Tar barrels

Tar Barrels

Tar barrels is a tradition that takes place around Bonfire night in Ottery St. Mary.

In the 12 months leading up to the event, barrels are lined and soaked with coal tar. On the night of tar barrels, the barrels are lit and carried through the streets of Ottery St. Mary while thousands cheer on the barrel-rollers.

The origins of the tar barrels are unknown however stories lead us to believe it began post the gunpowder plot of 1605 as a way of either fumigating cottages or as a warning of the Spanish armada.

Lighting barrels is a tradition that takes place in various locations in the South West however Ottery St. Mary is recognised worldwide for carrying the tar barrels on their backs.

Tar barrels and the weather

Tar barrels takes place regardless of the weather, however weather conditions make a considerable difference to the number of visitors that come to the town. Tens of thousands of visitors arrive in Ottery St. Mary for the barrels each year and the numbers are steadily increasing.

Back to the events calendar.

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5 November - Check the Ottery St. Mary weather forecast if you are heading to tar barrels this bonfire night.

Becoming a barrel-Roller

Becoming a barrel-roller is a highly sought after position in the town of Ottery. St. Mary. The tradition of becoming a barrel-roller has been passed through many generations of families from the area.

The evening consists of 17 barrels being lit across the town. The barrels in the late afternoon are the boy's barrels which are the smallest. The women's and youth barrels then take place in the early evening, followed by the men's barrels in the evening.

The barrels are lit from pubs and hotels across the town until the midnight barrel, which is the largest barrel and takes place in the town square.

To find out further information about the event, visit the Tar Barrels official website.