Bonfire Night Around Britain
Some time around the 5th of November, most of Britain enjoys setting fire to wood, lighting fireworks in public spaces and parading with a life-size effigy of a man – one who threatened the monarchy and democracy. The fact this dates back to 1605 makes it – to the outsider – a very strange tradition indeed. ‘Remember, remember, the 5th of November,’ has since been on every child’s lips.
In 1605, Guy Fawkes placed 36 barrels of gunpowder under the Houses of Parliament, in a foiled plot to blow up King James I and the government. Regardless of anyone’s religion (the group was Catholic, the King a Protestant) or opinions of monarchy, it seems that Bonfire Night, aka Guy Fawkes Night, transcends such matters. It brings together people of all ages on or around the 5th of November, to watch a firework display and a mesmerising bonfire.
Ottery St Mary, East Devon
Expect to see the locals of Ottery St Mary, East Devon, carrying heavy tarred wooden barrels set on fire through the streets. The tradition originated in the 17th century as a pagan ritual to cleanse the streets of evil spirits.
Weeks prior to the event, which takes place on the 5th of November, barrels are soaked with tar. Then, on the evening itself, a barrel is placed outside each Ottery pub before being set alight and hoisted on to someone’s back and carried through the streets. As the night progresses, the weight and size of these barrels increases – the heaviest weighing more than 30kg. These little fires, which are often carried by families down the generations, are all a prologue for the main event: a huge bonfire lit on the banks of the River Otter, near the flashing lights of a funfair.
What To Do In Ottery St Mary
Visit the parish church of St Mary’s, a scaled-down version of Exeter Cathedral, with treasures including a minstrel gallery and a 14th-century astronomical clock. Stroll to the River Otter and its circular Tumbling Weir to watch the water tumble down the ‘plughole’.
Did you know? Ottery St Mary is mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086.
Rye, East Sussex
Torchlit parades through the old town of Rye, East Sussex, make for a dramatic sight, and their way of marking Bonfire Night has remained unchanged for many years (11 Nov). It’s best known for a procession carrying flaming torches along a special route that heads to the bonfire site, on the Town Salts.
Rye’s bonfire celebrations here are said to be older even than Guy Fawkes himself. One theory is that when Rye was a major port in the late 14th century, separated from France by 30 miles of sea, it suffered many attacks and was even burned to the ground several times at the hands of the French. ‘Ryers’ (the locals) would set fire to their own vessels and haul them, blazing, through the streets rather than risk them being captured.
In the late 19th century, local ‘bonfire groups’ were known to take on unpopular officials and shopkeepers in annual demonstrations. The mid-1900s saw grand processions with decorated floats and lorries transformed into incredible creations. Today’s Bonfire Night festivities feature torchlight processions and locals in fancy dress.
What To Do In Rye
Camber Sands is miles of uninterrupted sandy beach, fringed with dunes, and known as a good spot for surfing and beachcombing. A little further inland in the town, Camber Castle is a 16th-century Device Fort, built by Henry VIII to protect the Sussex coast against the French.
Did you know? Guy Fawkes’ gunpowder is thought to have been sourced in the town of Battle, 15 miles west of Rye – where the Battle of Hastings took place.
Edinburgh might get the plaudits for its famous, summer-long festival, but Glasgow has a raw charm of its own, and is an increasingly popular place to visit. It’s also the venue for Scotland’s biggest fireworks display at Glasgow Green, a huge park on the banks of the River Clyde, which attracts tens of thousands of locals.
Although there’s no actual bonfire – which is often the case in recent years, on health and safety grounds – there is no shortage of fun: the 30-minute firework display is preceded by entertainment, music and a funfair, plus food and drink stalls.
What To Do In Glasgow
In Scotland’s largest city, make sure you visit Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, an impressive 120-year-old treasure trove of Victorian architecture. Inside, see everything from Scottish art, a Spitfire plane and Dalí’s Christ of St John of the Cross. Younger visitors will love Glasgow Science Centre, an ultra-modern structure in polished curved steel on the Clyde, with an observation tower, planetarium and interactive exhibits. In addition to that, Glasgow is also famed for its shopping, so get set for a spot of retail therapy.
Did you know? The world’s first international football match was played in 1872 in Partick, a district of Glasgow, between England and Scotland.
Caerphilly, Wales Castles around Britain make popular backdrops for firework displays – their dramatic silhouettes standing dark against the flashes of colour. Located in South Wales, 13th-century Caerphilly Castle is the second-largest castle in Britain – a medieval stronghold famed for its series of moats and a tower that has leaned 3m since 1648.
With such a dramatic location – which has been used as a filming location for TV series including Doctor Who and Merlin – it’s no surprise that its fireworks display (4 Nov) is such a draw. From 7pm, the castle’s turrets and ramparts are the backdrop for the display.
What To Do In Caerphilly
Caerphilly Castle is the main draw, with its well-restored Great Hall, and displays inside about the castle’s history, plus medieval weapons. Climb to the top of Caerphilly Mountain with green trails and views over the town.
Did you know? The famous white, crumbly Caerphilly cheese was first made here from the early 19th century. It was known as the Welsh miners’ cheese because it was taken down the mines and eaten like cake.
Sheffield, South Yorkshire
Known as the ‘Steel City’, Sheffield in South Yorkshire has an industrial past, and is now a vibrant city with plenty of culture. Billed as the county’s biggest Bonfire Night event, Don Valley Bowl (next to Sheffield Arena) hosts the After Dark Firework Spectacular (3 Nov). It’s hosted by presenters from the local radio station, Hallam FM, and in addition to its legendary firework display set to music, there’s also a giant bonfire (from 7.30pm). The venue opens at 5.30pm, with the fireworks from 9pm. Plus, there are food stalls to keep you going.
What To Do In Sheffield
See thousands of species of plants at Sheffield Botanical Gardens in its 19 acres or stay warm in the Winter Garden, with its huge temperate glasshouses. You can learn about the city’s steel heritage at Kelham Island Museum, and don’t forget a night out seeing today’s (or tomorrow’s) music stars at The Leadmill venue for live bands.
Did you know? Sheffield is the birthplace of pop bands including Arctic Monkeys, Pulp and The Human League.