Our guide to Ottery St Mary in Devon looks at the history of the parish town, including the infamous’ tar barrels’ and best places to visit in the area.
Ottery St Mary lies in the beautiful Otter Valley on the eastern fringes of Devon, 11 miles from Exeter and just six miles from the coast. The parish town is one of the oldest in Devon with the boundaries set by Edward the Confessor in 1061.
There’s plenty to see and do most weekends, but in November the town comes alive as it celebrates Bonfire Night with its annual display of flaming tar barrels being carried through the streets on Thursday, culminating in a huge bonfire.
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Why is it called Ottery St Mary?
Ottery St Mary gets its name from its two electoral wards – rural and parish town. The River Otter runs nearby the town which gives it the name ‘Otter’, while ‘St Mary’ comes from the name of the church in the heart of the town parish.
St Mary’s church houses one of Britain’s oldest surviving mechanical clocks: the Astronomical clock is thought to date to the mid 14th Century, and adheres to the ancient Ptolemaic cosmological theory that placed the earth at the centre of the universe.
Best places to stay and eat
Tumbling Weir Hotel & Restaurant
The Rusty Pig
The Rusty Pig sources all its seasonal food locally and the owner and local Robin Rea returned to Ottery St Mary to open the pub in 2011 after learning about seasonal ingredients at River Cottage and overseas. The menu frequently changes and even serves brunch. www.rustypig.co.uk
The Tar Barrels of Ottery St Mary
In a daring and peculiar pyrotechnic spectacle, villagers haul flaming barrels of tar on their backs through the streets of Ottery St Mary. Each one gets bigger until the last, huge barrel is paraded around at midnight. Although it is unclear why this intriguing tradition started, it is enthusiastically embraced by the whole community.