Bonfire Night, Hastings

With its steep, winding lanes, ruined castle and rickety old houses, Hastings is an atmospheric, if rather sleepy town every day of the year. But for one night every October the residents of the ancient  fishing port and many of the other towns nearby get together to celebrate bonfire night in an orgy of noise and flame. The resulting torch-lit parade, beach bonfire and firework display are loud, smoky, colourful and most definitely magical.

The Hastings Guy

The best place to catch the long parade is on one of the narrow streets in Hastings Old Town. All Saints’ Street has the benefit of a raised pavement which gives a great view over the passing revellers. At the head of the procession stands the huge, rather spooky Guy, followed by a long shambling line of locals,  most in fancy dress of some strange sort or another. Many also carry burning torches and some let off terrifying fire crackers and flares that burn with a hot pink glow.The  noise of marching drummers is almost deafening. The stink of burning torches mingles with the town’s normal aromas of sea breeze and chip shop grease, and burning embers and smoke fill the chill night air. The crowds cheer on the procession from the pavement and from packed windows above, gasping at the theatrical antics of a tattooed fire eater or waving at passing friends.

Burning Flares in the Hastings Bonfire Night Procession

Down by the seafront the crowds are even larger, filling the wide promenade as the procession reaches its destination on the pebbly beach. The huge pyre has taken days to build, and despite a few hours of intermittent rain during the afternoon, it doesn’t take long for it to catch light as the torch-bearers pitch their burning sticks onto it. Within minutes it has grown into the largest, hottest, and most scary inferno I have ever seen, the long flames leaping high into the night sky.

The Bonfire, Hastings Beach

An impressive fire works display is a spectacular end to a truly magical evening. If you are wondering why the people of Hastings can’t wait until the 5th November along with the rest of us, the answer is that the celebrations also mark the anniversary of the famous battle which took place nearby on the 14th October 1066. With its pagan imagery and wild atmosphere, the Hastings bonfire night is an event like no other. And while many of my previous posts have featured my solitary search for magic in quiet places which lie forgotten and off the beaten track, this weekend I discovered it in a town filled with noise and people.

Magic, it seems, can take many forms and be found in diverse, often surprising locations.

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4 Responses to “Bonfire Night, Hastings”

  1. You might like the Collective Observations exhibition at Towner in Eastbourne – it’s all about folklore http://www.townereastbourne.org.uk/exhibition/collective-observations-folklore-photography-from-benjamin-stone-to-flickr/

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