Indoor wassail celebrates Somerset’s cider heritage

SAY “Wassail” to most people in the West Country and they picture January-cold orchards, raining or even snowing, with a bunch of cider-fuelled people, many with leaves in their hair, gathered round a bonfire, celebrating the ancient heritage of cider. An event at Bruton’s At The Chapel on Saturday 20th January provides an introduction to the tradition in a rather warmer setting.

With talks, cider, snacks and song and dance from a recently formed Morris side, the event will be raising funds for Pitcombe Rock Falconry, which has recently had to relocate after losing its home outside Bruton last year.

Orchard-grower, cider maker and long-standing organic campaigner Oliver Dowding and Jane O’Meara have arranged the wassail event to celebrate Dowding’s Apple Juice and Cider. “The evening will have a wassail theme with the aim of encouraging local people to discover the many varied ways in which people can celebrate wassail in the South West,” says Jane. “At its heart, wassail is a celebration of local distinctiveness, which means every wassail will be different, depending on where it is located.”

There will be a talk by Oliver Dowding, whose cider awards include gold at the British Cider Championships (at the Royal Bath & West Show) for the Dry Still Cider (2023 and 2021), Kingston Black apple juice (2023) and Wild Orchard apple juice (2022). The ciders and apple juices have also won silver and bronze at the championships, as well as Great Taste stars. Other speakers include Alan Wells of Pitcombe Rock Falconry and historian Andrew Pickering as well as Tracey Smythe of Castle Cary’s Maison Catelier, selling Wassail candles.

Traditionally held on Twelfth Night, the wassail ceremony is intended to wake the apple trees from their winter slumber, chase away evil spirits and ensure a bountiful harvest. At the Chapel has provided the venue, with an outdoor terrace, ‘which will provide the perfect setting for what we are hoping to achieve,’ says Jane.

The event starts at 5pm, and the party should go with a swing, with mulled cider, and the recently formed Wild Moon Morris, from Compton Dundon near near Somerton, a new Dark Border Morris group Dark Border Morris who are inspired by local folklore, landscape and history.

You can book for the wassail evening via Eventbrite: