Swap the fireworks display for a fire festival this New Year’s Eve with Allendale Tar Bar’l, one of Northumberland’s most prominent traditions. 45 men, sporting colourful fancy dress and soot-covered faces, carry whiskey barrels filled with burning hot tar in a dazzling procession through the town.
Also known as the Tar Barl, Bah'l, Bahl, and Baal (as each spelling is a contraction of 'barrel') the Tar Bar’l is one of the most spectacular examples of fire festivals still practiced today.
In order to be involved in the procession, each man must have been born in the Allen Valleys and many have inherited their status from previous generations. This sizzling, sparkling ceremony has been celebrated for at least 160 years, though some believe it began in the Middle Ages.
Only men can become guisers, and only one woman has ever taken part in the tradition. Local lass Miss Vesta Peart was permitted to carry one of the barrels in the mid-1950s, as a thank you for creating a large number of costumes for the guisers. Many of these costumes are still worn today.
On the night, locals and visitors alike flock to the town for this night of revelry as music and dancing fill the streets. From 11pm, the crowds gather in the town centre to see the guisers called upon to do their duty. At 11:30pm, the torches are lit and the barrels ignited. Each guiser lifts the flaming barrels up onto the top of their heads and fall in behind the band.
At midnight, they arrive at the Bar’l fire in the town centre. The barrels are then used to ignite this ceremonial bonfire, as everyone shouts “Be damned to he who throws last”.