What is wassailing, and why is it so key to the West Country's cider crop?

Something a little different is happening in orchards across the West Country at the moment.

The idea behind a Wassail is to celebrate the apple trees as they enter a new year of growth and make sure they will bring a heathy and tasty crop in the autumn.

You might see kings and queens parading the streets, people dipping toast in hot cider, and firing shotguns at it.

Toast is hung on trees as a gift and cider is often poured around the roots in a bit to please the spirits and bring good energy to the orchard.


Drums are banged and general noise made to ward off evil and bad vibes, and to please the spirits of the fruit trees, all in order to ensure a bountiful crop of fruit in the year ahead.

Wassail comes from the phrase "waes hael" which means "be well" and is usually done earlier in January as a New Year celebration, and is thought to date back to around 600AD.

According to the National Trust, wassailing took many different forms historically, depending on local tradition.

Revellers typically visited local orchards and fruit trees, sang songs, made a hullabaloo (often by banging pots and pans) and were rewarded by the orchard’s grateful owner with some form of warm, spiced alcoholic beverage from a communal wassail bowl or cup. 

Sometimes a topping of apple, known as ‘lamb's wool’, would be added.

The West Country is well known for its cider producing and some of the most important wassails are held here.