Visit a Winter Carnival For a Weekend Break in Somerset
The stunning 'Head Hunters' Cart presented by the Globe Carnival Club at a Somerset Winter Carnival (Thanks for the photo!).
Looking for something spectacular to do for a weekend break in November? How about standing on a pavement one night in a small Somerset town for a few hours? You’ll be in good company – for thousands turn out to do this in order to witness one of the awesome Somerset Winter Carnivals.
Never Heard Of A Somerset Winter Carnival?
Ask most people about dates for Guy Fawkes and most people will tell you it’s November 5th. Not so in Somerset. Bigger, far bigger than bonfire night in this neck of the woods, are the Somerset Guy Fawkes Carnivals that take place in November. Ordinary carnivals they ain’t! If you’ve never seen one, then you are in for a treat, so plan a winter weekend break in a Somerset Holiday Cottage during November and see for yourself these fantasmagorical spectacles of light.
Somerset is something of a carnival mad county - In 2015 the big carnivals on the ‘Guy Fawkes’ circuit being:
Bridgwater 7th November
Highbridge & Burnham-on-Sea: 9th November
Weston-super-Mare 13th November
Midsomer Norton 10th November
North Petherton 14th November
Shepton Mallet 18th November
Wells 20th November
Glastonbury 21st November
Choose a carnival and book a Somerset holiday cottage in the locale for a weekend or midweek break. This will allow time for a little daytime sight-seeing, perhaps some early Christmas shopping, country walks across the Somerset Levels or the Mendip Hills. Then, as twilight approaches, head into town for the evening event to watch the big, bright noisy parade. You won’t be disappointed.
You may scoff, but the glittering electrifying processions that parade their way through Somerset towns on dark November nights are likely to rival anything you’ll see in Rio or Notting Hill. Not for nothing is Somerset (or for the pedants, Bridgwater) justifiably known as the ‘home of carnival’.
_The Old Post Office in Ilminsteriwelcomes up to 6 guests for self catering winter breaks in Somerset
These winter carnivals really are a spectacle – a hundred or so floats, powered by generators sufficient to meet the needs of a small housing estate, ensure that music and the glow of thousands of coloured bulbs light up the night sky for miles around. More than a few motorists on the M5 must have driven past Bridgwater or North Petherton and assumed the respective towns were ablaze, as the glow of a few hundred thousand coloured lights illuminated the darkness. Stand downwind of a carnival and you can feel its warmth approaching well before the first of the big floats, or carts, as they are locally known, heaves slowly into view.
It’s a wonder they are not better known – although in fairness, the good folk of Somerset turn out in their thousands to scoff hot dogs and burgers while marvelling at the incredible procession of carts, many the length of a tennis court. Costing many thousands of pounds to design and build, themes are completely diverse, ranging from Martians, galloping horses, working roller coasters, steam trains, sky rockets, and dinosaurs. There will be MGM-style sets featuring a host of tightly choreographed sequined dancers working a 2-minute routine for 3-4 hours without stop. It’s like the Blackpool illuminations on wheels, only with more lights.
Each cart is owned by a local carnival club. Every year the club raises thousands of pounds to pay for its cart which is professionally designed, often in great secrecy (for these are competitive events), and built over a period of many months. Rehearsals, for those privileged enough to earn a place on board, start weeks beforehand as no stone is left unturned to achieve perfection and a highly coveted trophy.
The biggest carts are lit with up to 30,000 light bulbs and have PA systems that U2 would be happy to take on tour, all powered by massive (thankfully, super-silent) Aggreko diesel generators, themselves decorated and lit to form a part of the cart.
The Barn near Taunton is close to Winter Carnivals at Bridgewater and North Petherton.
Because of their popularity, plan to arrive in town early to ensure somewhere to park (many roads will be closed from late afternoon). Then find a suitable pub or café for an early evening supper close to the route. And wrap up warm, as you’ll probably need to wait a while until the procession arrives (although you’ll hear it long before it does). Seasoned carnival watchers will bring camping chairs with them to make the ‘waiting period’ easier on the feet – not a bad idea if you have small children. Bring lots of loose change as well in order to fill collectors’ buckets as all proceeds go to local charitable causes – otherwise it’s ‘free admission’. And what if it rains? Don’t worry – the show will always go on, so just dress accordingly! Whatever the weather, it’ll be an evening to put smiles on the faces of all the family.
Other Places to Visit in Somerset During Your Winter Break
A Winter Carnival need not be the only highlight of a winter weekend break in Somerset. Give yourself a day or two either side of your choice of carnival and you’ll find plenty of other days out to enjoy.
Glastonbury offers a delightful range of attractive local shops, ideal for Christmas present shopping, but take your walking boots to tramp up Glastonbury Tor for stunning views across the Somerset Levels. Visit the Abbey, the legendary burial place of King Arthur.
While on ‘The Levels’ (it’s the place where King Alfred burnt some cakes), take a walk along The Parrott Trail, named after one of the main rivers that flows through this part of Somerset and along whose banks the trail follows.
Go deep underground in the giant and beautiful caves at Cheddar Gorge or view the Gorge from the Cliff Top walk (and don’t forget to buy cheese). If you like Glastonbury, you’ll also be equally attracted to the City of Wells, with its ancient streets, Medieval Cathedral and Bishop's Palace.
Bridgwater lies within easy reach of the West Somerset Coastline giving you time enough to walk the wide beaches at Dunster or Minehead and still be back in town in time for a Carnival. Enjoy waterside walks and cycle rides along the Bridgewater and Taunton Canal, or the riverside walks along the Tone in Taunton (another great place for some seasonal shopping).
For holiday cottages in Somerset visit: https://www.myfavouriteholidaycottages.co.uk/somerset