We have been to one wassail already this year, and we are lining up others. Now, I am sure that our five to 10 regular readers (Hi Mum!) know what a wassail is, but just to ensure we are all up to speed, here is an overview.
Wassail means “to be in good health”; a worthy cheer and greeting anytime of the year, normally used around Christmas and up to twelfth night. It’s an Old English and Old Norse word, but still very much in vogue in the countryside today. Here are your usage options:
- A wassail can refer to a spiced ale/cider/wine drunk during twelfth night;
- To wassail can be used to describe the act of plentiful drinking and merriment;
- To go wassailing can refer to carolling door to door.
However, here we are describing the custom in cider making regions such as Somerset of wassailing the orchards to drive away evil spirits in order to welcome an abundant, healthy crop of apples.
So how do we do this? Is it perhaps through some savage pruning, or spreading of fertiliser? Nope, not even close. We bang saucepans, put cider soaked bread in the tree (only to be done by a nominated wassail king or queen that is hoisted into the branches) and toast the trees by drinking mulled cider while chanting/singing songs.
If you want to join in this larking around in orchards across Somerset in January here are five places that you can do it. There are plenty more to choose from so keep an eye out for any information about one local to you. Don’t forget to pack your torches, whistles, drums and saucepans:
- Yarlington: Friday 11th January 6:30 p.m. the procession begins at the Stags Head Inn. Proceeds will go to St Margaret’s Hospice.
- Taunton: Saturday 12th January 5:00 p.m. at Frieze Hill Community Orchard. The event includes a bonfire, Big Noise Street Band and a Mummers performance.
- West Coker: Sunday 13th January 6:30 p.m. at the East Close Orchard, followed by music and merriment at the village hall, including a Mummers performance. Details here.
- Dunster: Thursday 17th January at 7:30 p.m. at Dunster Buttercross Community Orchard.
- Glastonbury: Saturday 19th January 7:00 p.m. at the Somerset Rural Life Museum, with local band Rapscallion (N.B. this is a ticketed event).