Carnival! (Somerset-style)

Did you know that the West Country county is known for its abundance of autumnal carnivals, including one of the most impressive street parades you’ll see all year, with awesome floats?

Think ‘carnival’ and an image of daringly-dressed dancers parading through the streets of a South American city to a backdrop of infectious, Samba beats probably springs to mind. And while this West-Country version might not have the exotic allure of Rio’s famous fiesta or the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, it’s still a dazzling spectacle with more than its fair share of gaudy glitz and glamour.

There are over 30 different carnivals in the South West during autumn, but the biggest and brightest is the catchily-named Somerset County Guy Fawkes Carnival Association Circuit. This claims to be the largest illuminated procession in the world, consisting of a series of eight carnivals across the county during November.

As its name suggests, the Guy Fawkes carnival started as a celebration of the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605, famously led by Fawkes, but allegedly supported by Somerset conspirator, Robert Parsons. To mark this historic link, the event begins, every year, around Bonfire Night.

Each carnival sees an evening cavalcade of floats (or ‘carts’ as they’re called in this part of the country) pulled slowly through the crowded streets by pimped-up tractors. The carts are designed and built by Somerset’s many carnival clubs and cost tens of thousands of pounds, and take several months, to build. Every float – which can be up to 100 feet long and may include as many as 30,000 light bulbs – has its own theme, with on-board performers in elaborate costumes moving and miming to blaring music or, alternatively, standing stock-still in ‘tableaux’ pose (which looks as strange as it sounds).

The carnivals are free to watch, but donations to local charities are collected from spectators on the night. Processions can take two to three hours to pass by, so wrap up warm! Due to the closure of town centre streets and the huge volume of visitors, parking can be problematic, so take the train instead – the first three carnivals of the season are all easily accessible via the GWR network.

Bridgwater Carnival
Saturday 2 November, procession starts at 6pm
Bridgwater is the birthplace of carnival in the county and, on the first Saturday in November, the town’s celebration kicks off the season in style. Join an expected 150,000 spectators to watch 50 carts wind their way around a two-mile circuit of the streets. The procession ends with the traditional ‘squibbing’ display, when hundreds of handheld fireworks are simultaneously lit!
Getting there: Take the GWR train to Bridgwater.

Highbridge & Burnham-on-Sea Carnival
Monday 4 November, procession starts at 7:30pm
Getting there: Take the GWR train to Highbridge & Burnham

Weston-super-Mare Carnival
Friday 8 November, procession starts at 7:15pm
Getting there: Take the GWR train to Weston-super-Mare