Before this weekend I didn’t really know what Wassailing was. Obviously I am aware of the Christmas Carol which led me to believe that it was simply singing door-to-door with lanterns and mince pies. However, this weekend the lovely Lynne and Pete introduced me to a whole new experience; Orchard Wassailing.
This is apparently specific to apple orchards in certain areas of England(in our case, Somerset) in order to bless the coming year’s growth and harvest for luscious cider production. Now, being a fan of real cider (bubbly stuff in cans does not count as Cider in my book!) I was certainly not going to turn the opportunity down – and it was all in aid of charity, so how could I possibly say no?!
We spent the afternoon walking the blustery January shores of Weston-Super-Mare (the sea was actually visible -Don’t think that’s happened before!), playing the (2p) penny slots on the pier and eating fresh fish and chips in the bracing air. It was such a refreshing change to our normal Saturday routine, and that alone would have led to a perfect night’s sleep, but the festivities of Rich’s Cider Farm that evening certainly guaranteed it!
The tradition follows that a Wassailing Princess is carried forth to the apple orchard, whereby the roots of the tree are soaked in cider. The young girl then places cider soaked toast (yes, as in the breakfast variety) into the branches of the trees to ward off witches who may scupper the apple crops. All participants then sing and chant the local Wassailing song (I get the impression that different orchards/counties have their own variations) followed by all manner of hullabaloo; pots and pans clattered together, screaming, shouting, whistles and gun shots, to scare away the evil spirits. Orchard blessed, there is little left to do other than sing, dance, eat and be merry!
Gorgeous roast pork rolls and hot mulled cider followed, along with a jig along to The Mangled Wurzles, (‘a scrumpy and western tribute band’ to the actual Wurzels)a West Country celebration of everything silly and festive, and not without more than one or two innuendos. My own videos were utter rubbish, so I have had to trawl YouTube for something half decent – not the greatest footage, especially as the atmosphere doesn’t come across. You have to imagine a whole host of cidered up people do-si-do-ing, spinning and generally jigging around! You can always have a look at the real Wurzels performing some years ago by clicking here.
I’d like to say that this experience is typically British, but I don’t think it is. So unknown is this ancient tradition of Wassailing that I think it becomes very County-specific. However, it is a tradition that I will happily partake in each January; good food, good friends and great entertainment – the perfect way to deal with that January slump and genuinely feel that the light might be somewhere lurking at the end of that tunnel.