Bards · Druids · Glastonbury · Orchards · Tor · Wassailing

Wassail!

candle lined pathway

Wassailing is a very ancient custom, particularly popular and strongly celebrated in the South West of England. Besides being a good excuse to drink lots of scrumpy (that’s cider……..  i.e. fermented apple juice, for my foreign readers), eat al-fresco, have a little sing-song and the odd dance or two, it is a custom to firstly ensure that any evil spirits are banished from orchards and secondly to encourage all the trees to grow well and basically, produce a bumper crop of apples in the following autumn.

 

Of course, the scientist in me is saying that no amount of yodelling, dancing and pouring of cider over the ground (such a criminal waste!) is going to help trees in the slightest to produce a brilliant crop. A couple of years ago I attended another Wassail event where several of the local gentlemen farmers fired shotguns upwards into the apple trees, producing a veritable “rain” of bark, twigs and lichen on all those watching from below.

Wassail1JPG

How on earth does this “Wassailing-with-Attitude” – as I call it – help the poor apple trees produce more fruit, I ask! Surely, raking-in a good general fertiliser around the base of the tree would do far better. Nowhere near as dramatic, photogenic and entertaining, however!

 

band

A year ago, I read an advert for a Wassail on the Tor and as Town Crier, I decided to robe-up and put in an appearance, just for the fun of it. After all, I couldn’t be accused of “gate-crashing” in my own town, now, could I? The organiser spotted me (not too difficult, I guess) and I was immediately asked to perform an impromptu introduction for her. Then a month or two ago, I received an e-mail asking me if I could actually be the “Master of Ceremonies” for this year’s Wassail event. I suppose I must have done something right! There was an offer of free food and free cider; how could I possibly refuse?

Prior to the event, which is organised by the National Trust (as they are the wonderful guardians of our legendary Glastonbury Tor)  I received a two-page Health and Safety Risk Assessment. It was sent as a matter of routine to all those helping on the day.  I think it’s something that all organisers of public events are obliged, by law, to produce for staff. It made me laugh, nevertheless. I didn’t know that singing, eating, drinking cider and dancing in a field could be such a hazardous activity! (But there again, perhaps they have somehow or other got to hear about my evenings of occasional over-indulgence in cider drinking and of my complete inability to dance without injuring those nearby!)

drummer

I arrived early to park my car in a very muddy field, robe up and then collect my “free-cider and food” tickets! Luckily, I had my script sent to me, so I was good to go. When I arrived, the Morris Dancers were already entertaining the assembling crowd.

I duly did my introduction and official welcome at the allotted time and things got underway.

The first event was to get all two hundred assembled Wassailers to sing Wassail songs beneath each tree in the orchard. Such a nice touch, I thought……. giving each apple tree that bit of individual attention. I’m sure the apple trees appreciated it. There were a lot of trees in the Avalon Orchard, I might add!

orchard with ladies

Whilst all this was going on, I was notified by the organiser that the BBC “Points West” News video crew had just arrived and wanted to film me doing a bit of my introduction that they missed. I obliged. I hope my bell ringing and subsequent shouting did not distract all the “singing to the trees” that was progressing in earnest!

The assembled Merry Wassailers were also encouraged to tie small tags to the branches of the “Blessing Tree” with brief notes, explaining “how the Glastonbury Tor was important to them”.

Later on, I announced for all gathered, to assemble round the Blessing Tree, where the main Wassail Ceremony would be performed by the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.

Once the ceremony was over, further participation from the assembled crowds was requested. A big basket of toast was suddenly produced……yes dry, cold toast was thereupon offered to all. Not to eat, I hasten to add, but to place on the branches of the Blessing Tree!

toast on tree

Apparently, this helps too! Watching the Wassailers adorning the Blessing Tree with slices of brown bread, I couldn’t help think that the bread was going to help the local bird population far more than the apple tree. But there again, birds eat insects and grubs that might possibly harm the trees, I thought to myself……… so perhaps it might help the trees indirectly.  I’m such an over-thinker at times!

putting toast on tree

The final and most captivating event, in my book, was the Story Teller. He was a most friendly, approachable and charming gentleman. I chatted to him for a while before introducing him.

storyteller whistful

We all assembled around the fire – a more intimate gathering now, as quite a few had left, probably having had enough of the cold, damp January air.

He told engaging stories of dragons, apples, eagles, glass mountains, knights in shining armour, princesses and castles.

story teller hand grasping

The children were enthralled – as was the Town Crier!

Looking forward to my next Wassail.

