Allendale Tar Bar'l carriers

Guisers in the Tar Bar’l Procession

Every New Year’s Eve the small town of Allendale, high in the North Pennines, is lit up by one of the most wonderful bizarre ceremonies there is. Its not quite as spectacular as ‘Up Helly Aa’ in Shetland but always draws a big crowd to enjoy the spectacle – and warm themselves by the huge fire at the end of the procession.

The tradition apparently goes back to 1858 and came as a practical solution to a problem. The town’s silver band who carolled in the New Year were unable to use candles to light their music due to the strong winds, so it was suggested a tar barrel be used. So as they also had to go round the town to play, it was suggested to carry the barrels upon the guisers heads, rather than rolling them. There have been claims that it is a pagan festival, however, these claims are unfounded. Where the name ‘guisers’ came from is also unclear.

The 45 guisers are all from local families and the honour is passed through families and there is rivalry in the fancy dress they adopt for the event – and in the way they build the bonfire at the close. At the end of the Procession, the ceremonial fire is ignited and after the crowd shouts “Be damned to he who throws last”, the guisers ceremonially toss their barrels onto the mighty Baal bonfire to welcome in the New Year.

This video from New Year’s Eve 2014 gives a vivid impression of what it was like to be there:

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We’d love to welcome you to the North Pennines to experience it for yourself. You can make your booking for New Year at Terrace Cottage in Rookhope very easily online via the Holidaylettings or Tripadvisor page. Allendale is a short drive from Rookhope so you’re ideally located.

Chris Tradgett