New Year’s Eve . . . only the Tar Bar’ls will do

The ‘guisers carrying flaming tar bar’ls march around Allendale [from a stock photo, in anticipation]

This is Allendale, after all, and tonight the ‘guisers will be out in full force, marching away from the Lych Gate in front of the Golden Lion and the King’s Head, and down around the Dale, turning left at the Allendale Inn, left again at the Heatherlea and on up the main road to the old First School building (that used to be the route, perhaps they turn earlier these days?), before returning to navigate the hill past the little green and the decorated Christmas tree and up to the Co-op where the big pile awaits.

I hope to catch an image, if I can manage to find a perch on the rubbish bin beside the Tea Rooms, of the moment when the tar bar’ls are up-ended on the pile. From that vantage point, I should also be able to hear the church bells ring in the New Year, announcing the hour of midnight, when the fire is supposed to be at its height.

The big pile (which has become a lot smaller and more constrained over the past decades) is built several days beforehand. Unlike the more modern construction of the Guy Fawke’s Night bonfire, which usually has a tunnel direct to the core of diesel-soaked hay, the New Year’s Eve bonfire is lit from its edges. I expect the New Year’s Eve bonfire has been built, and lit, that way since time began, or thereabouts.

The big pile in readiness

But tarmac covers most of what must once have been a cobbled square. Although a protective layer of sand is laid down before the big pile is built, the heat of the burning tar bar’l circles can often be visualised throughout the year in the tarmac. Brashings and waste wood will have been collected and stored in a safe place throughout the year, so that things can be carefully constructed when the time comes. But if, as has happened, the heavens open in the days after the pile is built, then a protective tarpaulin will be needed to cover it, or it will merely smoulder under the onslaught of rain. I don’t know who is recruited, or when they manage it, but somebody must nip around and tug the tarpaulin off before the thing is set ablaze.

So many words have been written about the Tar Bar’l Parade and the eventual bonfire, over the decades and centuries, that it doesn’t seem likely that any more revealing insights will be forthcoming in this diary entry. But what will the ambience be like this year? The very best sort of event, to my mind, is after a heavy snowfall, which tends to keep the very large crowds away (though there’s still sufficient local capacity to satisfy the expectations of the pubs), and then, a cold and still night into which the searing heat of the fire flings embers off to illumine the square like dancing stars. Then the familiar chorus of Auld Lang Syne echoes off the surrounding walls, and most everyone is known to each other.

On a crisp, cold and still night 31.12.19, the Tar Bar’ls circle the big pile before they are hurled onto the fire.
At the stroke of midnight, the fire was at its peak, while the bells rang out from the church tower, and everyone counted down to ‘Auld Lang Syne.’

Bidding best wishes to one and all, as the fire slowly dies away, and the first-footing arrivals can proceed at parties throughout the village. A new year has arrived.

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