8 thoughts on “Wassail!

  1. Hey David, Namaste 🙂

    I find folk-lore and custom at once both wonderfully eccentric and absurd, and yet I relate to it on the most fundamental level. Perhaps it is the simplicity with which it expresses the most profound that draws my attention: it is untainted, natural, refreshingly pure and earthen reminding one that we are also ‘of the fields’.

    I’ve only ever visited Glastonbury and the Tor once and that many Moons ago. It remains one of my favourite experiences: perhaps because of its notoriety one is buzzing with expectation before arriving, but upon arriving that sense of excitement is lifted further and one can’t help disappear in the fabled mists of Avalon. I am an Englishman who writes a little poetry living abroad in Wales (lol) with a keen personal interest in all things Merlin and Arthur: residing in such an ancient Land has promoted that interest, but Merlin has been with me all my life 😉 I have every firm intention o revisiting the Tor this year. I think it would personally advantageous to do so and timely in my life. Your Blog has certainly added weight to that intention – the tales you’ve told, the images and photographs posted have been enchanting: I am always made to feel comfortably displaced back to another age, and I like that sense of displacement, nay time travel lol 🙂

    As a storyteller I was interested to read of the artful orator who spellbound his audience during the festival. I recall once attending a Storyteller’s recital at St Fagans, near Cardiff. I joined a group of about 50 people seated in an auditorium that surrounded a small stage – the building perhaps 20-30 yards across its diameter. The Story Teller who magically showed up as if blown in on a breeze was magnificent. Dressed for the part, I was reminded immediately of the Pie Piper, a notion that was confirmed upon sight of the Storyteller’s felt boots complete with curly toes. Their recital was a wonder to behold, their delivery impeccable, their characterisations magical and enchanting, the story entertaining, but somehow academic to the experience unfolding. There was not one child or adult in the room who whole attention was not fixated on this magical person! 🙂

    Thank you for posting and hosting a comments section for me to add my scrawl. Really Blog David and hope it will evolve, expand and gain an ever wider audience. There are some traditions in the UK that should never be let go of, and I’m not just talking about your unique and fascinating role as Crier.; but more the idea of retaining a sense of attachment with the Land that defines us as human beings. One often gets the feeling that we live in a world that cares not for what and who we truly are but demands we become something un-natural, something other. The pomp and ceremony, the ‘fun’ the pageantry, the carnival, the cohesion of community, the sharing of common values and objectives: these are largely lost elements of society, and I think it a real shame that the modern world turns away from nature and the natural-laws that define us.

    Wishing you a ‘loud, proud, bell-swinging, bell-ringing, high-walking, Tor admiring hell of a good week. Take care 🙂

    Love and Peace. Namaste 🙂

    DN

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Greetings from Glastonbury. I am very touched by your very kind words and eloquently expressed sentiments. I was also moved that you took the trouble to write such a lovely long reply to my little blog! Let me know when you’re visiting…….we must meet! The beer is on me, my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s my pleasure David, thank you for a kind reply…apologies for my typos throughout, I have a errant pet who trolls the keyboard causing havoc 🙂

        One of the pleasures I find in Blogging is pausing every now and again and appreciating the fullness of someone’s pressings. If felt comfortable to park-off here for a while and enjoy the dappled shade of Apple Trees and Orchards.

        Indeed I shall drop you a line before I head over the Severn and drop down to where you are. I imagine the meeting will fill and spill a bucket load of stories, smiles, laughter, and merry good cheer! Bottoms Up!

        Until then, I shall keep viewing your Blog and enjoying the many insights and perspectives you offer. I do drop Stephanie at S.C Richmond a line every now and again – https://scrichmondblog.wordpress.com/ – no doubt you’ll know her from Man Myth & Magik located in Market Place, Glastonbury. It was a re-blog she did that first brought me this way.

        Great stuff. Until we meet under the cider-press tap for a night of good cheer! Take care my friend.

        Namaste 🙂

        DN

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  2. This sounds like so much fun! I didn’t realise they had such a big event at Glastonbury! Maybe next year…
    I went to my first Wassail yesterday in East London (yes – I was surprised we had one too!). Then this weekend we are attending one at a Haywood Cider Farm in Cornwall – I can’t wait! These things really bring the community together! Thank you for your thoughts. Kind regards, Gemma

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    1. Hi Gemma, yes we have about four wassailing events going on in and around Glastonbury…….it’ll also be coinciding with our amazing Body Art Festival, which was a big hit this year. Hope you’ll come visit! xx

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