• Final preparations take place for Ottery’s famous tar barrels event on Saturday!

    1st November 2017 | News | Claire
  • The fairground is ready and set up on the Millennium Green, the hedgehog friendly bonfire, also on the Millennium Green, has grown to immense proportions.

    Health and safety signs posting evacuation routes and urging people to take note of marshalls are now appearing all over the town.

    Coachloads of Exeter University students will be arriving on Saturday evening, and many other people will be visiting from other parts of Devon and across the country….

    Community groups and pubs in the town are also gearing up for their own events. Many, such as the Samosa Lady, will be selling hot food and soup to passers by, no doubt very welcome. The weather is set to be cool and fortunately, dry.

    I bumped into some of the Tar Barrels Committee on my stomp around the town this afternoon, erecting a series of signs advising on evacuation routes and of the importance of taking note of the instructions of the dozens of marshalls who will be supervising the event on Saturday evening.

    I first visited Ottery’s tar barrels event over 20 years ago.  I found the intense crush and surge of the crowd, as well as the barrellers chasing anyone who ran away completely terrifying!  I remember climbing a wall down by the factory site and balancing precariously with my legs on one side of the wall, while a tar barreller with flames billowing a foot wide ran alongside the wall.

    Anyone who had their legs dangling on the wrong side would have been very singed!

    That sort of thing doesn’t happen now. Tar barrellers are just trying to carry their load as far as they can.

    Although I went again the following year the heart thumping fear of the crush and what seemed to be an out of control event was enough to put me off going again until I moved to the town itself last year.

    So last year I cautiously made my way through the streets, which were considerably calmer than they were when I was 20 – and was relieved that the only potential crush I encountered all evening was rapidly quelled by one of the marshalls releasing access to a nearby local narrow lane.

    The town was packed out with people but they were calm and peaceful, rather than yelling and surging away from the barrels.

    It was a great fun evening catching up with friends and chatting to people I hadn’t seen for ages.

    I should though add at this point that the advice is that the event is not suitable for people who are frightened of fire, or who are elderly or very young.  There are usually one or two accidents most years and about five years ago, someone actually threw an aerosol at one of the barrels resulting in serious burns to at least two people.

    I spoke to Richard Shaw (pictured holding the ladder in the photo), Vice Chair of the Tar Barrels Committee and colleague, Antony Anning this afternoon.

    They told me that insurance now costs a whopping £30,000 and it creeps up every year. It is always a challenge to raise enough funds to pay for the fees, which they achieve through holding regular community events such as bingo and family fun days.

    Without this 15-20 strong core committee, which works on its preparations and fundraising all year around, there would be an end to a much loved tradition which dates back at least four hundred years … and what a massive loss to Ottery that would be.

    We owe them a huge debt of thanks for all their hard work and commitment.

    I also want to pay tribute to EDDC’s Streetscene department, which starts its clean up work in the early hours of the following morning.  By the time everyone gets up the next day the streets are clear of litter and debris, the only evidence of the event being the black tar stains on some of the roads and pavements.

    I have to say, that as a resident of Ottery and its Devon County Councillor, I am massively proud that my town is famous for this completely crazy and adrenaline fuelled event, which has the feel of a tradition much older, deeper and more viscerally powerful than the gunpowder plot (where it is said to originate).

    Looking forward to Saturday evening very much!

    Here’s all the details you need to know re the road closures (Ottery will be not open to traffic from 3.45pm), parking and timings of the event….  http://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/ottery-tar-barrels-2017-what-you-need-to-know-1-5253378 

    With more detail here – http://www.tarbarrels.co.uk/

    Photo:  Antony Anning erecting the signage in preparation for Saturday’s event. Tar Barrels Committee Vice Chair, Richard Shaw, is holding the ladder.