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Hatherleigh Carnival

On Saturday it was Hatherleigh Carnival; later than usual this year as the previous weekend had been taken up with various fire shows, fireworks and bonfire night celebrations.

As predicted the weather came in with vengeance on Friday afternoon…we experienced the full force of its arrival being in the middle of a training day we’d arranged for a large group of Natural England staff –in the field…naturally!

The morning had not been too bad, occasional drizzle and little wind. As we gathered in the barn for a lunch of homemade soup, local cheeses and warm apple cake spooned with thick clotted cream, spirits remained high and discussion animated. Even after the somewhat tempestuous wet-wild afternoon session folk appeared quite happy to drip, steam and chatter in the sheep shed whilst they drunk piping hot tea and ate more cake. As the last car left in the darkening daylight the weather worsened. The wind developed ferociously…ripping trees and gates, hurling buckets, screeching through the cow palace tearing viciously at haylage and straw whilst the rain whipped and lashed. Struggling to the house with the detritus of the training day I shout to no-one in particular “This doesn’t bode well for the carnival tomorrow. Reminiscent of last year. What a bugger!”

All that night the weather raged “Can’t believe it’ll be alright out there.” I whisper into Robert’s back snuggled warmly cosy in bed “Must go and see the sea” I mutter drowsily “Tomorrow. The waves, the coast…” I trail off “…it’ll be breathtaking” and I drift to sleep with visions of gigantic waves exploding against menacing cathedral-vaulted cliffs.

And we did…go to the coast. It was magnificent, thrilling. Waves towered and crashed like crumbling detonated buildings hurtling landwards, pounding the shore in a thick sea of whipped foam. Lundy butterflies flew in their thousands scuttering over cliffs slicked dark by the rain. The wind blew and tossed me like a worthless plaything, whipping my legs from under me and sending me skittering uncontrollably across the ground. I was blown hither and thither; my breath whipped away whilst bursts of staccato laughter escaped into the wind. The pocket lurcher, perplexed by this new game, pranced and twirled around me like a mongoose in front of a snake…and Robert behind me shouted, eventually managing to catch hold of my hand as we battled the next onslaught.

Hatherleigh Silver Band

That evening, miraculously, the wind dropped and the skies cleared. Down in town, we made our way around numerous spectacular floats gathered in the market place waiting for the Carnival parade. Eerie lighting bounced from the floats across the crowd illuminating the sea of milling faces into weird grotesques. Stars pricked the sky as the Hatherleigh Silver band struck up; tractors revved and powered forward, generators thrumming; the procession, a cacophony of colour, smell and sound slowly ground its way along Market Street, pausing by the blackened burnt-out carcass of the George (the gales of the previous night had blown down the protective shuttering and boarding, leaving the ruins bare). The rubble of ancient brick, wood and cob demanded to be seen, not hidden and out of sight, and in its diminished state it was a stark reminder to us of the George’s former place as the heart, the hub, of the town.

faster faster faster..."OGIE OGIE OGIE" "OY OY OY"

After a respite for a warming whisky and ginger wine, we were at the top of the town, waiting for the tar barrels to be set alight.  Paraffin fumes filled the air, penetrating deep into the lungs. Amid klaxons and earthy shouts the team of young men arrived. The mood was one of tangible excitement. The torch was lowered; the barrels flared and great wafts of smoke and flame billowed outward. With a strident “OGGIE, OGGIE, OGGIE” and the responding “OY, OY, OY!” they were off – barrels blazing. Speed, speed speed. Unintentionally I was swept along with the crowd running behind the barrels. For the second time that day I was totally out of control.  Careering, shouting, calling…faster and faster they ran “Oggie, oggie, oggie” “Oy, oy, oy” louder and louder they shouted “OGGIE OGGIE OGGIE” “OY OY OY”. A hand walloped my back, I was falling; I had to keep my balance, whatever. My heart pumped, the ground swirled towards me, my legs buckled. Almost flying flat I was rushed forward ever faster but somehow, miraculously, like a character in an animated film, I spun off sideways managing to regain both my legs and my composure! With heart crashing at my narrow escape I took a short cut though the back lanes and waited to rejoin the barrels for the last leg of the journey to the bonfire.

burning barrels on the bonfire

burning barrels on the bonfire

We stood wrapped around each other watching the flames writhe and spit high into the darkness. The intense heat melted our faces and burnt our lungs. A shiver passed involuntarily down my spine. I turned, looked up at Robert; he tightened his arms around me, nuzzled the top of my head. We watched

It was a day of raw nature, of powerful forces beyond our control, of our Mesolithic ancestry.  It was a day that stripped away the thin veneer of civilisation, the petty worries of everyday life, a day to remember the fleeting substance of man, our precarious existence.

burning torch

burning torches

hatherleigh band leading the carnival procession

hatherleigh band leading the carnival procession

Hatherleigh Carnival.  As predicted the weather’s turned atrocious. I’d just finished making a second batch of quince cheese scenting the house with a honey sweetness; fires burnt snugly, curtains drawn, muffling the sound of wind rattling and shaking the world. I sunk into the sofa cradling a mug of hot tea. Bliss; so tempting just to snuggle in for the evening.  Robert was away in London.

