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the day we went wassailing (1)

The day we went wassailing

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January 6th was the day we went wassailing. Well, what is wassailing I hear you ask? I am going to tell you all about it, what it is and what happened when we went along.

Firstly though, let me tell you why we decided to go wassailing. Mr B and I run a campervan cooking blog. We are always looking for foodie adventures. When we saw this foodie tradition was not too far from us we decided to go. The forecast was cold but dry, and although we nearly bottled it, we are so glad we went!

Just what is wassailing?

Perhaps you have heard of it as apple howling? No me either 😂. Wassailing is an annual tradition to encourage apple orchards to have a good harvest. Singing and dancing is essential to scare away any bad spirits and welcome in the good ones. Celebrating the trees will ensure a tasty cider when harvest time comes.

Originating in pagan times, wassailing has seen a revival as cider has become a more popular drink in recent times. The word wassail originates from anglo-saxon times and means to drink plentiful alcohol with others, in a noisy and lively way. I can confirm, there was plenty of cider on offer and it was definitely noisy and lively. Seems like the wassailing went to plan – hopefully there will be a bountiful harvest.

Wassailing or apple howling usually happens on the 12th night, however, it is quite often celebrated on the weekend closest to this if it falls during the week. It usually needs to be after the winter solstice so in some countries this may actually fall in July rather than Christmas time. However, here in the UK it is celebrated at the beginning of January.

The day we went wassailing, the bare apple trees in the orchard

What happens when you go wassailing?

Some Wassails happen in the evening. The one we attended was in West Sussex at Wobblegate orchards. We arrived in the afternoon just in time for the procession. The wassail was led by the Chanctonbury Ring morris men. Everyone walked to and surrounded the oldest tree in the orchard. We were given a print out with the wassail song so we could all join in when the time came.

The Master of the Ceremony placed a spiced wassail cake, soaked in cider in the fork of the tree. This is to ensure the goodwill of the local birds & wildlife. The cider from Wobblegate was poured over the roots to encourage the tree to grow well.

After this, the local children came up to thrash the tree with sticks. This wakes the tree up and stimulates growth. Everyone sings the wassail song together. The Chanctonbury Ring morris men then performed some traditional dances.

Gun shots at the wassail

Then for the fun bit! 2 shots from a shotgun are fired into the air which signals the start of the general hullabaloo. This is when everyone is encouraged to make as much noise as possible. Local families attended with their pots and pans to bang, children had drums, and everyone else cheered and shouted. The end is signalled by another 2 shots from the gun.

Three cheers are given to the apple trees, three cheers to the orchard owners and three cheers to everyone there. Everyone then headed back to the tap room. There the morris men performed more traditional dancing. Cider was on offer alongside wassail cakes & pizza as the sun set over the sussex countryside.

My experience of wassailing

Parking was very limited but additional parking was on offer at the Bolney wine estate. We arrived early and ordered some lunch at the restaurant. We both had burger and chips, but no wine 😂. Google maps predicted a 30 minute walk along the road. There was a route mapped out across the vineyard across to the orchard.

This was when the fun began! Although the day was bright and dry, there had been a LOT of rain before. The route was ankle deep in thick, squelching mud! This prompted many giggles, a lot of slipping and sliding and dirty looks from the dog. We even got to climb over some stiles!

We joined in the procession and managed to get prime position. The dog got a bit confused with the hullabalo. Apart from the mud she had an amazing day. Mr B patient queued up to get a taste of the famous wassail cake, while Darcie and I walked around. He got to the front of the queue only to be told they had sold out!

Morris dancers at the wassail

We contemplated walking back along the road, but being as it was still light. We decided to take the fun route back, and headed back along the muddy route. After much squelching skidding we were worn out! We enjoyed a well deserved cuppa and put our feet up when we got back. Darcie our doggie slept well too.

Would we go again?

We had a really lovely afternoon, we were lucky with the weather. Dry, sunny and quite mild! As lovely as it was though, i’m not sure it is something we will be putting in our calendar for next year. Having said that, the kids would probably really enjoy it, so we may well end up there next January!

I hope all the apple orchards have a great harvest in 2024 🙂

Had you head of wassailing? Let me know in the comments below.

Beautiful sunset on the walk back from the orchard
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