Most of my photos look better enlarged - just click on the photo to do this

Monday, 18 January 2010

And now for something completely different!

After a beautiful clear sunshiny day we went a'wassailing at Barrington Court a National Trust property which I have written about before here - but this time it wasn't the gardens we went to see but to join in the fun of a wassail held there yesterday evening. We left home about 5.30 and as we drove to Barrington I noticed the sky was pale to the west and there was a faint glow of orange on the horizon where the sun had gone down and against this beautiful backdrop the trees were silhouetted their dark branches so beautiful and the differentshapes of trees showing up. I wished I could cpature it and share it with you but sadly you have just my word painting and your own imaginations!

Wassailing ceremonies take place in January when the apple orchards are "toasted" to ensure a good crop. The biggest and best tree - the Apple Tree Man - is selected and cider is poured over its roots and pieces of cider soaked toast placed in the forks of its branches to ensure a good crop. Wassailing is an ancient folk tradition here in Somerset which is cider country. Some of you may remember the advert for Coates cider which had a song saying "Coates comes up from Zummerset where the cider apples grow" ?

There was a huge bonfire round which the crowd of several hundred gathered - the sky was clear and the stars absolutely amazing.

Morris dancing took place in front of this huge fire - I suspect only a born and bred English person could appreciate Morris dancing! Check it out here

The blackened faces apparently significant as a disguise since in olden times the dancing and begging was not allowed and with blackened faces the danceers might not be recognised for who they were since many of them might be begging from their employers!

There were several people wearing these decorated hats - not quite sure of the significance of these but thought them very decorative.

There was also a mummer's play which although we didn't have a very good view there being so many spectators was really funny. A Mummer's play is often about St George and in this case St George was killed by the evil one who spoke of bringing down a plague bankers' bonuses, swine flu, global warming and so on! Of course St George was revived and all was well in the end. St George's mother a burly bloke in drag attacked the evil one with her big red handbag and raised a big laugh!

More Morris dancing this time without their dark coats - this is more like Morris dancing as I know it from summer fetes and the like!

Then came a band which was surprisingly good and extremely loud - no doubt to represent the banging of saucepans and so on which was the original noise and was intended to frighten off any evil spirits from the orchard in times past.

And finally after following a procession to the orchard the largest oldest tree Apple Tree Man was blest. This involved pouring cider over its roots - in olden times I understand this would have been the must left after the making of the cider - and then taking a piece of toast (why toast and not bread I have no idea) and dipping it in to the cider and then lifting children up to place the soaked toast squares in the forks of the brances of the tree to encourage the robins - and other birds no doubt - to eat there and thus to keep the insects away from the trees.

As a final part of the celebrations guns were fired into the tree branches to raise the Sleeping Tree Spirit and scare off any remaining demons - Health and Safety regulations these days stipulating that the rounds have to be blanks especially after the copious amounts of cider which had been imbibed!.

Then we wended our way back to our cars and home for a nice hot drink. As I said something quite different!!
By the way I discovered last night that apparently Christmas would have been celebrated 12 days later when using the Julian calendar and only with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar was Christmas day when it is now. check it out here Thus the Wassail would have been timed for Twelth Night in olden times. I thought perhaps I might celebrate my Christmas this year on 5 January as in olden days that way all the stuff I hate about it would be over by the time I had mine and I might then avaoid the Post Christmas Blues! Anyone want to join me?!!


  1. This looks like great fun! I remember seeing a documentary about wassailing on the TV a little while ago. I love all these old English traditions and its great that they are being kept alive by devotees and organisations such as the National Trust. I do like the idea of Apple Tree Man! A fascinating glimpse, thank you Jane!

    Jeanne x

  2. Good grief, I think any tourists there would surely think the English a completely mad breed. You live and you learn and thank you for that, because I'd never heard of wassailing before. I particularly love the reason behind the blackened faces!

    Kate x

  3. The rain held off!

    I love these old traditions - a little scary, but very English, to the core (sorry).

    It looks like such an amazing event and steeped in tradition - fantastic.

    Have a wonderful week,

    Nina xxxxxx

  4. Great Post..I just loved this.....

    I love anything APPLE....

    and that wasssil cup is it....

    thanks for taking us along

    more later,


  5. I've got a teeny apple tree in my garden - maybe I'll get a bottle of cider from Carrefour...

  6. You've reminded me - when I was leaving Somerset on Dec 27th we drove past some Wassailers walking in black frock coats, ribboned hats and wellies, up a country lane! It was such a great tradition to see carried on. Thanks for letting us know about your experience.

  7. Oh I wish I was there. this is the sort of thing that I love about England. It sounds like such fun and I love the way these ceremonies hark back to ancient times and are full of meaning and you still do them just to keep the old ways alive.
    When we were over there we were in the Peaks District when it was Well Blessing time and we joyfully joined in the marching from well to well and all that was involved. These traditions are what makes England ENGLAND - a country with an enormous cultural heritage.

  8. Hoorah! for tradition! Lovely, lovely informative post Jane. Aren't we just so lucky to live in this country? :O)

  9. Great post Jane, and what a great idea to hold Christmas back a week or two, but perhaps a Wassail is just what is needed to chase those Christmas blues away.

  10. Love to hear all about these interesting traditions. Sounds like it was load of fun. I with you on celebrating Christmas later! Not only will the madness be over, but we can make good use of the post christmas sales!
    Thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement on my blog - they really cheered me up to no end :-)

  11. Hi Jane - sorry I forgot to send you a HUGE thank you for the knitting website suggestion. It has really encouraged me to give a proper pattern a go. Of course, it would be far more enjoyable if you could pop over for a cuppa and a quick knitting lesson :-) Shame about that big pond in between my house and yours :-(

  12. Love the bit about the 'cider toast' to attract the robins!! What fun this looks Jane, great post, and yes, Christmas in January sounds like a good idea to me :0) x

  13. I live in California and admire Morris dancing when I see it practiced here, upon occasion. That sounds like a great celebration you attended.
    One May day my dh and I were in Padstow for the old traditions there, with the "hobby horse?". We greatly enjoyed it.

  14. It was interesting to learn of one of your traditons.


Thank you for visiting and I hope you have found what you read of interest. Do please leave a comment as I love to hear what you think.