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New Year’s Eve in Allendale: The Tar Bar’l

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have started to realise that New Year’s Eve is so over-hyped.  Spending a ridiculous amount of money to stand in a packed bar with drunk idiots counting down to what, in reality, is just another day.  The first day of the year doesn’t suddenly mean that you now need to start new goals or brings an end to all the bad decisions you’ve made over the past year.  You can change your life any day you want, you don’t have to wait until the 1st of January.  This year in particular though, having just returned from travelling, I wanted to do something different for New Year’s Eve.  It was never going to match up with watching the fireworks at Sydney Harbour but spending New Year’s Eve in Allendale is something I’d recommend everyone try!I can guarantee that spending New Year’s Eve in Allendale at the Tar Bar’l (I’ll explain) will not be something you regret.  It’s got to be up there as one of the best experiences in the UK! 

If you fancy going back in time to a world where health and safety doesn’t exist and you don’t mind getting covered in burning embers, this is for you!

Where on earth is Allendale and what is the Tar Bar’l?

Allendale is a lovely town situated just a few miles south west of Hexham and just a short drive from Newcastle.  The area itself is within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Beauty.  There are rolling hills galore here as well as old stone buildings.  Allendale is however most famous for its Tar Bar’l which has occurred every New Year since 1858!  Depending on who you ask, you might be told that the roots of this event go back to medieval times.

The Tar Bar’l

Essentially, at approximately 11:45pm, a parade of 40-odd townsfolk dress up and carry burning barrels of tar on their heads through the town.  After parading around and making it back to the town square dot on 12am, the burning barrels are thrown on to a bonfire alongside a chant of “be damned to he who throws last.” The townsfolk or ‘guisers’ are men who have had the honour handed down to them.  The term ‘guisers’ comes from the fact that they dress up in various costumes and disguise themselves. The atmosphere is great, maybe even a little wild, with two pubs in the town square happily serving alcohol all night long.  However, the atmosphere really ramps up when you realise the parade of huge flames has to try and force its way through the crowd.  With strong winds, everyone was covered in burning embers and I was really unsure how no-one has ever been hurt! Once the bonfire was lit, my god, the flames came past the safety barrier and almost singed everyone’s eyebrows! It caused a huge stampede of people rushing backwards but this was, weirdly, just part of the excitement.  The wind calmed down a little but I think it really added to the experience!

The Details

Beforehand, I found it difficult to workout how to spend New Year’s Eve in Allendale.  It’s not exactly easy to get to and there are few bed and breakfasts in the town itself. If you plan well in advance, get yourself booked in for a meal at the Golden Lion as well as a room.  That way you’ll have a table all night, can pop outside for the Tar Bar’l before back to bed!  Like a lot of people, we drove to Allendale around 9pm after spending all evening in Hexham.  We managed to get parked relatively close to the town square but the roads will fill up.  If you’re not careful you’ll be parked miles out of town and will face a torturing walk. 

Here’s a little tip, park facing away from town so that it’s easier to get out once everything’s finished.  The traffic was a nightmare. Those facing the wrong way were stuck having to wait for a lull before attempting a three point turn! Other than that, you don’t really need to know much.  Just get yourself there and watch the spectacle unfold!  If you’re not convinced yet, I’m confident the pictures will make up your mind!

If you have been, or plan to go in the future, let me know in the comments below!

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10 thoughts on “New Year’s Eve in Allendale: The Tar Bar’l”


    Can’t say I’ve ever heard of this. It sounds interesting though, perhaps I’ll keep my end of year open and look in to this 🙂

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