waterfront blasting out the specially designed soundtrack.

Wirral council leader, Phil Davies, says, “With huge, spectacular displays with perfect vantage points for watchers on both sides of the river, this will be a truly unforgettable experience. I know thousands of people will flock to the waterfront to enjoy the show. We’ll have great entertainment and activities on offer, and I hope everyone enjoys what is set to be a fantastic, free family event.”


Tutbury Castle, Derbyshire


Occupied since the Stone Age and first recorded in 1071, the historic Tutbury Castle turns its eye further back in history than the Gun Powder Plot for its spectacular firework night celebrations.

For the past 15 years, while the rest of the UK have been busy burning effigies of the traitorous Guy Fawkes, Tutbury Castle has been invaded by a siege of raucous Vikings, who sweep the ramparts with flaming torches to make their way towards a giant Viking ship, perched high upon the castle’s motte.

Ferocious moonlit battles and firework displays follow, culminating in the dramatic burning of the ship structure in the style of traditional Viking funerals.

Hungry visitors will be treated to a feast worthy of Viking warriors themselves with a delicious barbecue and bar. 


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