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Carnival season returns to Somerset

PUBLISHED: 13:28 06 October 2017

Floats battle it out for top spot (c) Jason Bryant

Floats battle it out for top spot (c) Jason Bryant

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Forget Rio and Notting Hill, we believe the Somerset Carnival Circuit is the best show of its type in the world. Here Laura Briggs takes a closer look at some of the places it visits

The glittering Somerset carnivals see clubs from across the region battle it out for the best floats, costumes and music to gain glory in the annual event.

Families line the streets braving whatever the British weather throws at them, while hundreds of thousands of lights on elaborate and colourful floats create an electric atmosphere as music blares out into the night.

There’s nothing quite like carnival season in Somerset and the towns that take part in the circuit draw crowds from miles around.

Bridgwater is the pinnacle of the circuit and draws the biggest crowds, with other towns on the circuit including Highbridge and Burnham-on-Sea, North Petherton, Glastonbury and Wells.

Carnival time is but once a year, but after the procession has left town there’s still plenty to do in all of these great Somerset towns.

The Gremlins is one of the longest running carnival clubs (c) Jason BryantThe Gremlins is one of the longest running carnival clubs (c) Jason Bryant

Bridgwater:

Bridgwater is the highlight of the circuit.The town is unique during the carnival as squibbing is practised here - the simultaneous firing of lots of large fireworks. Many come to the town just to witness the spectacle where somewhere in the region of 150 squibbers line the High Street and all light their squibs at the same time.

This year the Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival has been awarded £30,000 from the National Lottery Arts Council, enabling the committee to make the annual event even better.

As part of the funding, free practical courses are being run at Bridgwater College on subjects such as costume making, set design and build, stage make up, welding as well and other carnival related subjects.

Aside from its popularity during carnival time, Bridgwater is a bustling shopping centre with a rich history. The Bridgwater Docks, once thriving with barges taking goods along the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal, is now a peaceful place where people enjoy activities such as walking, cycling and canoeing. Bridgwater’s proximity to the site of the Monmouth Rebellion adds to its historical importance. With a host of markets, shops and eateries you’ll not be lost for things to do.

Visit Blake Gardens, the Blake Museum, Junction 24 for farmers’ markets and car boot sales, the Cornhill Centre in the middle of town offers eateries and shops, and why not pop into Coleridge Cottage or Fyne Court nearby for a great day out?

For more information on the free carnival courses at Bridgwater College contact Chris Hocking on 01278 428220 or email chris@bridgwatercarnival.org.uk.

Highbridge and Burnham-on-Sea

Home to Somerset Speedway and Secret World Wildlife Rescue, Highbridge is part of the carnival circuit along with Burnham-on-Sea.

Traditionally a market town, the bridge over the River Brue is where Highbridge grew.

The town is the birthplace of wartime hero Frank Foley who saved thousands of Jews during World War Two and you will see a statue of him on the town green.

Apex Park, a 42-acre leisure and nature park, offers visitors to the town a picturesque scene with lakes and picnic areas.

Just across the way in Burnham-on-Sea, your visit wouldn’t be complete without a walk along the beach and a visit to Burnham Pier.

Hundreds of thousands of lights shine on the carnival floatsHundreds of thousands of lights shine on the carnival floats

The Burnham Lighthouse presents the perfect photo opportunity and you can check out La Vela Italian Restaurant or The Victoria Hotel for a bite to eat.

North Petherton

The Carnival in North Petherton has been going for more than 68 years. Before it was a town, North Petherton was the largest village in England and was an important settlement as far back as Saxon times. Many archaeological artefacts of importance have been discovered on the site of St Mary’s, the town’s church with one of the highest towers in the region.

Geoffrey Chaucer was Deputy Forester at the royal estate of Petherton Park and the Alfred Jewel, which now resides in the Ashmolean Museum, was by chance found in the area.

Around North Petherton visitors can enjoy the walk along the Taunton and Bridgwater Canal, the Macmillan Way West footpath and the North Moor, a grazing marsh on the Somerset Levels.

Visit the Compass Inn for a traditional pub experience, or The Walnut Tree for your evening meal.

Midsomer Norton

Carnival in Midsomer Norton began in 1948, but it promptly ended again in 1960 and instead was held in Wells. The town had to wait another 14 years before the carnival returned, thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers known as the Midsomer Norton Carnival Club, who built a self-drive unit and themed their float around The Wombles, the popular children’s show.

Midsomer Norton boasts beautiful historic buildings and through the centre of the town runs the River Somer.

Hollies Garden offers a central green space for shoppers and others to meet, sit, and watch the world go by.

There are plenty of independent shops and the town hosts a farmers’ market on the first Saturday of every month.

Visit the Somerset and Dorset Railway Heritage Trust, and Docky’s Deli for delicious food.

Clubs pick a theme each year - which can range from pirates to the Wild WestClubs pick a theme each year - which can range from pirates to the Wild West

Shepton Mallet

Home to the Bath and West Showground where numerous events take place throughout the year, Shepton Mallet also boasts the green space of Collet Park and a little outside the town you’ll find the East Somerset Railway for rail enthusiasts young and old.

The Shepton Mallet Sunday Market in the town centre attracts local producers and supports independent traders and the town has a rich history with its roots still entrenched in cider production.

Charlton Viaduct runs through Kilver Court Gardens, a popular visitor attraction and the town is home to HMP Shepton Mallet Prison, where you can book prison tours.

Sixth in the line up of this year’s Guy Fawkes Carnival Association procession, Shepton embraces the tradition of carnival and you can guarantee a fabulous night out.

The carnival season runs begins at the end of SeptemberThe carnival season runs begins at the end of September

Wells

The smallest city in England, during Carnival time the streets of Wells get packed out. The narrow streets are heaving with families as the floats light up this historical place.

There is plenty to see and do in Wells. The Bishop’s Palace, where recently the BBC hit series Poldark was filmed, is open to the public and the Bishop’s Moat is well worth a walk around.

Wells Cathedral is spectacular and off from the cathedral you’ll find Vicar’s Street, the oldest resident street in the country.

Stay in the grand Swan Hotel for a perfect view over Cathedral Green, and try Goodfellows on Sadler Street for delicious food.

If you’re looking for vegetarian and vegan fare, stop by The Good Earth along Priory Road.

Families line the street in anticipationFamilies line the street in anticipation

Glastonbury

Glastonbury’s reputation precedes it, and although its namesake the Glastonbury Festival is what most people think of when you mention the town, the town centre itself is more renowned for the Carnival and its quirky independent shops and cafes.

Climb Glastonbury Tor for a sensational view across the county, and visit Glastonbury Abbey for a day out with the children.

Just walking through the town of Glastonbury is an experience, where you might walk past a fairy or a pirate on your way to the shops.

Steeped in mystery and magic, the town is totally different from any other town you may visit.

During carnival time Glastonbury lights up even more for this special once a year event.

2017 Carnival Dates

South Somerset Federation of Carnivals Committee Circuit

September 30 - Wellington

October 7, 7.15pm - Ilminster

October 14, 7.30pm - Chard

October 21, 7pm - Taunton

Somerset County Guy Fawkes Carnival Association

November 4, 7pm - Bridgwater

November 6, 7.30pm - Highbridge and Burnham-on-Sea

November 10, 7.15pm - Weston-Super-Mare

November 11, 7pm - North Petherton

November 13, 7.30pm - Midsomer Norton

November 15, 7.30pm - Shepton Mallet

November 17, 7pm - Wells

November 18, 7pm - Glastonbury

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