Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot.
Whirring Catherine wheels, fizzing sparklers, squealing screamers, exploding rockets and crackling bonfires all dance in the dark on and around 5 November in the UK. But how did this tradition come about?
On 5 November, 1605, Guy Fawkes’ plan to blow up King James I and his government was foiled when he was caught red-handed in the cellars below the House of Lords in London with 36 barrels of gunpowder. The Gunpowder Plot has been infamous ever since, and effigies of Guy Fawkes are tossed onto a bonfire and burned every year alongside a bonanza of fireworks to mark the historic event.
During the 20th century, more and more fireworks became available and the night was renamed Fireworks Night, more a celebration of the noisy and colourful pyrotechnics than the rumbling of The Gunpowder Plot.
Now, you can visit any number of spectacular fireworks displays around the UK. Here are some of the best:
Lord Mayor’s Fireworks – London, England
Every year, since the 16th century, the day after the Lord Mayor of London is sworn in – Saturday 9 November this year – the new Lord Mayor, along with a traditional British pageant including ornate golden carriages pulled by trussed-up horses, a marching brass band and stoic beefeaters, makes his way from the City of London to the Royal Courts of Justice where the Lord Mayor must swear his allegiance to the Crown.
This day of festivity is rounded off with an enormous fireworks display at 17.00 which can be seen for miles – head to the riverside between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridge for the best views of the dazzling fireworks glittering off the Thames.
Where to stay:
There are seven hostels in London to choose from and all are well within reach of the Tube and other public transport, but YHA St Paul’s is within walking distance to the best spot to place yourself in for the fireworks.
Glasgow Green Fireworks – Glasgow, Scotland
Tens of thousands of eager spectators are expected to gather to watch this mammoth fireworks display in Glasgow on the 5 November. Set to music so that the explosions are in sync with the beats, this display is a feast for both the eyes and ears.
As well as the 20-minute display, there’s a funfair which opens at 17.30 and pre-show DJs at 18.30 to warm up the crowd before the eye-catching spectacle kicks off at 19.30 in a burst of bangs and pops.
Where to stay:
Stay at Glasgow Youth Hostel and walk to the Exhibition Centre where you can hop on the Dalmulr to Motherwell train. Get off at Bridgeton where you can walk to Glasgow Green Park.
Sparks in the Park – Cardiff, Wales
Cardiff will be host to one of the biggest fireworks events in the UK on Saturday 2 November. A gigantic bonfire will rage on as amazing fireworks add sparkle to the sky and live entertainment from Capital FM, as well as food stalls and a licensed bar, will keep the party going.
Gates open at 16.30 when you can enjoy the on-site funfair and grab a bite to eat and drink before the show starts at 19.30.
Where to stay:
Cardiff YHA is situated nearby to Bute Park where the fun takes place. Take a 10 minute taxi ride or don your hats and scarves and walk to the park following the huge crowds.
Lewes Bonfire and Fireworks Celebrations – Sussex, England
The town of Lewes sees one of the most famous and long-running events in the UK take place every year on the 5 November (or 4 November if the fifth is a Saturday) attracting up to 80,000 people! Not bad for a small town. Lewes Bonfire and Fireworks Celebrations, which date back to the 16th century, involve 25-30 bonfire societies, each with their own themed costumes, marching through the town on different routes by torchlight accompanied by live bands.
Effigies of Guy Fawkes and Pope Paul V feature every year, as well as 17 burning crosses representing the 17 martyrs burnt at the stake for their Protestant faith from 1555-1557. The festival culminates with five separate bonfires when the effigies are thrown on and destroyed by fire. You have to book tickets in advance for this jam-packed event.
Where to stay:
You’ve got a choice between two hostels near Lewes, both offering the quiet of the countryside after the raucousness of the parade.