Bude Community Orchard – ‘First Wassail’

Thanks to Ruby Browning for this wonderful write up:

On Saturday 19th January Bude Community Orchard hosted its first ever Wassail. Wassailing was originally an Anglo-Saxon tradition (the word ‘wassail’ is derived from the words waes hael, meaning good health) and consists of singing, dancing and toasting the trees (in more ways than one) to ensure a good harvest of apples for the coming year.

At 1:30pm the Bude Friends of the Earth team started setting up in the orchard, with the events shelter at one end, set up for Friggin Riggin (Bude-based Cornish folk band) to play, and the refreshments tent at the other end, where hot mulled apple juice and homemade cakes (baked by members of the FoE team) would later be served. The concentric rings of the trees in the orchard around a central space make it the perfect place to host events, and the weather on Saturday was glorious, with warm sunshine and no breeze – lucky for this time of year!

The team also set up a fire in the centre of the orchard, in a small brazier and raised up on a pallet to protect the grass underneath. In preparation for the coming darkness, almost 100 lanterns made from tea lights and recycled glass jars collected by FoE members and a collection point at Rosie’s. Some prettily painted ones were also loaned. Making lanterns like these was a great way to repurpose old jars and put them towards a good cause.

People started arriving from 3:30 pm, and while Friggin Riggin were setting up, they were greeted with authentic ivy crowns, warm mulled apple juice and delicious cakes. To avoid using single-use plastic cups, prospective wassailers were asked to bring their own mugs; spare mugs were provided for those who forgot.

At 4:00 pm the festivities properly began. Both Rob Meredith (Bude FoE group co-ordinator) and Mayor Bob Willingham said a few words before Friggin Riggin launched into a set of traditional Cornish folk songs, interspersed with a few Wassail tunes recently added to their repertoire. At this stage, there were around 60 or 70 people gathered.

At around 4:30 pm Friggin Riggin played ‘The Old Apple Tree’, a traditional Wassail song. The crowd moved over to the oldest tree in the orchard and Rob performed the authentic Wassail ceremony, pouring cider around the roots and hanging toast in the branches of the tree. At the end of the song everyone shouted, “Old Apple Tree, we Wassail thee and hope that thou will bear – hatfuls, capfuls, three-bushel bagfuls, and a little heap under the stairs,” and drank to the tree. The children made as much noise as they could with pots and pans to ward off the evil spirits!

Next commenced a traditional Cornish ‘serpent dance’, where everybody joined hands and weaved in and out of the trees. The Wassail was finished off by a rousing chorus of ‘Trelawney’, and the atmosphere was truly magical, with the orchard lit up against the darkening sky by beautiful fairy lights and lanterns.

All in all, the event was very successful, over £100 was collected in donations, half will go to a charity chosen by Friggin Riggin and the rest will go towards orchard maintenance and other FoE projects. Thank you to everyone who helped out with the set-up and to all who attended. But don’t worry if you missed it; after the success of this Wassail, there are already plans to host another next year.


Article and photo credits go to Ruby Browning





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