The phone rang, it was Adam.  “Just phoning about the carnival. Are you still going? It’s such a shame – the weather, so dreadful. I was only popping in to see the judging and will probably be going straight home after.  If you want I…”

“No, no” I interrupted “It’s okay. I’ll make my own way in. I want to take pictures of the tar barrels so I’ll be hanging on a bit. I’m sure I’ll meet up with Sally and Marcus. But thanks anyway. Maybe see you.”

The phone rang again…
“Are you still going?” it was Philip “We were all ready to, but, it’s just too appalling.” Philip, Lisa and their twins generally meet up with us on carnival night.

“Well, yes, I am. I want to get some photos of the tar barrels. The weather’s turning it into rather an adventure.”

“I don’t think you’ll get much of a photo in this!”

Olly came down stairs.   “Mum, surely you’re not going. Have you seen?”

“Yes I am. I’ve got to.  I feel sorry for everyone. So much hard work. Some of those floats take almost a year to work on. But they said the storm will be swift, if violent.  And look, I can see the moon!”

I donned my mountain walking gear, wellies and waterproof trousers. Outside the back door a torrent, no, a flood hurled past the door.  The dip in the lane had turned into the Amazon as water careered across the culvert, no sign of the surface anymore. Onwards I drove. The road down to the river meadows had become a series of rapids foaming with the detritus of branches, leaves and acorns; blocked ditches and drains spewed great gouts of angry water hurtling towards the river. The two miles into Hatherleigh was more of a car swim than a drive. After parking in a flooded gateway where the water almost came to the tops of my wellies, I sloshed the last quarter of a mile into town, the moon now shining though scudding clouds.

The atmosphere was exhilarating. The crowd, large enough to cause a buzz, was still small enough to create a tingling intimacy. The black slicked roads reflected lozenges of colour and light. The air hung with a concoction of musty wool, burning paraffin, the metallic tang of beer, with fried fat and the hot sweetness of fresh doughnuts.  I found a group of friends and was handed a flask of warming ginger wine spiked with whisky.

torch bearers, hatherleigh carnival

torch bearers, hatherleigh carnival

The band struck up, drums resonating and vibrating inside us.  The torch bearers followed leading the carnival parade, headed by the president, the queen, the prince and princess.  Then the floats of intrinsic and exquisite work pulled behind gargantuan tractors, their lights hard and bright like slant-eyed monsters.  The walkers joust and tumble in an array of topical satire, goading, egging and capturing the crowd with their capers and antics.

the carnival president

the carnival president

Suddenly it’s over, the procession with all its din, colour and excitement has passed into the quiet seclusion of the market place.  The crowd wait, the darkness throbs with electric expectation.

At the top of the hill a shout goes up, raw and harsh “Oggie, oggie, oggie. Oy! Oy! Oy!”

The response slow to begin with growing in strength and volume
“Oggie, oggie, oggie, Oy! Oy! Oy!”

the off...

the off...

And down they hurtle, the chosen young men of the town, blood up, veins pulsing, their faces blackened by smoke, dragging a raft of wildly flaming tar barrels. Egged on by a swelling crowd the shout becomes a guttural chant “Oggie, oggie, oggie. Oy! Oy! Oy!  Oggie, oggie, oggie. Oy! Oy! Oy!”  Faster and faster they career down the streets the mood changing from one of light-heartedness to something far more raw and instinctive.

burning tar barrels

burning tar barrels run through the streets

Now running on pure adrenalin they arrive at the bon-fire, heave the barrels onto the stacked timber to set it alight, only to lie gasping on the ground as the exertion, admiring girls and crowd catch up with them.  Soon the flames and heat capture and still both thought and limb.  The people of Hatherleigh, satiated and contemplative, start to remember who they are, returning reluctantly to the present from some distant time when the elements held sway and nature was a mysterious and capricious force to be respected and placated.   A time when just occasionally it was OK to let primal, tribal, instincts reign.

just before the bonfire...

before the bonfire...

Indigo-black, dark, chill-cold streets. Pavements which glint with iridescent oil-slick wetness in the yellow light of street lamps. Oblongs, diamonds, squares and triangles… kaleidoscopic layers of glowing patterned colour, thrown out into the dark night from the open doors and windows fronts of festive shops, luring you into warm inviting interiors.

hatherleigh-christmas-lights-1-reduced-dec-07.jpg Read the rest of this entry »


You’ve probably gathered I work one or two days a week for a friend at her newly opened designer boutique in Exeter.
When Pavla first asked me if I would consider this, I was dubious. I wasn’t sure. But in the end I was persuaded. And now there’s trouble in store. Read the rest of this entry »

Also see Hatherleigh Carnival 2008

Last night we donned our warmest coats, scarves, hats, and gloves and set off for the Hatherleigh Carnival. A ritual.

All photos courtesy of Will’s (my son) mobile phone Read the rest of this entry »

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.



The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

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