Small Pleasures: The Wells Carnival

Wells Cathedral

I first encountered the Wells Carnival back in 1985, when I’d moved to the city to take up a new job. It astonished me then and it still impresses me now.

Bishop’s Palace in Wells Somerset

Wells has been a city since medieval times. It has one of the oldest Gothic Cathedrals in Europe and Palace of The Bishop Of Bath And Wells, which looks like a castle with a moat around it and is the centuries old home of the second most powerful cleric in the land,

Wells has stayed small, with a population of about 11,000 people but it’s community is strong. One of the things that keeps them that way is working together throughout the year in Carnival Clubs to prepare for the Wells Carnival.

The Carnival consists of a lot of floats (big truck trailers) that are decorated to a theme, chosen by each team. The designs are audacious, light-filled, loud and have costumed people hanging off them who are either holding still in a tableau or dancing to their music.

The competition between the Carnival Clubs to win prizes in their catagory is good-humoured but fierce.

The floats drive through the main streets of the city and people applaud and throw money. The money goes to charity.

Being a very old city, the streets are narrow and full of curves. The buildings are no more than a few stories high. The floats fill the street, barely make it around the curves and look enormous next to the buildings.

When my wife and I saw them for the first time in 1985, we were amazed at the scale, the creativity and the sheer drama of it. There were so many floats that they took two hours to pass us. There were so many lights that each float gave off heat into the cold night. It’s an event for locals, by locals, so it felt like a privilege to be there.

When we returned to the UK last year, after a sixteen-year absence, we went to see the carnival again. It’s still impressive. It still takes more than two hours to roll by. The lights are all LED now, so they look great but they don’t give off all that heat. And now there are stewards in high visibility jackets walking alongside the floats to make sure no one gets run over.

Here are some of my pictures from the 2018 Wells Carnival.

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