5 of the best wassails in Somerset for 2022
- Credit: Orchard Park Farms
It's a long-held tradition of visiting cider orchards, reciting incantations and singing to the trees to promote a good harvest for the coming year. So where are some of the best wassails in Somerset? Catherine Courtenay investigates
Somerset Rural Life Museum
There will be music and merriment in a 14th century barn in Glastonbury when revellers meet for an annual wassail ceremony.
The ancient, and very beautiful, abbey barn at the Somerset Rural Life Museum is the setting for one of Somerset’s longest running wassails. The museum has an orchard within its grounds and the ceremony focuses on the oldest apple tree, the idea being to promote and good apple crop for the following year.
It’s led by Les Davies MBE, the former Mendip Hills AONB warden who is an orchards expert. Music comes from ceilidh and dance band Rapscallion and tickets include a seasonal drink and slice of apple cake. The museum wassail is sponsored by cidermaker Hecks, which is in the neighbouring village of Street.
January 15. Booking is essential at srlm.org.uk
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The Mendip Morris lead the ceremony at Myrtle Farm in Sandford, the home of Thatchers cider. The Wassail Queen and Green Man also join in the procession to the orchards where cider is poured over the roots of the Wassail tree.
The Queen hangs cider-soaked toast in the branches, an act which is said to attract robins, good spirits who help the trees grow and produce fruit. Guns are fired into the air to get rid of any loitering evil spirits.
Everyone sings the wassail song and bangs sticks together, making as much noise as possible to scare away the evil spirits.
Tickets come with a two-course supper at The Railway Inn and there is always plenty of mulled cider to keep revellers warm too.
January 12. Book tickets at thatcherscider.co.uk
There are several orchards surrounding the hamlet of Hornblotton, so it makes sense that since the early 1990s locals have held their own wassail, the last two hosted by Neil MacDonald of Orchard Park Farms.
A crowd, including lots of children, process to the oldest tree where they sing the wassail carol and the young King or Queen places bread soaked in cider in the tree. More cider is poured around the tree, accompanied by raucous pot and pan banging and shotgun firing.
Back at Neil’s barn there’s the chance to warm up with cider and food cooked by volunteers. This year there’s a visit by a 60-strong choir, The Village Singers from Wiltshire, who are visiting around seven Somerset wassails in one day, ending up at Hornblotton.
January 8, 5pm. This is a village event, but visitors are very welcome to attend.
The PigPen is a cider apple orchard on the edge of Over Stratton. Its owners, Kath Brace and Trevor Lloyd, host alfresco dining experiences called Friday Feasts, as well as an annual wassail.
‘We sing, chant, process through the garden into the orchard with lanterns, and generally celebrate the cider apple trees,’ says Trevor.
‘Beating away the wicked spirits and feeding the roots with toast and cider, we look to a good harvest. The Langport Mummers present their latest play, often including a St George, with loud music and plenty of gusto!’
Supper (this year it’s homemade pheasant and pork bangers, creamy mash, onion gravy and braised red cabbage) is eaten in the cosy marquees, followed by hot drinks and cake around the open fires.
January 21. Booking is essential, email email@example.com
West Croft Farm, Brent Knoll
It’s comforting to know that even if we’re in lockdown, John Harris of West Croft Cider will be continuing the wassail tradition.
In 2020 the Brent Knoll cider farm held its 25th wassail, with music, food, the Langport Mummers - and plenty of people. However, last year, ‘It was just me and my daughter’, says John.
The ceremony - pouring cider round the tree, putting toast in the branches and making lots of noise - has to continue, he says. ‘I did it last year it to keep it going… It’s part of cidermaking and it’s got a great following.
‘I suppose I’m kind of superstitious as well!.
This year’s event features John’s own mulled cider and local food – ‘probably Maisey’s pasties and good bread and cheese.’
January 15. Tickets must be booked in advance. Call John on 07423 155313 or 01278 760762.