Tar barrel Festival Ottery St. Mary’s

tar barrel festival

Tar Barrel Festival

The Fifth of November, or Guy Fawkes Night, is remembered for the celebration of King James I survival on an attempt of his life during a plot to blow up the House of Lords. Celebrations include bonfires, fireworks or even tar barrel festivals. The tar barrel festival in Ottery St. Mary’s is famous in Devon and the population of about 7,000 can increase to 30,000 on this one night to see the famed festival.


Transportation to Ottery St. Mary.

Since the event itself was free the only we cost incurred was for transportation. Many societies at Exeter‘s campus sold tickets for private coaches at £12 each, however we chose to use public transport at £5.50 round trip. A quick five-minute walk to the bus station in Exeter and a 30-minute ride later we were in Ottery St. Mary’s at about 3 pm. It was freezing, but perfect weather for someone with a blazing barrel on their back.


The Tar Barrel Festival

The festival consists of people running through the town with barrels filled with tar, SET ON FIRE, on their backs. Talk about an adrenaline rush. To top it off, the runners aren’t running in a roped off area – no that would be to easy. They run through the crowd. If you see a runner coming your way I suggest you move – fast.

We strolled through the town for a bit prior to the festivities, and saw many vendors setting up their food carts in anticipation for the influx of people. There was everything from fish and chips, to burgers, to Jamaican food, or even Candy Floss (Cotton Candy). The budget travelers we are, James and I were armed with our peanut butter-nutella sandwiches.

Programs were being sold (for £2) to tell visitors where and when certain barrels would be run, however if you eavesdrop on your neighbor you don’t need to buy one. The runners are separated by age and gender with the youth early on, and the adults later in the evening. As the night progress the barrels get larger.

The first event was the youth event which kicked off at around 4 p.m. where kids ages seven and up start off the festivities. Their protection consisted of multiple layers of clothing, towels around their necks and heavy duty gloves. I gained a new found respect for their bravery or dare I say recklessness? All I know is you won’t catch me ever doing that… The men with the largest barrels are scheduled to run at midnight.

PRO TIP: Be aware the roads within and around the town are closed off due to the high levels of traffic. If you plan to use public transportation, determine early in the night where and when the last bus will be.


Tar Barrel Festival Ottery St. Mary's Kid with burning barrel on back

Tar Barrel Festival Ottery St. Mary's Kid with burning barrel on back

Tar Barrel Festival Ottery St. Mary's Kid with burning barrel on back




Transportation Out of Ottery St. Mary

At around 6:00 pm we tried to find our re-routed bus stop early in the night so we wouldn’t be scrambling to figure it out later. Thank goodness we had the forethought to do this early on. Every single event staff/fire-marshal/police officer present had been hired on for the event from other towns and had no idea where re-routed stops were.

We walked a little over 2 miles beyond the town before we came across actively operated roads. We weren’t really sure where to wait as it was not an official bus stop, but we stood near a round-a-bout. Mainly because we heard a woman say that’s where the bus dropped her off earlier. When we all saw this bus we literally jumped up and down and waved like crazy people to make sure it stopped. What did it do? Drove right past us. Luckily it stopped only a street away. Everyone did a literal mad dash across the street to ensure the bus wouldn’t leave without us, and thankfully we all managed to make it on.

I definitely don’t regret coming out to see the tar barrel festival because it is a one of a kind event. The sheer madness of running around with barrels ablaze on your back is just mind boggling but fascinating. I highly recommend making your way to the Tar Barrel Festival in Ottery St. Mary if you can!


Total Cost= £11

Cost Breakdown

  • Return bus ticket: £5.50 per person = £11 total



Tar Barrel Festival Ottery St. Mary's Pin


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