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The Adventures of Wooly: Flaming Tar Barrels, Ottery St Mary, England

Updated on 30/11 2018

For some people, the usual November 5th commemoration of the Gunpowder Plot, when Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up Parliament in 1605, just isn’t thrilling enough. Standing next to an enormous bonfire and watching fireworks explode around them lacks a little…spark of excitement.


In the Devon village of Ottery St Mary the locals like to liven up proceedings by running thought the streets with flaming barrels on their heads. The barrels, which are open at one end, are stuffed with tar-soaked rags and set ablaze. Each burning barrel is hoisted on to the head of a man called a roller who runs with it, holding on with gloved hands, along a street.

The day starts with the children’s rolling when children as young as 7 run with a miniature barrel. These younger rollers are often the children of parents whose families who have been carrying the barrels for generations. Over 80 rollers will run with 30 barrels through the course of the day.

Participation is restricted to Ottery born and bred residents of the village but spectators come from far and wide to watch the spectacle, warm themselves next to the giant bonfire, enjoy the smoky carnival atmosphere and watch the sparks fly.

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