Get ready for Lewes’ explosive annual celebration of Guy Fawkes Night!
As a fresher, one of the main “must do” events of the year is definitely attending the Lewes bonfire celebrations. It’s the biggest celebrated bonfire evening in the world, and for this fact alone everyone must go at least once, especially if you are only a few miles away from the fun.
You’ll notice that immediately after stepping off of the train your senses are instantly overwhelmed by the cold, winter, smoky night air. Town folk carrying seventeen crosses blazoned by fire march proudly and almost intimidatingly down the tiny cobbled roads creating an almost hellish but pleasant experience. Despite the paradox however, the marches only add to an already odd, yet slightly brilliant atmosphere.
One of the more sentimental aspects of the evening is that all of the people taking part are from and live in Lewes. Historically, the evening evolved from the gunpowder plot of 1605 and the seventeen martyrs who were burned at the stake in Lewes during the years of 1555-1557; this explains the burning of the seventeen crosses.
The Lewes Bonfire Society undertakes and pays for all of the costumes, planning and preparations. The night is not for the benefit of the general public but merely for the society members. There are around 30 processions all simultaneously proceeding throughout the course of the evening at the same time, marching through the different cobbled streets before finally rejoining each other to do the final precession through Lewes together.
Moreover, due to its reputation and deep historical roots, a lot of the corner shops in Lewes are closed and the sale of alcohol is slightly prohibited for the evening, however, delicious homemade mulled wine is available from various stalls. This way you really feel as though you are taking part in the festival and it adds a lovely Christmas-like vibe to the area.
Once you have finished absorbing yourself in the marches, taking in the incredible atmosphere and gotten over the shock of exploding firecrackers, it will probably be around 9.30pm and time to move to one of the areas where the fireworks will be released and the bonfire lit. This part of the evening can be slightly confusing if you do not have a map signposting where the different bonfire areas are, so I would strongly advise one of these is purchased, or if not, follow the huge crowds of people. The fireworks themselves are absolutely magical and the evening sky truly becomes alight with glittering and alluring colours. The sight and smell of the bonfire- that also happens to be one of the largest in the country- will completely engulf your senses.
Overall, Lewes Bonfire night is a wonderful experience, and even if it is not your cup of tea, everyone should experience it at least once in their lives.
Lewes Bonfire Celebrations: Monday 5th November, from 17:00, Lewes War Memorial, Lewes.
We advise you to get to Lewes earlier during the day to miss the huge evening rush, and avoid public transport if you can!