Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Somerset's Best Kept Secret

"When we're arranging for you to come and see us in November we'll try and time it for when there's a Carnival on."

I'll be honest, Dad says a lot of stuff that I don't really take in, but this was one of the few times that I actually stopped and listened. He didn't really seem able to explain it - kept talking about tractors and floats and lightbulbs and saying that I should look it up on You Tube.

I politely declined and put it to the back of my mind.

So when I arrived in Crewkerne on 7th November I was greeted with the news that the next day we would be going to the North Petherton Carnival.

I was still in the dark.

It wasn't until I discovered Louisa via that day's Photo an Hour hashtag on Twitter that things became a lot clearer.

I'll let you read her post about the origins but you basically need to know a couple of things:

- There are tractors pulling floats
- The floats are decorated up the wazoo in lightbulbs
- Some floats have insane hydraulics systems built into them
- It's bloody freezing
- It's absolutely amazing

First thing you need to know? You have to get there early. The roads in and out of North Petherton close by 5.30pm to prepare for the Carnival so if you want to go to the Carnival you have to go to the Carnival. You have to commit, which for us meant queueing on the M5 with the hazard lights on as the tailback went all the way down the sliproad and into the inside lane.

So you're in North Petherton. You're parked. It's 5.30pm. The Carnival isn't due to start until 7.00pm. What are you supposed to do?

The answer is go into the bowling club and drink some goddamn cider and shove a hot dog in your face. Obviously.

We were eager little beavers and made our way to stand on the side of the street at 6.45pm for the beginning of the Carnival. Kind of a mistake. This is where the insider info comes in useful and the next time I go to a Carnival I'll be well prepared. You need to bring with you:

Folding chairs
Lots o' food

For the Carnival did not reach us until 8.30pm. Trust me, standing on a dark street in the freezing cold,  in the dark, staring at a hedgerow for almost two hours does not happy campers make. I can make the best out of most situations, but I was starting to lose the will to live after a while. If I'd been sat on my bum under a blanket reading a book I'd have been grand though.

There is honestly, nothing that can prepare you for a Carnival. I'd looked at Louisa's photos and I had been forced to watch a couple of You Tube videos before we left but I still didn't get the huge scale of the floats that we're talking about.

I cannot even conceive how long it takes to put all of this together, I can only imagine the Carnival Clubs have started planning their themes for 2015 already. The carpentry alone but when I say hydraulics I mean hydraulics. These are big giant floats being pulled by tractors, with moving parts on them.

Dad had first heard about the Somerset Carnivals when talking to a local who told him a story about a Health & Safety officer being poached from one Carnival Club by another. I can now see why - this is a Health & Safety Officer's wet dream. Electricity? Massive floats? People on the sides of the streets? People singing and dancing flailing around on the floats? Did I mention the hydraulics?

Spot the tractor driver. Hint: It's not the guy in the top hat

I cannot even understand how I have never heard of this Carnival stuff before. There they are, banging on about cider all the time when Somerset should be banging on about this. Tek your Rio and shove it - this is Carnival British Style aka in the cold and dark. But with chippy vans so, you know, swings and roundabouts.

Carnival is so far up my street it's untrue. 

Bright lights? Check

Loud music to dance to? Check

Strangers acting and singing and dancing (and even more unbelievably, standing stock still in the Tableau Class - I don't even understand how they could do that.)? Check

Strangers standing on the street that you can talk to? Erm, check.

The whole thing lasted about an hour and a half or so and I was stood there with a gaping mouth like a complete moron for about 75% of it. The remaining 25% I was dancing and singing.

At the end of it all it was back to the car park and a surprisingly quick get away. I had visions of us being stuck there for hours but the road is opened in one direction only and we were on our way back home in no time at all. (With the heating in the car turned up as high as it would go.)

There isn't any more I can say, other than to urge you to maybe think about taking a little weekend trip down to Somerset in October/November 2015 to see it for yourself.

Trust me, you don't want to miss out on Somerset's best kept secret.

(Did I mention the hydraulics?)


  1. Woooooow! It sounds and looks amazing! I have the insider knowledge now for when I go (ta for that) x

  2. I'm from Somerset and I used to go to Taunton carnival every year... To be honest until I read this I thought that everywhere had carnivals like that. Although to be fair, I have been put of Somerset for 10 years and I haven't actually ever seen anything else like it.

  3. Yes! I'm up for a blogger trip next year, to North Petherton or any of the other big carnivals :-) I'm so glad you enjoyed it, I can't understand why more people don't know about our amazing parades and I always bang on about how fab they are to anyone who'll listen!

    Couple of interesting things:
    - the Battle of Atlantis float in the first pic had 87,000 LED light bulbs on it
    - yep, most clubs have already started planning next year's idea already but even so, you only get 1 year to build your entry
    - the engineering and hydraulics on some of the really big entries are powered by 1.25 megawatt generators (which gives you enough energy to power I think, it's a small town). At one point a few years ago, there was no company that could supply ones that size and they had to be imported from Switzerland just for the two weeks of Carnival season!
    - health and safety is a right nightmare. There's so much red tape and paperwork that needs to be completed each year, every float has to conform to certain standards and they're all checked by the police before Bridgwater carnival. Plus you even need a special license from the Ministry of Transport (called a VSO) before you can even drive a float anywhere.
    - being on a tableau float is hard, very hard. Most of the people in those clubs have been doing it years and years and apparently, so I've been told, the trick to it is to just think about anything else in the whole wide world. I've never done it but I might be giving it a go next year, eek!

    So yep, see you next year! :-) xx


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