In which we have a West Country weekend

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Thank you so much for all your kind comments and compliments about our wedding over the last few weeks, especially the DIY parts.  It was really fun to share all our bits and pieces, and lovely to get such positive feedback.

Speaking of weddings, Saturday saw my great friend Z tie the knot in Sydney, on a beautifully sunny day next to the beach.  As I was here in Bristol it meant I couldn’t be a guest, but thanks to the magic of technology I was able to video Skype her at the evening reception while wearing a fancy frock and toasting the happy couple with water in a champagne flute (it was only 10.30am in the morning so the sun wasn’t quite over the yard arm).  Unfortunately technology wasn’t completely on my side as whilst I could hear them they couldn’t hear me, but I still got to see Z, plus my two other good friends who are currently living out there, which was ace.  She looked absolutely beautiful and I admit, I did shed a few tears (but the good kind).

Because he knew I was sad at missing the wedding and because he’s lovely like this, S organised a really nice Saturday for us which involved an epic trip across Somerset.  We started out stocking up on cider from here, before going here to get some cave-matured cheese (as Christmas gifts for the family), before heading over to Glastonbury for curry and the annual carnival.

Now, Somerset carnivals are pretty special.  Outside of the county they’re not that well known, but they are amazing events that have to be seen to be believed.  There are three carnival circuits in Somerset, with the biggest being the Guy Fawkes circuit, which features towns such as Bridgwater, North Petherton, Western Super Mare and Glastonbury. Throughout the year carnival clubs across the county (and some from Devon, Dorset and Wiltshire too) make their floats, which are huge, 100 foot long constructions pulled by a tractor.  Each float has a theme – it could be based on a film like Amadeus, or a more generic subject such as Vikings.  The floats have people on them, either dancing along to music or standing still in a tableau, dressed in elaborate costumes and make up.  The floats are illuminated by thousands and thousands of lightbulbs, powered by a massive generator on the back.  Come November there are several carnival nights in different towns for each circuit, with each carnival having its own judges and awarding prizes to the best floats.   As well as being a competition, the carnival is also a chance to raise money for local charities – you throw pennies onto special money floats.  On Saturday there were about 100,000 people lining the carnival route so there is the potential to collect some serious money.

I love it.  Growing up, my nan and grandad lived in North Petherton, right next to the route, so every year we would go over there for carnival, often accompanied by relatives who came down especially from Birmingham.  My brother and I would be warmly bundled up in coats and gloves and earmuffs, and take turns sitting on my grandad’s rickety old wooden stepladder to get the best view.  As soon as I am at carnival I am transported straight back to my childhood: the smell of toffee apples and hot dogs, the contradiction of cold feet but warm faces from the heat of the lightbulbs, being in awe of the sheer size of the floats.

When I left Somerset aged 13 I didn’t go to carnival again until I was 26, but now it’s once more become a regular thing.  It’s great to bring friends along who’ve never seen anything like this – this year it was the turn of our Canadian friend A who we felt needed to experience a dose of West Country culture now she’s a resident here.

My favourite entry this year – the whole float moved liked a ship at sea, with the dragons swaying their heads from side to side

Curry, carnival, cider and cheese – what more could you want from a weekend?

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4 responses »

  1. Wow. We have a few big parades in America but nothing like this in a small-town kind of area.

    Also, I love that the biggest one is for Guy Fawkes Day! My mind is going crazy just thinking of what the floats might look like!

  2. Oh I love the carnival! This takes me right back to when I was little and rode on a float in my hometown with my ballet school. I held out an umbrella and people threw pennies in it for charity. Plus yummy Somerset cider and cheese, what more could anybody want! Now I’m craving Cheddar which is not easy to find in France!

  3. Pingback: In which there are a thousand lightbulbs and twenty six huge generators, AKA carnival time | Postcards from the Edge (of the West Country)

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