Monday, 26 January 2015

11 of the best unusual events in the West Country – part two

Every year across the world, people celebrate some interesting traditions in very unique ways and nowhere does it better than the West Country. Here’s part two of our look at some of the most unusual festivals in our corner of Britain (read part one here)…

Giant Bolster Festival, St Agnes
Every May, the village of St Agnes recreates the story of the Giant Bolster, who terrified the local people and rampaged through the neighbourhood, only to be brought to justice by a fair maiden. In a lively celebration of Cornish music, art and legend, the pageant takes in life-size puppets, dancers and a live band culminating in a spectacular showdown between the Giant Bolster and the knight Sir Constantine. All the while, a 28-foot high effigy of the Bolster watches over proceedings. Saturday evening’s lantern procession takes villagers up to the top of St Agnes Beacon for a bonfire, followed by a barbecue and musical performances.

Flora Day, Helston
Every May, the Cornish market town of Helston celebrates the ancient Flora Day festival (pictured above) to welcome in the springtime. Processional dancing takes place throughout the streets from early morning, when the big bass strikes, until late at night. Men wear top hats and tails and women don elegant dress, while shops and homes across town are adorned in bright, colourful flowers. The Helston Town Band play traditional tunes until the early hours.

Hunting the Earl of Rone, Combe Martin
Every Spring Bank Holiday weekend, the town of Combe Martin escapes into ancient tradition as locals dress in 19th-century peasant costume and roam the streets on the hunt for the ‘Earl of Rone’. Local legend claims that the Earl was Hugh O’Neill (Earl of Tyrone) who fled Ireland in the early 1600s, only to be shipwrecked in the local bay and captured by Grenadiers. The hunt begins on Friday… when Monday comes around and the Earl is ‘found’, he is mounted on a donkey, taken down to the sea and thrown in!

Honiton Hot Pennies day
Back in the 13th century, Honiton was granted a Royal Charter; today, this is celebrated with Hot Pennies day. The town crier - in full historic dress – enters the Old Pannier Market to announce the start of the procession and crowds cram the streets along the route to catch the warm pennies. The pennies give a nod to the days when affluent members of the community would throw hot coins to peasants to watch them burn their fingers.

Totnes Orange Rolling Race
Started by Sir Francis Drake (so legend says) back in the 16th century, the orange rolling race is one of the zaniest – and messiest - of the country’s traditions. The 450-metre dash starts from the top of the hill at Market Square - contestants must throw their orange down the hill and then kick, throw or roll it to the finish line. The winner must arrive with an orange! The event takes place in August and also includes an Elizabethan market and charity auction.

Tar Barrels, Ottery St May
Every November, the East Devon town of Ottery holds the procession of Flaming Tar Barrels. The tradition is hundreds of years old and Ottery is the only place in the West Country where people carry flaming barrels on their shoulders instead of rolling them! There are 17 barrels carried throughout the day, with the final barrel brought into the square at midnight. Ottery’s giant bonfire is a key part of the annual tar barrels and is in itself a dazzling spectacle.

That rounds off our selection of some of the West Country’s most unusual events. Which are your favourites? Which have we missed? Let us know in the comments.