For many of us, the last days of summer might mean anything from a quick get away with the family to a spot of DIY, but if you were around London during the final bank holiday of the year then you’ll know that THE place to be is the Notting Hill Carnival.
To experience the excitement for myself, some friends and I went along for the first time this summer.
From its humble beginnings in 1966 the carnival has grown to incredible proportions. Today, more than two million people flock to Notting Hill over the course of the festivities, making it almost the largest carnival in the world, second only to Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro.
With over 40,000 volunteers, there’s plenty to see and do in each of the five main aspects of the carnival: masquerade, sound systems, steel pan bands, calypso and soca. And for those hoping to bring the family along, there’s a special family day that kicks off nice and early Sunday morning, so that’s the day I picked for my first carnival experience.
After a hearty breakfast and with a bag stocked up with plenty of water, my friends and I caught the tube to Westbourne Park and pitched ourselves up near the start of the route, ready to watch the magic begin.
As the performers began to file down the road, we were soon caught up in the excitement of the event.
The sheer variety of costumes, music and and the unswerving energy of the performers meant we were delighted by something new every minute in a non-stop barrage of colour, movement and sound. It was fantastic!
The atmosphere was really chilled out with plenty of children of all ages in the crowd and performing in the street. I was worried that “family day” might not be as family friendly as it sounds, but it really was.
We stood in the blazing sun and savoured watching the parade dance by until noon, when our legs could take no more and we needed to stretch our muscles with a good walk.
We took a chilled walk through the streets. It was wonderfully easy as the crowds don’t really fill in until the early afternoon.
It was super good fun weaving in and out of the side streets and taking in all the sound systems that pepper the way. The police were really on the ball keeping everyone moving, and they were super friendly too!
Of course, exploring the Carnival is hungry work, and it wasn’t long before we were being lead down new streets not by what I heard, but by what we could smell.
The food is as crucial a part of the festival as the music, dance and performers. And as the Notting Hill Carnival has a strong Caribbean heritage, we expected to find plenty of jerk chicken, patties and fresh coconuts – and we weren’t disappointed.
The smells took me right back to my visit to Jamaica just a few weeks before. It was like a little slice of somewhere half the world away.
The patties were spot on, and the men and women we chatted to at their stalls along the way explained the ‘fast food’ patties would sell out by mid afternoon, with the jerk chick and curries selling for the rest of the afternoon.
Who could resist roasted plantain?!
I can’t wait to go again next year!