There are lots of unique things about Devon – having two coastlines for instance, being home to the only place in the UK with an ! in the name… but that isn’t the only unique thing about Britain’s best county. There are also a number of traditional events that take place throughout the year that you won’t find anywhere else, so for something quirky to do while in the South West, why not head to Devon for one of these festivals?
While you might think festivals are all about brightly coloured outfits, your favourite musicians and food that somehow tastes so much better from a van than anything you’ve ever had before but in Devon, our festivals are a little more… eclectic. Like, worm charming, for example…
The Blackawton Worm Charming Festival is a traditional event that is usually held at the beginning of summer and, as the name suggests, consists of participants trying to charm as many worms out of the ground as possible within a certain time limit. Don’t worry though, no worms are harmed during the festival, the British Association of Worm Length Supporters are on hand to make sure that each one is returned to the earth once the judges have declared a winner.
For an event that does feature some colour costumes, head to Combe Martin in May for the Hunting of the Earl of Rone. This event involves the whole village coming together to search for and “kill” the Earl of Rone. No one is really sure what inspired the event but basically, the whole thing kicks off on the Friday with a parade of Grenadiers, then the children of Combe Martin act out of the searching of the Earl in the forest. The following day, the adults have their turn to hunt for the Earl and then on Monday, the Earl himself appears during a donkey parade and is placed on a hobby horse and shot before being revived by onlookers. An effigy of the Earl is then carried to the beach and thrown into the sea. There are some stories which claim that there was an Irish Lord who became shipwrecked on Combe Martin beach and later became a local hero, but whether he is the inspiration for the event remains to be seen.
Another event that includes the whole village is Pixie Day in Ottery St Mary. Taking place in June each year, this is an old folk tradition that takes place annually and commemorates the local legend of the Pixies of Ottery who were banished to the local caves, which are known as Pixie Parlour.
The whole thing kicks off with a rather civilised fete before moving to the town square where hundreds of “pixie” ie, local brownie, cubs and beaver clubs in costume, capture the bell ringers from St Mary’s church. The pixies are then banished and the whole thing culminates in a huge firework display. This isn’t the only time that fireworks end a traditional event in Ottery St Mary. Their most famous event takes place on Bon Fire Night every year and involves members of the community running through town with flaming tar barrels. This sort of thing used to be hugely popular across the West Country, particularly in the 17th century but now, the only place you can find it is in Ottery St Mary. Each year, barrels containing tar are set alight one at a time and are then carried in a procession to a huge bonfire and firework display. These days, it is one of the best fundraising events held in East Devon.
If you like the idea of discovering some West Country traditions, another great event for you to visit is the Tavistock Goose Fair in October. This fair dates back to the 12th Century and brings together market traders from all over the UK!
Want to know more? Find out about other quirky Devon events here.