On Saturday, we attended the magnificent Bonfire Night Procession in Rye. It was our first time at this event, and we really enjoyed it!
The bonfire celebrations in Rye is hosted by the Rye & District Bonfire Society, which is one of the many Sussex Bonfire Societies. These societies organise a large amount of bonfire celebrations every autumn, starting in September and ending in late November. The events take places in many different Sussex locations, and commemorate not only Guy Fawkes (traditionally celebrated on the 5 November in the UK and New Zeeland), but also the protestant martyrs who were burnt in Lewes and other places in 1555-1557, during the reign of Mary Tudor. The Sussex bonfire societies tour around each others events, creating some quite impressive processions with participants of all ages, also including Cub Scouts and other organisations.
While the bonfire celebrations in Lewes are the largest ones on the whole Sussex bonfire circuit, the other ones are said to be “as much fun and more family friendly“. Lewes isn’t a massive place and I can imagine that it gets pretty crowded. I was actually a bit worried that it might feel too crowded for us in Rye, too, as this is also a popular location, but it really wasn’t too bad.
I suspect that the weather predictions for the night might have put a few visitors off from going, but although the weather was pretty drab earlier in the day, it cleared up as the day went, and when we got ready to make our way into town, it was mild and didn’t feel as if it was about to rain, I thought… However, as soon as we caught the very first glimpse of the bonfire procession, the skies opened and it absolutely poured down! So the first few pictures I’ve got from the night all look like this one below, or worse.
We tried standing up against a large bush to get some shelter from the weather, but got quite drenched. Luckily, Penguin doesn’t mind too much about rain, and the husband was sufficiently impressed by the parade to think it warranted staying out despite the conditions. That first shower didn’t last too long either, so we could soon leave our bushy shelter and follow along with the procession towards the town centre.
We hadn’t realised in advanced how long the train of participants would be, it was really impressive to see! They were all dressed up in costumes, with painted faces, hats, masks, etc., and many of them were playing drums, so there was a constant rythmical beat to move along to. Apart from torches, there were also other types of lights being worn or carried by the participants, and among the onlookers there were also many kids with light sabers, flashing balloons and other items to light up the night.
As the parade got closer to the town centre, it got held up for a bit, and one of the ladies who’d ended up stopping right next to us spotted Penguin and offered him her drumstick, so that he could have a go at playing her drum! That was such a lovely gesture of her, and really added to our experience of the whole event. At first, Penguin was a little bit hesitant to accept the drumstick from her, but after some encouragement he soon grabbed it and gave her drum a good few whacks with it. Not quite in pace with the other drummers, but noone seemed to mind at all, and for us is was obvioulsy a special moment. If you’re the lady in question (pictured below, closest to the front), and you happen to read this: A big warm THANK YOU for your wonderful gesture and your patience!
As the processioned moved on, we saw more young drummers, too. I thought it was brilliant that there was such a wide age range of participating paraders!
We stayed still in one place for a while, watching the rest of the pageant go past, with a large fire-breathing mechanical dragon as well as a fire-lit ship on a float as two major features at the rear of the procession. We then took a short cut up to another street which the parade also went through, and on the way there, we went past several stalls selling sweets, roasted chesnuts, blinking toys etc. There was a warming carnival kind of atmosphere, even despite the weather, as the rain came down in intermittent showers.
We thought we’d make our way up to the Ypres Tower, from which there’s a good view of the Eastern outskirts of the town, thinking that we would probably be able to see the bonfire and if not at least the firework display, which was to follow. However, as we made our way through town, slowly through crowded parts and stopping in a couple of places to watch parts of the procession again, the rain got heavier and the wind started to pick up too. We really weren’t dressed for those conditions, and we had already had a great deal of excitement, so we were also thinking that it might get too much for Penguin (as well as too cold for all three of us) if we were to stay out much longer. So we decided to head back home. However, after changing into dry clothes, we snuck back out to catch a glimpse of the fireworks from more of a distance, and we actually got pretty good view of them. It was a really good display, and pictured here is the final bang of it all.
If you’re in the South East and like the look of this event, you’ll be pleased to know that there are still two more dates to come in the Sussex bonfire calendar this year! There’s one in Robertsbridge this Saturday 17 November (click on the text for more info, link opens in new window) and then the final event of the season in Hawkhurst (which stricly speaking is in Kent) on Saturday 24 November, see info here!.
If you’re interested in knowing which locations you’ll be likely to find these bonfire processions on in upcoming years, there’s a list of all the places taking part this year, here. And to keep an eye on the Rye celebrations, the best page is ryebonfire.co.uk
Have you been to any bonfire celebrations this year? And have you perhaps experienced any of the Sussex bonfire processions, this year or before? Please let us hear from you in the comments below!
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