Here’s a quick little blog to wave goodbye to November in true Somerset style! ;) Whether you’re a visitor, or call our beautiful county home, you’re sure to have heard of the legendary Somerset winter carnivals. Yep… throughout November, a stunning stream of brightly-lit, imaginatively-themed (OK. Some are pure bonkers!!) and intricately-designed floats parade through the streets of our towns. They bring joy, a huge splash of colour, mad outfits, free fun and some serious tunes to the watchers and revellers lined up along the roadside. Imagine a playlist with Jellybean’s ‘Jingo’, Chas and Dave’s ‘Rabbit’ and the Adam and the Ants classic ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ on it and you’ll pretty much get the gist of what we’re talking about! ;). And if you don't, check out our grainy little video...
When we moved to Somerset, I remember being told “you haven’t lived, unless you’ve been to one of our carnivals ;), “ so when Jill from The Middlewick invited us to experience the final carnival of the season happening in Glastonbury, and to stay in one of their dog-friendly cottages at the bottom of the Tor, we jumped at the chance!
Waving goodbye to our ‘ we’ve never been to Carnival’ status, with a fab home from home (Petal particularly liked the big windows in the Annex cottage)…
… and thousands of neon lights, crackers costumes, plastic glasses full of booze and freshly cooked street doughnuts? Err… yes please!
Nothing can really prepare you for a Somerset Carnival ;) and what we didn’t realise beforehand is that tens upon tens of thousands of people descend on Glastonbury on Carnival night too. You could say it’s one helluva street party – and no wonder, as the ancient tradition of the processions goes as far back as the 1600’s, commemorating the Gunpower Plot (remember, remember and all that!).
There’s actually a few different Somerset carnival circuits, but what’s known in carnivalling circles as ‘the county circuit’ ends at Glastonbury every year, having visited Bridgwater, Burnham-on-Sea, Weston-super-Mare, North Petherton, Shepton Mallet and Wells. Squibbing goes on in Bridgwater too – another ancient tradition, with modern day ‘squibbers’ holding exploding fireworks on long sticks as part of the procession. Squibbing. What a wonderful word eh?
Anyway, as Jill told us:
'On the Friday night, the Carnival always takes place in Wells. When they finish there, the floats make their way to park up on the Glastonbury to Wells Bypass. From up here at Middlewick, we watch all the lights as they pass by on their Friday night journey and we love going to get a closer look during the day on Saturday, as the floats spend it waiting for the Grand Finale”.
It’s a great idea of Jill’s to spend Saturday getting up close and personal with the floats - taking in the detail that you don’t really get to see on the night itself. We’ll definitely do that next year, but for our first time, we headed to the High Street an hour from kick off, popped to the pub to grab a quick pint of wine ;) and took up our procession position to get a great view of the action.
And even the rain didn’t dampen the spirits! ;)
The carnival carts themselves are created by amazing Carnival Clubs all over the West Country and we have to say, they must be massively dedicated and full to the brim with skills of all kinds to design and build these bad boys...
... and then compete to win the hearts of the crowds and judges. Our hearts were definitely in our mouths as the first float danced past! You could feel the genuine excitement in the air and we just loved the anticipation of waiting to see what weird and wonderful creations would pass us next! :)
Some of the floats are up to 30 metres long (30 flipping metres!!) covered in thousands of lights and the engineering and movement onboard is simply awesome! We were mesmerised by wheels whirring, bulb-covered panels opening up to reveal performers dancing, illuminated platforms jutting out, in, backwards and forwards - and mechanical parts of all shapes and sizes, twisting and turning in time with the tunes...
Most of the floats are all singing all dancing like these, with heaps of energy to get the crowds going and lift the spirits!
Two floats also made a big impression on us for different reasons though. They were the 'still performances'. That's our made up name for it, which basically means no-one on the actual float moves - each performer looks frozen, like a musical statue. It was incredibly striking to see these guys amongst all the movement and carnival cheer. One of them, the King William Carnival Club of Glastonbury, created a float dedicated to Harry Potter and it had several 'still' scenes on each part of the truck. Hagrid led the way at the front of the Hogwarts Express...
... with Mad-Eye Moody and Dumbledore close behind...
... Draco Malfoy hovering on a broomstick (game of Quidditch anyone? ;))...
... but the most striking scene had to be Voldemort performing the Cruciatus Curse (Yeah, we've read all the books. What of it? ;))...
Our prize for pure emotion went to the Warhorse float. The music, the beauty and the meaning really shone through.
Oh - and the 'Rock Babies' float, with people dressed as human babies, did actually make me cry with laughter. Yep. Definitely lost it for a while there! ;)
And let's not forget to give a shout out to the solo performers and the guys on foot. That takes some doing and there was a magical mixture of creative characters, children dancing and Santa in a glass box made an appearance too. Gotta love that! :D
This unforgettable and unique procession is all to raise money for local charities and part of the fun is throwing donations into passing carts. You need a pretty good aim - and surprisingly, we managed to hit the target every time!
Rain-soaked and happy, having found our Carnival mojo, we headed back to The Middlewick... full of excited chatter. Thank flip The Middlewick’s the perfect place to get to and from the carnival, as it was tipping down when we left and Jill had organised a little mini bus for us and her guests, instead of the usual short walk through the country lanes.
And what better place to wake up for a brisk walk across the fields and up the Tor to blow the carnival cobwebs away!
If a beautiful, family-run, selection of stone holiday cottages, barns and cool glamping cabins nestled in 16 acres of gardens, orchards and fields is your thing, you're in for a bit of a treat.
So, all that’s left to be said is… who’s up for using Lionel Ritchie's 'All Night Long' for a bit of Carnival Float inspiration next year? Yeah? Call us!! ;) I'm going to start sewing sequins on my carnival vest and watch THIS on repeat to get in the mood ;) Roll on Carnival season 2018.
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