Once again the people of Exwick and St Thomas’s turned up to celebrate their new Orchards, planted along the river just a couple of years ago. What a great excuse to carry on the Winter festival, all the way to the old twelfth night. We did this by Wassailing- an ancient Angolo-Saxon custom of visiting orchards and singing to the trees to promote a good harvest for the coming year. This custom has been nearly all forgotten but has seen a revival in the last few years here in the South West, which is the prime cider producing region in the country. We here in Exeter will want to do our bit to keep this ritual alive!
The weekend was kicked off at Exwick church hall by storytelling, practising the Wassailing song and making lanterns and head decorations for the parade. At dusk the whole theatrical procession headed slowly for the Orchard at the end of the flood channel, where the ‘Toastmaster’ waited with his big roaring fire and flagon full of mulled Cider. ‘Sentinel’ and ‘Wind’ lead the large crowd of tree spirits, musicians and revellers – all singing and chanting as the sun was going down. Once by the Orchard, the Wassailing cup was passed around to much merriment, well wishes and cheers. We sang, danced and banged our pots and pans to frighten away bad spirits. Hot mulled cider and roaring fire warmed us while we lingered in the darkening night. When it couldn’t get more magical- it did! The otherworldly characters, ‘Sentinel’ and ‘Wind’, started their walk and dance around the orchard. They were shining in the night in their eerie whiteness and their extraordinary costumes, carrying a fire and gliding amongst the trees.
The same was repeated the following night at the Orchard by Trews Weir. Only this time the crowd and merriment was even bigger and louder! The preparations were done at the Boatyard Bakery and the procession walked slowly past the harbour and over the bridge, singing and chanting, trumpets and pipes playing. The fire was roaring, the stars were out and we all had another magical night.
Our 200 new trees are now well and truly Wassailed! Let’s hope they will carry on thriving and bearing fruit in the years to come. And let’s all gather together again next January, to wrap up the Winter festivities and welcome the turning of the year in this magical way.
– written by Jaana Pinchard, Exwick resident
The wassail only happens with your involvement and support. To get involved next wassail next year as performer, steward, helper or co-organiser contact floworchardexe at gmail.com
All photos by Jenny Steer