Wassailing Events in Devon and Somerset
Even though they have been around for hundreds of years, I know very little about the tradition of the wassail. If you’ve not heard the term before, it’s basically all about apple trees and cider making. So I decided to do some research on Wassailing events in Devon and Somerset. Maybe this year I’ll get along to one myself.
Cider Making in the West Country
We have been enjoying the fruits of our labour this year largely thanks to the hard work of my husband who has been making cider and also “champagne” cider. This is really lovely, as it turns the rough scrumpy into a much nicer drink with a fizz, as it undergoes a double fermentation (technical stuff, I just drink it!). He’s not convinced we need to hold our own wassail ceremony this January to bless our trees, it could be fun though.
What is a Wassail ?
A wassail is a traditional ceremony to encourage new growth and a bountiful harvest to the apple trees. It usually takes place on the 12th Night – this is now the 5th January, but Old Twelvey Night is 17th January, as that would have been the correct date before the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar in 1752.
The wassail starts at dusk with the preparation of a special drink made in a wassail bowl. This seems to vary from place to place with anything from beer, warm cider or a sort of egg nog all being used.
The drink is carried to the orchard with everyone involved in the wassail. There are rhymes to be chanted to the trees – these also vary from place to place. Here are some:
Health to thee, good apple tree,
Well to bear pocket fulls, hat fulls,
Peck fulls, bushel bag fulls.
Blowe, blowe, bear well,
Spring well in April,
Every sprig and every spray
Bear a bushel of apples against
Next new year’s day
Bushel – bushel – sacks full
And my pockets full too! Huzza!
The wassailers are encouraged make a lot of noise, banging drums, clashing sticks even firing off shot guns to wake up the trees. Branches of the trees are hit as well to encourage the sap to start flowing and to frighten away evil spirits that might be hiding amongst them. Some of the prepared drink is poured at the base of the tree and toast, cake or bread put into the branches to feed the good spirits.
These days some wassails carry on all the traditional practices. Others seem to be just a good excuse for cider drinking and a party! There is lots more information online if you want to learn more about the traditions of the wassail.
Here’s a round up of the events in Devon and Somerset that I have been able to find out about.
Wassail Events in Devon
Cranbrook – near Exeter – Saturday 6th January
A daytime event held at Cranbrook for all ages. Take a noisy instrument and walk to the community orchards at Cranbrook. Starts from the Younghayes Comunity Centre. Organised by the East Devon Countryside team.
Whimple – near Exeter – Wednesday 17th January.
Organised by Whimple History Society this event has really gown in recent years and sounds a great deal of fun. Starts at 6pm at The New Fountain Inn. Whimple had a long tradition of cider making and the ceremony was restarted in 1993. All the traditional elements of the wassail are carried out. For more information click here.
Sandford (nr Crediton) – Saturday 13th January
Join the green man and many other revellers to toast the apple harvest and hope for another good year in 2018. Meet at the Square in Sandford and walk to the Millennium Green for a bonfire, morris dancing, a performance from the Paperbag Mummers and Sandford Orchards wonderful mulled cider! Roasted marshmallows and hot chocolate will also be available in true Sandford Scouts style. Meet at Sandford Square at 6.30 – more here
Stoke Gabriel Community Orchard – Nr Totnes Saturday 20th January
A traditional cider apple blessing celebration in Stoke Gabriel’s community orchard. Folk music, Morris dancing, face painting, storytelling and the Mummers players will entertain the crowds before the Apple Blessing Ceremony within the orchard. Hot homemade food, toffee apples, cakes and drink available and a well stocked Yarde Cider bar serving hot mulled scrumpy. Gates open at 4pm. This is one of the larger wassailing events in the West Country. More details on the Yarde Cider website here.
Wassail Events in Somerset
Taunton – Freize Hill Community Orchard – Saturday 13th Jan
A free family event in Taunton with a Murmers Play, the Big Noise Street Band, bonfire and refreshments.
Starts at 5pm – Frieze Hill, Taunton, TA1 1EX
More details at www.communityorchard.org.uk
Glastonbury Tor, Avalon Orchard – Saturday 13 January
What a fabulous place to join in a wassail. At National Trust Glastonbury Tor there will be a choir, children’s activities with Somerset Rural Life Museum, singing around the trees and storytelling by the fire. Pop-up cash bar to sample the fruit of last year’s crop selling pints of cider and glasses of apple juice. Tours of the Tor from 2pm and the wassail starts at 3pm.
Advance tickets are available to purchase online (click here). Adults £8 to include pint of cider, hot food roll and car parking. Children £5 to include a drink and hot food roll. Entry on the day is also available, parking £3. The site will be cash only.
Carhampton (near Dunster) – Wednesday 17th January
Join this traditional event at Carhampton Community Orchard. Toasting the apple trees and shooting away the evil spirits. With music, snacks, hot cider – and West Somerset Morris Men appearing as if by magic from the darkness!
More at the Butcher’s Arms afterwards. Events details here.
Dunster – Buttercross Community Orchard – Wednesday 17th January (TBC)
A traditional wassail event at Dunster was revived on 2012.
Schoolchildren arrive in the morning, douse toast with apple juice and hang it from the trees to attract good spirits. They bring tins and drums, sing the traditional Dunster Wassailing Song making enough noise to drive off any evil spirits.
In the evening, the adults arrive to attract the good spirits and continue the assault on the evil spirits. Local musicians and story tellers entertain the crowd. Cider and cake is served. After the revelry three or four villagers load their guns and fire off rounds to drive away any remaining evil spirits. There is a torchlight procession through medieval village of Dunster stopping off at Luttrell Arms. The evening finishes at Foresters Arms for more songs and stories.
The Sheppy’s Cider Wassail, Bradford-on-Tone – Thursday 18th Jan
The traditional way to ensure a good harvest! The ingredients are noise, fire, guns, hot cider and lots of people to sing the Wassail chant and drive away evil spirits.
Dress for a mid-Winter orchard and be prepared to dance, sing and make lots of noise!
* Winter warming food on sale
* Cider bar
* Featuring Taunton Deane Morris
* Folk music provided by Fresh Aire
* Ticket sales supporting St. Margaret’s Somerset Hospice
£5.00 admission (tickets limited) Book your ticket now by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. More details www.facebook.com/events – Three Bridges, Bradford-on-Tone, TA4 1ER, Taunton.
Wilkins Cider, Mudgley, Somerset – Saturday 20th Jan
All the cider you can drink and still stay upright, snack food, singing and dancing. There’ll be Ceilidh music in abundance courtesy of The Somerset Levellers. Tickets £10 on the door includes entry from 7.30pm. Wilkins Cider website link here.
Great Local Cider
If you are looking for great quality West Country cider then have you heard of Norcotts Cider?
Based in East Devon, Norctotts Cider make a range of traditional and fruit ciders including a new pink grapefruit variety. Each flavour uses only natural colours and flavourings with no artificial sweeteners which makes them less sweet than some of the more commercial ranges on sale. You may have seen Chris at the Exeter Christmas Market or Axe Valley Show. His cider is available from a number of local stockists, pubs and restaurants, as lovely gift packs as well as to buy online.
Finally I’ve also spotted one in Bridport Community Orchard on 21st Jan at 3pm.
Well I really hope that you can get along to one of these events. If you can’t get then it sounds like a fun event to arrange at home. Any apple tree local to you will do! Invite some children to make a noise, have a winter BBQ and drink some cider – sounds like it could be a way to brighten up January! Happy wassailing everyone.
This post has been kindly sponsored by Norcotts Cider.