This video began as a spur-of-the-moment thing. Burnham and I were looking for projects to get our teeth into and wanted something local. Devon is just down the road from where I grew up in Somerset. I always kind of knew about this tradition – it’s famous locally, but this was the first year I’d been to it.
The question everyone asks is, why do they do this? We realized that, like a lot of things that happen in the UK, they do it because they do it.
It’s linked to Guy Fawkes Night, but it has fire-festival roots before that. There was probably a fire festival celeberated around this time, in these rural areas, long before Guy Fawkes.
So, it’s really more of a continuation of family ties – "I do it because my father did it, and his father" – and more of a community event. You can’t participate unless you’re an Otterygian.
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We had some misconceptions about what the main event would be like. We expected it would be corndoned off, with specific routes laid out, but it was a lot more rough and ready. And the size of the barrels was impressive. I tried lifting an intermediary barrel, and the center of gravity is impossible. The midnight barrel is 200 pounds, the size of a big, full-sized man. I guess it gets lighter as it burns, but I’m not sure what’s better, a moulten-hot barrel or a really heavy barrel.
The really amazing bit was getting them lit – taking the tar-filled barrels, adding straw and fuel, the fire leaping out of the barrel, the carriers putting their gloves on. We could feel the anticipation building in the crowd, and as the carriers did the lift, you could hear the crowd roar.
There was so much energy in the air, and festival spirit. After all the traveling we’d been doing, it was nice to discover the magic that was going on closer to home.
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