Wassail at Horfield Organic Community Orchard

Not far from us, there is a leafy, green and bumpy lane, quiet apart from birdsong, surrounded by allotments and further on up, an orchard.  We go this way, several times a week, to walk to and from pre-school.

It is a pleasant walk and the air feels fresh and clean due to the lack of cars and houses nearby.  We enjoy seeing the birds in the trees and the vegetables growing and recently, to my son’s delight, a scarecrow!

So we were pleased to see notices recently telling us aboout the ‘Wassail’ celebration, to be held in the orchard on Sunday 15th January.  This was being organised by members of Horfield Organic Community Orchard and the community was invited to take part.

For those who don’t know, Wassail is an ancient, English tradition, held once a year in deepest, darkest Winter.  It involves toasting and celebrating fruit trees with the purpose of guaranteeing an abundance of fruit at Harvest time.

The notices told us to bring ribbons, clouties and shining things to dress the trees.  Luckily, I had a stash of various ribbons in the house, mainly from Christmas presents once received.  I showed my little boy and girl the ribbons and each chose one; my son a long, thick, sparkly one and my daughter a narrow, silver one.

The event was free and on entering the orchard we were greeted by a warm and friendly hubbub of people from nearby and the smells of hot spiced apple brewing and a crackling, woody bonfire.  When it was time for the celebration to begin, all gathered round an apple tree and the man leading the Wassail explained to everyone how it is performed.

Part of the ceremony involves making lots of noise in order to ‘wake’ the trees up from Winter’s spell.  All were encouraged to clap and bang sticks and generally make a deafening din!  Then, there was another stage which involved toasting the tree.

Children were encouraged to join in by throwing cups of cider around the tree.  Lastly, ribbons were tied to the tree by everyone, including myself, my husband and the children, where we hung our own ribbons together at the end of a low branch.

Following the ceremony, we all walked to the top of the orchard.  We bought home-made Apple Loaf and watched the Pigsty Morris Dancers.  My children were fascinated by the dancers in their costumes of green ribbons of cloth and their white handkerchiefs and wooden sticks.

It was a good feeling to stand watching the dancers, with the views of the allotments in the background, munching our cakes and breathing in the brisk, clean air.

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5 responses to “Wassail at Horfield Organic Community Orchard

  1. What a fascinating tradition! And what a lovely walk to school. I shall think of that tomorrow as the lorries go thundering past our ears…

  2. Thank you for the lovely comments 🙂 Yes it is a great walk, lovely and peaceful. We are lucky to have such a nice walk to pre-school.

  3. I am a new follower of your blog, and am enjoying picking up tips for new places to go with my 7 month old, but can you explain how to find the community orchard?! Me and my husband have been trying to find it, and have failed on each trip! We live on downend road. Thanks!

  4. Hi,

    Thank you for following my blog!

    The entrance to Golden Hill Community Garden is behind Horfield Prison and Bishop Road School. It is open to the public every Wed between 10.00 – 16.00 and some Saturdays too. There is a 'Grand opening and Spring Fayre there on Sat 28th April between 12.00 16.00.

    The way to the lane where we accessed Wassail in the Orchard is between 134 – 136 Longmead Ave (the road next to Lashings and the little Sainsbury's) but the entrance to the Orchard is normally locked.

    Hope that helps!


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