Life-size Mayflower ship to go up in flames at North Devon bonfire

Volunteers in North Devon have spent years building a giant replica of the Mayflower with the sole aim of turning it into a spectacular bonfire.

The Great Torrington Cavaliers have a long tradition of creating impressive displays only for them to be destroyed in minutes as part of a night of live entertainment and fireworks which attracts thousands of people from miles around.

Torrington Cavaliers chairman Mark Keeley said: "I think it's absolutely marvellous. It's spectacular. A wonderful, wonderful creation. It's going to look good on the night. It's going to go up beautifully."

The best yet?

"Obviously the best yet. We have a saying in the Cavaliers that the latest bonfire is the best bonfire. So THIS is the best bonfire."

It has taken more than three years to recreate the iconic ship in intricate detail. Credit: ITV West Country

Other big bonfires have included the Great Fire of London and a replica of HMS Victory. In 2015 the charity lit up a massive version of the 1970s children's TV show favourite, Trumpton. The moment it went up in smoke was captured on YouTube.

The Mayflower theme is very close to the heart of the Great Torrington Cavaliers. The group was formed following an invite from the Lord Mayor of Plymouth to attend the 350th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower in 1970 so they were very much 'on board' with doing something for the Mayflower 400 commemorations, coinciding with its 50th anniversary.

The Cavaliers have not only recreated the ship, they have also built a walkable quayside. Credit: ITV West Country

There were fears that Americans might be upset at the burning of such a symbol of national pride but it is also a very striking tribute.

The event has been delayed by a year due to Covid-19 but that has meant more time to work on the intricate creation, which not only includes the ship but also the quayside.

A dedicated team of 25 worked on the masterpiece, giving up their Saturdays over three and a half years. There is a huge attention to detail - knitted rats appear in all sorts of places.

The horrendous conditions faced by the pilgrims have not been forgotten - there are rats everywhere! Credit: ITV West Country

People have been flocking to Torrington Commons to view the display ahead of the fire. It is a huge fundraiser and won the Queen's Award for charity in 2016.

Lady Arran, the Deputy Lieutenant for Devon - one of the Queen's representatives in the county - was given a guided tour.

She said: "I think it's the most extraordinary feat done by this extraordinary group of people and for the last 26 weekends they've been building this amazing boat.

"I mean a lot of thought, a lot of detail has gone into it and it's a huge effort.

"I think they're going to be very proud - maybe a few tears - when this enormous ship goes up on Saturday evening."

This could be the last display of its kind unless more young people come forward to help.

Organisers say this could be the very last event of its kind. The Cavaliers have been going for 51 years and they are really struggling to find young people to bring it forward and carry on.

Find out more about the group and the bonfire on Saturday 28 August here.