Beach Bonfire Bonanza

John Traynor has a wealth of knowledge about all things outdoor, he's a contributor to our magazine website and an experienced tent camper.

Each year, the beach at Alnmouth on the Northumberland coast becomes a hive of activity as teams compete to have the last bonfire burning.

All ages enjoy the drama of Volcano Night; it would be more dramatic in the dark – and also more dangerous!Volcano Night is an exciting title for the annual charity fundraising event that sees teams building towers of sand on which to build a bonfire before lighting up and aiming to be the last one burning, before the waves of the incoming tide claimed them, to earn the title of ‘Winner’.

I came across it by chance when pitching up at the Dunstan Hill Club Site. It’s ideal for exploring not only the coast but also Alnwick, Rothbury and the tops and valleys of the Cheviot Hills. Returning from an easy walk to Dunstanburgh Castle, via The Jolly Fisherman in Craster village (top fresh crab sarnies), a fellow camper quizzed me about walks in the area.

Offering level, grassy pitches, excellent facilities and just a stone’s throw from the coast, Dunstan Hill is an ideal site for exploring NorthumberlandAs often happens on Club sites, another camper joined in and told us about Volcano Night that evening. It sounded like a wind-up but a quick Google confirmed his story and a plan was hatched to pop along. With more notice, we might even have formed a Club team.

Whilst we had no idea what to expect at the event, we knew enough about local conditions to take a windbreak with us. The lovely open aspect of Alnmouth beach enjoys what locals call a ‘lazy wind’ – it cuts right through you.

When we arrived, it was obvious from the atmosphere that there was going to be some serious competing – and even more partying!By the time we arrived, the beach was busy and it was obvious that regulars prepared well with barbecues and coolboxes galore. We sped back to the village for supplies – bottles of local beer and plenty of snacks – then set up our ‘camp’, wishing we had brought along our chairs. Also wishing we’d brought a bottle opener.

Whilst I have seen somebody rip off a bottle top with his teeth, asking to borrow an opener was a far more sensible option.

Experienced teams came well-prepared and determined to winWith supplies sorted, we settled down to watch the spectacle. Not knowing the lie of the land meant we were taken aback by the starting signal and the frantic efforts of teams to shift sand and secure some stability.

Styles varied from autocratic leaders to shambolic clowning and was hugely entertaining. Sand flew about, the volume of shouting and laughter grew as did the tension before the bonfires were lit. Flames leaped high and, as the odd one collapsed, posed potential problems that the parties dismissed with more laughter and some resignation as towering infernos fell.

As the flames caught hold, everybody stepped well clear in case of collapse – the tower, that isAfter a couple of hours, the spectacle was over. It had a faintly heathen character, bags of good humour and a degree of drama. It was evident that the party would continue long into the night but we headed back to our tents for our own party – a much more sober event!

Being decent folk and having enjoyed the spectacle, we turned out in the morning to help out with the beach clean-up. Locals told us about the Raft Race which appeared to be an altogether more demanding event though with a similarly good-natured spirit.

Alnmouth Raft Race is another charity event on this lovely stretch of Northumberland’s coastThough we hatched a plan to meet up the following year and enter as a team, it came to nothing. Sadly, building and transporting a raft was just too impractical. Good to dream though.

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