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The Allendale Tar Bar'l Event

Updated: Apr 12


an ink drawing of a person dressed like a sheep holding a barrel of fire above their head

Wanting to try something new by way of welcoming the new year, we left the comfort of a family member's cosy living room, put on our hats and coats then set out into the night (and the drizzle), heading for the Northumbrian village of Allendale.


It's not really clear where the tradition of the Allendale Tar Bar'l came from and there are plenty of stories that have been considered over the last 160 years or more that this celebration has been taking place. All sorts of theories from warding off evil spirits to carol singer's being left in the dark due to strong winds. But today, it stands as a good excuse to celebrate together and to enjoy the tradition, if nothing else. Scaring off some evil spirits would be great too though.


Allendale is quite a small village and you can see why the locals would look forward to this celebration, it's the biggest event in their cultural calendar and who wouldn't love the excuse to have some fun and light a massive bonfire in their town square!


We found ourselves stood amongst the fun between locals and some who had travelled from as far as London and even overseas.


Huddled together in the strong smell of lighter fluid and the hope that the rain would stay off for at least another hour or so, the crowd became giddy and excited when a brass band started to play and the local men started to collect their barrels (supplied by a local whiskey distillery).


45 men born in the Allen valley use their inherited status to lift the burning barrels of tar over their heads and begin the march around the village to the beat of the brass band. Suspense builds as the procession reaches the village centre. The men gather around and tip the contents of their barrels onto the awaiting bonfire. The bonfire lights up with a roar as the crowd encourages it. Laughter, giddiness and cold shivers ran through everyone and we all shouted together to welcome the new year.


Part of the tradition at the Allendale Tar Bar'l is that only men can become guisers. Only one woman has ever taken part, Miss Vesta Peart. She was allowed to carry one of the barrels in the 1950's as a thank you for creating a large amount of costumes for the event. Some of these costumes are still worn today... some have taken a more modern approach as we watched Super Mario, some Oompa-Loompas and a ballerina run past!




*A few notes if you're hoping to attend a future event:

-We were dowsed in hot ashes due to the wind - don't wear your brand new coat (like I did) it will smell like fire and possibly get burn holes in it from embers.

-There's a strict no parking rule in the village during the event, there's plenty of free parking on the road leading up to the village but be prepared to walk a distance and it would be a good idea to take a torch.

-The local pubs get packed out, there's public toilets near the town square

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We found the event online, Visit Northumberland have a great article HERE

and This Is Northumberland magazine have a beautiful article with stunning photos by Callum Thompson HERE.

(I would highly recommend treating yourself to a copy of This Is Northumberland magazine if you're heading up north this year or if you'd like to learn more about northern folklore- or even just enjoy nature photography).

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