Saturday, 12 January 2013


"Wassail, wassail, I give you wassail - it comes in bottles, brown and pale.
Comes in bottles so bring some here - and we'll have a Happy New Year"

Or so the Kipper Family sang (comedy folk singers from Norfolk).

This is apple growing country, so wassail celebrations are going on in orchards all over Herefordshire and the Marches.
What usually happens is that there's a torchlit parade to an orchard (usually starting at a pub). At the orchard, bonfires are lit, and songs sung. Often the local morris dancing side will dance - and the climax of the evening is firing a shotgun through the branches of a chosen apple tree to scare away evil spirits and ensure a good apple crop for next year. This means cider apples, of course. It's all to do with alcohol!
Then it's back to the pub. Often the morris dancers will perform a mummer's play, featuring St George fighting a Turk, but the scripts vary enormously, and are often written for the occasion. It's a bit like panto - the general structure of the story is there, but improvised around.
It's an old, probably pagan, ritual, which is becoming more popular again now - and that's probably one reason that Phil Rickman used wassailing to start off his mystery series about Rev. Merrily Watkins. All his novels have a basis in local traditions and superstitions. In that story, The Wine of Angels, there are bodies in the orchard - and a rather messy suicide.
Mostly, though, it's more like this:

This is last year's Dorstone Wassail.

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