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THE ALLENDALE BAAL FIRE, NORTHUMBERLAND

The Allendale Baa1 Fire takes place every year on 31st December, it is a farewell to the past 12 months and has been in existence since the Dark Ages.  On New Year's Eve the small town is full of visitors and down from the hill farms come the shepherds, flockmasters and farm workers to watch or take part in the Baal.

 

The guisers, men in quaint costumes with blackened or painted faces, descendants of the mummers whose playlets once enlivened the Christmas scene together with kings, queens, courtiers, clowns, witches, animals, dwarfs, in a mixture of colourful garb worn once a year, jest their way between houses and hotels.

By late evening the town seethes, to the people of the Allen valley, this is their get-together.  Brass and drums boom out to a cry of 'The Band'.  Troubadours in many-hued dresses with faces of clowns change roles and. play, instead of singing, in the town square. Almost swamped by dancing crowd of hundreds, they crash out their music. This is their night, too, for these six men meet together only once a year for the privilege of furthering the 'old custom'.

During the last hour the square is a tight-packed mass of dancing people, the guisers gather, the Tar Barrel Men muster in a corner of the square, there is a roll-call then the men carry the shallow barrels, 2ft across, primed with tar, shavings and a pint of paraffin, across the square, forming triple columns.  At 11.30 PM. torches are lit, barrels ignited, the square flares suddenly with light.  The Barrel Men hoist their now burdens on their hears, and form up behind the band.

The Allendale Tar Barrel Men are on the march, flame above painted faces and motley three lines of fire swirl across the square to the road. names 3ft high, are spiralled by the wind as the procession of flame marches up the main road then suddenly turns back upon itself to countermarch down the straight road that bisects the town. Flickering reds and yellows, pounding rhythm weave a hypnotic effect, the crowd noises are stalled, the sight and sound is weird, it is as if time has called a halt - for the Tar Barrel March echoes a paganism as old as man himself.  On it goes, a river of flame through the dark town.

Then suddenly, it is finished. The crowds break as the Tar Barrel Men turn back into the square and everyone rushes to the fire site (always on the same spot) with cheerful shouts.  The Barrel Men circle the 14ft pile of fir branches, they stop ... 'Be damned to he who throws last' ... and hurl their 45 hot burdens at the foot of the pile.  The remaining inflammable contents fire the kindling and in seconds the Midnight Baal Fire is flaming high in a shower of sparks, a pyre to the old year, now in its last seconds.  A cheer for midnight and the New Year, the band plays 'Auld Lang Syne, the crowd link hands, sing and kiss. It's a Happy New Year as the First Foots leave on their rounds.

 

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