When everyone thinks of the carnival, they inevitably think of Rio or Notting Hill. However, in the Southwest of England, we do things a little differently. Many towns in the Southwest hold a carnival and many more used to, until Health and Safety regulations made the cost prohibitive. There are a number of different circuits, where a group of towns hold overall competitions and the biggest of those is the Somerset County Circuit, which includes a number of towns in central and northern Somerset. Theere are six carnivals in the circuit, all of which can be entered, no matter where you live and in fact, there have been entries from as far away as Rio de Janeiro. The difference between the carnivals in the Southwest and the likes of Rio and Notting Hill is dramatic. The mainstay of carnivals in this neck of the woods, is the illuminated cart or float, although there are also much more modest entrants, each with their own class. It is nominally a competition, but one of the biggest aims of the carnivals is to collect money for local charities.
Many of the entrants are individuals, but there are also a large number of entrants from carnival clubs, many of which have been around for several years and spend large sums of money every year. In fact many of the best entries each year, started from an idea initiated just weeks after the dust had settled from the previous year. They also light up the sky for miles around and result in many road closures, to enable the events to take place. Crowds number into the tens of thousands fo some of the events, with the largest crowds usually appearing at the Bridgwater carnival, often called the home of carnival. There is also an association with Guy Fawkes, one of the members of the catholic group, set to blow up the Houses of Parliament and the Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival is closed with “Squibbing”. This is a line of participants, who hold large fireworks called squibs at arms length, before lighting them. While it is a spectacular sight, it isn’t the place to wear your ball gown or Sunday Best, as sparks can fly.
So if you happen to be in the area around the beginning to middle of November, then why not pay one of the carnivals a visit. With a choice of six around North Petherton, Bridgwater, Burnham on Sea, Glastonbury, Weston Super Mare and Wells, there are a few places to choose from. Bridgwater tends to have the biggest crowds and the most entrants, but the main clubs enter all of the carnivals, then you can say that you’ve been to the largest illuminated carnival in the world.