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The Tar Bah’l of Allendale Town on New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve in Allendale Town high on the Pennine Hills in Northern England and there was some strange goings on, The Tar Bah’l.

Actually it was just a regular New Year Eve in Allendale.  Every Year for many generations, the Town’s men undertake, it has to be said, a slightly pagan ceremony know as the Tar Bah’l or Tar Bar’l (sometimes also spelt as Baal or Bahl). 45 men (only the men I understand) carry a flaming tar barrel on each of their heads march around the town before throwing the burning ‘tar’ onto a prepared pyre in the town square – igniting the huge bonfire at midnight.

Allendale-New-Year-2 The Tar Bah’l of Allendale Town on New Year's Eve

The men, know as guisers, have to be born in one of the Allen Valleys and many have inherited their place in the line up from their forefathers.  They wear brilliant costumes and some have their faces blackened with soot. One last night was dressed as Super Mario and one as a polar bear – don’t ask me why – others in brightly coloured outfits.

Allendale-New-Year-3 The Tar Bah’l of Allendale Town on New Year's Eve

At 11.30 on New Year’s Eve the whole town erupts into music and dance as the band plays and the guisers do their duty following on behind. Crowds come from miles around to see the spectacle. And at midnight the procession reaches the pyre at the town centre (called the Bar’l fire) where they empty their burning tar onto it creating the great bonfire. A huge chant goes out from all “Be damned to he who throws last”.

They say the ritual here at Allendale as taken place for at least over 160 years with some saying it could have its roots in the middle ages.

Allendale-New-Year-5 The Tar Bah’l of Allendale Town on New Year's Eve

Legend says only one woman has ever done the Tar Bah’l – in the1950’s a lady called Miss Vesta Peart was allowed to take part, as a thank you for making many of the costumes and with some of those said costumes still worn each year to this day.

Allendale-New-Year-4 The Tar Bah’l of Allendale Town on New Year's Eve

My favourite in these images is the huge Viking looking guy – who could be an extra from Game of Thrones – but, probably sensibly, had safety glasses on.  It was a very windy night and the bonfire took light very quickly and sparks soared away into the night sky.

Allendale-New-Year-6 The Tar Bah’l of Allendale Town on New Year's Eve

It was fantastic spectacle and a great way to see in the New Year.

Written by Tom Warburton

Long, long ago (back in analogue days) he travelled the world extensively including a two year around the world trip. He is now rediscovering the world with a digital camera. He originally trained as an ecologist and is particularly interested in environmental and wildlife issues.

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