Wassailing Events in Devon, Somerset and Dorset 2020
Even though they have been around for hundreds of years, I knew very little about the tradition of the wassail until I started researching them for this blog. If you’ve not heard the term before, it’s basically all about apple trees and cider making. It turns out there are quite a number of Wassailing events in Devon, Somerset and Dorset. These range from traditional parades of noise, pot banging and morris dancing (perfect for the kids to join in with) to more adult style parties at cider makers.
Cider Making in the West Country
We have been enjoying the fruits of our labour over the last few years thanks to the work of my husband who has been making cider and also “champagne” cider. This is really lovely. 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!). Some local friends will have seen my requests for old champagne bottles. He’s not convinced we need to hold our own wassail ceremony this January to bless the 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.
Wassail Events in Devon
Sandford Orchard Wassail – Crediton – Friday 17th January 2020
Head along to the home of Sandford Orchards Cider to a wassail event held at The Cider Works. Entertainment includes the wassail play form the Brown Paper Mummers, the fire dance from Great Western Morris and the ceremony MC’d by our local green man. Starts at 7pm. For more information and tickets see here.
Sandford Village, Crediton – Saturday 18th January 2020
Join the Green Man and many other revellers to toast the apple harvest and hope for another good year. Meet at the Square in Sandford and walk to the Millennium Green for a bonfire, morris dancing, an entertainment performance 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 6.30pm for this public event run by the Scouts – more here
Whimple – near Exeter – Friday 17th January 2020
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.
Stoke Gabriel Community Orchard Wassail – Nr Totnes – Saturday 18th January
A traditional cider apple blessing celebration in Stoke Gabriel’s community orchard. Folk music, Morris dancing, face painting, storytelling and entertainment 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. Organised by Friends of Stoke Gabriel Primary School. More details nearer the time online here.
Ventons Devon Cyder, Clyst St Lawrence, Cullompton 4pm – 10pm Saturday 18th January 2020
Wrap up warm, put on your dancing wellies and join in for an evening of fun & frolicking beside The Cyder Barn.
Exeter based Glory Of The West Morris will be entertaining from 6pm. Pie & A Pint (or other drink) £5.00 pp (inc meat or veggie options).
Gazebo cover if needed and you can warm yourself by a bonfire. Part of the proceeds will go to Devon Air Ambulance Trust.
Wassail Events in Somerset
Taunton – Frieze Hill Community Orchard – Saturday 18th Jan 2020
A free family event in Taunton. This community orchard was set up in 2oo3 and is run by volunteers. The wassail is a big event, led by The Lord of Misrule, with a bonfire, a Murmers Play and the Big Noise Street Band. Enjoy refreshments and a great community event.
Starts at 5pm – Frieze Hill, Taunton, TA1 1EX
More details at Friezehill Community Orchard here
Glastonbury Tor, Avalon Orchard – Saturday 18 January 2020
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. 1pm – 4pm. 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.
Advance tickets are available to purchase online (click here). Adults £3, children £1.
Cash only at the Tor (food and drink will be available.
You can join the parade from the town to walk to the Tor. Please note there is no car parking at the Tor for this event but a minibus will operate from the town.
Carhampton (near Dunster) – Friday 17th January 2020
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 – 17th January (please check local press for details)
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 from 7.30pm 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 17th Jan 2020
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 * Cider bar * Featuring Taunton Deane Morris * Folk music
Ticket sales supporting St. Margaret’s Somerset Hospice. 5pm – 9pm £10 admission includes food (tickets limited) Book your ticket on Facebook, at the shop or by mailing email@example.com. More details on Facebook here – Three Bridges, Bradford-on-Tone, TA4 1ER, Taunton.
Wassailing at the Jubilee Wood, Hinton St. George – Saturday, 18 January 2020
Gather inside the entrance to Jubilee Wood at 6.15pm for free mulled cider and apple juice. The Lord of Misrule and Lyme Morris will lead a lantern procession at 6.30pm along a candle trail to the centre of the wood, where the lights will be switched on.
Hinton St George is near Crewkerne in Somerset TA17 8SE. More details here.
Rich’s Cider – nr Highbridge. Saturday 18th January 2020
A family run business producing Traditional Farmhouse Cider Farm pressed apple juice, with locally harvested Somerset apples for over 60 years. Also a cafe / restaurant. Based in Highbridge, Somerset
Join the traditional Wassail ceremony followed by live music from The Skimmity Hitchers and dancing till late with DJ. Doors 7.30pm
Proceeds towards The Grand Appeal and other local charities.
Tickets £7.50 (under 12s FREE) available online here
Wassail Events in Dorset
Liberty Fields near Yeovil – Sunday 19th January 2020
Liberty Orchards Wassail is a free event starting at 3.30pm. Join in with the Wassail Hat competition – any hat will do, just cover it in greenery. Enjoy a performance by the fantastic Langport Mummers – not to be missed! Take your saucepan lids or other kitchen equipment to bang together and help scare any bad spirits away. Everyone welcome – wear a wassail hat!
Liberty Fields is based on a farm in West Dorset. They specialise in unique apple-based products such as Apple Aperitif, Aged Apple Balsamic Vinegar & Porter’s Perfection Vodka, all made by hand in small batches, using the apples grown in their own orchards. Closworth Road, Halstock, BA22 9SZ More details here.
Bridport Community Orchard – Sunday 12th January 2020
The annual ancient Wassail celebration will be taking place at Bridport Community Orchard on 12th January. The fun starts at 2.30 p.m with the traditional Wassailing ceremony being led by local storyteller, Martin Maudsley.
There will also be musical entertainment provided by Wyld Morris and everybody can join in singing songs and dancing around the trees, all of which will encourage a bumper apple harvest!
Cider and apple juice will be available, and there will be an open fire to keep the cold at bay. Take trumpets, whistles, drums, and anything that will make a noise to frighten away the bad spirits! The event is free and open to everybody.
Dorset Nectar Cider – Nr Bridport. 25th Jan 2020
Story tellers and Mummers play along with a food stall and Morris Men. Starting from 2.30 in the afternoon till late so families can come before it gets dark. More details at Dorset Nectar.
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 lovely fruit ciders. 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 where he has great gift packs on offer. His cider is available from a number of local stockists, pubs and restaurants, as well as on line for delivery, click here to learn more.
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. If you enjoy this sort of event then take a look at my guide to all the best Devon Festivals for 2020.