Singing the wassail song under the torchlight Copyright Chris Saville

Upholding our ancient traditions

Laura White
Laura White
Bill Murray and Jim Causley at Halstow Farm Credit Chris Chapman / Singing the wassail song under the torchlight Copyright Chris Saville / the torchlight procession weaves its way through the orchard – copyright Chris Saville / Meg Hansen is crowned Wassail Queen by Rev Paul-Seaton Burn – copyright Chris Saville / Wassail at Okehampton Community Garden © Doug Lander

The weekend of 15th January, was the closest weekend to the traditional date of 17th, when many communities came together to join in the age-old tradition of wassailing.

This ritual is carried out every year and nowadays entails singing, the banging of pots, pans and drums and a drink or two of mulled cider.

The purpose of the event, which is thought to date back to pre-Christian times in the UK, is to awaken and bless the spirits of the orchards in the hope that they will provide a good harvest in the autumn.

With Devon boasting some of the finest orchards and creating some of the best ciders, this reverenced occasion remains a highlight of the year even today.

The word wassail is probably derived from the Old English waes hael, which meant ‘’be well’.

Most wassailing rituals involve the crowning of the Wassail King and Queen, a torchlit procession with much singing and noise-making and placing an offering in the apple trees of toast or cake which has been soaked in
cider from the Wassail Cup – a vessel which, in normal circumstances, is passed from person to person as they each toast and drink the health of their companions and the spirits of the trees.

The noise made by those attending, and the stomping dancing of the mummers or Morris groups, which are often present, also serve to drive away any evil spirits, which may be lurking nearby, waiting to sour the apples.

Local sea shanty group Mariners Away, accompanied by folk musician Jim Causley, were invited to Halstow Farm near Dunsford who are makers of Grays Devon Cider.

They sang songs created by Simon Pope as well as their take on the traditional hail –
Here’s to thee, old apple tree,
Whence thou may’st bud
And whence thou may’st blow!
And whence thou may’st bear apples enow!
Hats full! Caps Full!
Bushel, bushel, sacks full!
And my pockets full too! Hooray!

This year, wassailing took place across the county, but more locally at Solland Farm, home of Sampford Courtenay Cider, with the Wassail Queen being crowned by Revd Paul-Seaton Burn.

In Chagford, the postponed wassail went ahead, with Eric Hodges talking about where the trees had come from and Revd Paul also in attendance to give a blessing at the close of the ceremony.

Local Life