It's an almost hallucinatory sight: men and women in historical costume rolling drums of flaming tar down the cobbled streets of a southern English town, lighting up the night as drums beat and crowds roar. Others follow, bearing burning torches and letting off deafening fireworks. The air is dense with the smoke of vast bonfires, ablaze in surrounding fields and on hillsides. No, it's not a re-enactment of Dante's Inferno
. It's Bonfire Night in the Sussex town of Lewes.
Held every year on Nov. 5, Bonfire Night nominally commemorates the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605an attempt by English Catholics to blow up the upper house of Parliament and launch a Catholic uprising against the Protestant rule of King James I. These days however, it's simply an excuse for a boisterous get-together by pyromaniacs of every stripe. From midafternoon, Lewes' train station, pubs and narrow streets are mobbed with tens of thousands of visitors from all over England. The noisy, incandescent spectacle begins at sunset. Remember to dress warmly: there may be a lot of fires burning, but this is an English winter. For more information visit lewesbonfirecouncil.org.uk.