Sunday, 10 November 2013

lewes bonfire

This November 5th we travelled to Lewes in East Sussex for a night of dark autumn mischief. We'd come for the Lewes Bonfire - the UK's largest and most famous Guy Fawkes Night celebration. Setting off from London in the afternoon, we arrived a few hours later in the charming village of Firle, which I'd wanted to visit for some time due to owning a copy of this great book. Virginia Woolf rented a house in Firle and in 1916 her sister, the artist Vanessa Bell, moved to the nearby Charleston Farmhouse, which went on to become a regular haunt of the Bloomsbury Group (also on my list of places to visit). We'd taken a room for the night at The Ram Inn (the Bloomsbury room in fact) - an ancient pub set in the heart of Firle, whose website explains how artists, walkers, writers, farmers, farriers and vicars can all be found drinking at The Ram's bar... How excellent! We had to drop off our things and head straight off to Lewes, which unfortunately meant that there was to be no locally sourced Sussex pub supper in store for us, a shame because The Ram has become known for its good food... But we had fire to be dealing with.

Lewes was incredibly busy (30,000 revellers turned up for the festivities) and there was definitely an air of magic and mischief about the place. The event not only marks the date of the uncovering of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, but also commemorates the memory of the seventeen Protestant martyrs from the town burnt at the stake for their faith during the Marian Persecutions. Six bonfire societies put on five separate parades and firework displays. We watched on with awe as local residents took to the streets with burning torches, crosses and banners. Huge effigies were drawn through the narrow streets as brass bands played and fireworks burst above the River Ouse. I don't think I've ever seen so much fire and smoke. After several processions, each society marches to its own fire site on the edge of the town, where the effigies are burnt. We followed the raucous crowd and found our way to one of these sites. An enormous bonfire and firework display rounded off proceedings... Things were blazing, exploding, fizzing and whizzing left, right and centre by this point. It was nearing midnight and we were quite cold and tired, but luckily our room at The Ram was waiting for us just down the road. Unfortunately a very early start meant that breakfast (as well as the previous night's dinner) was also off the menu! (Although I must add that we were very kindly equipped with bags of porridge and fruit for our journey home.) All in all, it was worth the trek: a wild night!

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