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Novelist Naomi Booth remembers the icy cold of childhood Northumberland holidays, but is strangely drawn to the fiery energy of Allendale’s New Year’s Eve festivities.

In this series of Essays, we usher you into a secret world of hidden folklore. Five young writers explore the odder, darker corners of English tradition: this is not an England of bluetits, roses and white cliffs, nor of country lanes and thatched cottages, but an invitation into a compendium of bizarre and sometimes creepy rural rituals.

Each writer lives or has lived in the area. Their impression of the event stirs childhood memories, fires new convictions, deepens an understanding of ritual and reveals the awkward transposition of ancient ceremonies in contemporary life. In the final essay, the Japanese poet Lila Matsumoto takes her visiting parents to a Staffordshire horn dance.

This series attempts to hear younger witnesses writing for the times in which we live: dispatches on Englishness from the weird frontline.

1. Tar Bar’l

On New Year’s Eve in Allendale, Northumberland a group of men heave barrels of burning tar, kindling and paraffin onto their heads and process through the town. This is a programme devoted to the appeal of fire and flame. This is the Tar Barl Festival, Allendale’s way of marking the New Year for over 160 years. Groups of ‘guisers’ dress in costumes (‘guises’) and carry the fiery barrels on their heads. Novelist Naomi Booth presents. Naomi lives in Yorkshire, but remembers the icy cold of childhood Northumberland holidays. She finds herself strangely drawn to the fiery energy at the heart of Allendale’s New Year’s Eve festivities.

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