It’s mid-October, and the whispered tales of the Ottery tar barrels are starting to circulate once again. For first years/those of you living under a rock, here’s what all the fuss is about.
What more could you want from your adopted home?
Every year on November 5th, the town of Ottery St Mary (and a good portion of the rest of Devon) gather in the streets to watch people carry burning barrels soaked in tar on their shoulders through the busy streets. The event is steeped in tradition, with long-standing Ottery families passing it down from one generation to the next. Spectators fill the narrow streets and the main square, and the barrel rollers run through the crowds until the barrel finally breaks apart.
1. Plan your transport early. Ottery is spectacularly busy and the coaches from campus are always packed: even if you’re the most disorganised student on campus, leaving essays to the last minute and turning up to the wrong lectures, this is not an event to go to on a whim. Various societies such as ExTunes, RAG and Mind Your Head are organising trips this year, so get booking now!
2. Wrap up warm. OK so this may seem fairly obvious, but you will be outside for a long time and it’s November: it’s cold. Don’t wear a thin jumper and then freeze to death
3. If you want the full, terrifying Ottery experience of being pushed and pulled by swarms of people as you try and avoid the flaming barrel hurtling towards you at great speed, head for the main square: a must for you adrenalin-seekers
4. Or if you are looking to simply dip your toes in the Ottery pool, go for the quieter streets on the barrel circuit to avoid the crowds, whilst still getting to see the barrels as they come round
5. Go with somebody tall. As a girl who considers herself relatively average at 5’7”, I was very grateful for my 6’3” friend who could quickly pull me out the way when he saw the barrel change direction
So to summarise: yes, it’s terrifying (not ‘this is slightly tense’ terrifying, but properly ‘I might not make it out of here alive’ terrifying) but it’s traditional, famous and unique to Ottery, and well worth going to at least once during your time at Exeter. Plus, it’s a great story to use to convince your friends that Devon does culture just as well as Oxford and Cambridge… and we have cider. What more could you want from your adopted home?