South West of England Cidermakers’ Association

Supporting the region’s growers and makers

South West of England Cidermakers’ Association logo

With its roots in an ancient Pagan tradition, the custom of wassailing is thriving once again throughout the South West and Somerset in particular.
On the official wassail night, 17th January, (the original “Twelfth Night” of the Julian Calendar), the Shepton Mallet Cider Mill hosted its annual wassailing ceremony for its growers, customers and suppliers in its own award winning Stewley Orchard. The aim of the wassail is to awaken the cider apple trees, scare away evil spirits and ensure a bountiful harvest of fruit in the Autumn.
The Stewley Master of Ceremonies, from Taunton Deane Morris Men, led the proceedings. Remaining faithful to the traditions, the evening’s ceremony saw the Wassail Queen (Saima Nevin, an employee of the Cider Mill) crowned with a wreath of berries, dip toast in mulled cider and place it in the branches of the tree to attract robins, the embodiment of good spirits bringing fertility to the orchard.  The cider was then poured onto the roots of the chosen tree to call for a good harvest.
The assembled crowd were instructed to make as much noise as possible - banging sticks and playing instruments to scare away evil spirits.  A volley of gunfire was sent into the branches of the tree for good measure and singing of the Wassail Carol completed the ceremony.
The following feast plays an important part of the celebration:  it is the last big meal before Plough Sunday, which historically signalled the beginning of the year’s work on the land.  Keeping to this tradition, guests at the Stewley Orchard wassail were provided with a fantastic spread including hog roast and a winter BBQ, whilst enjoying a range of ciders from the Cider Mill, from Blackthorn to Gaymers Orchard Reserve.  The Taunton Deane Morris Men and music from the Wassail Blues Band (members of which include two Cider Mill employees ) completed the evening’s entertainment.
This is the sixth year running that Shepton Mallet Cider Mill, the largest cider maker in the South West, has held its revival of the ancient festival.  Martin Doogan, general manager of the Cider Mill, explained  “this has become a highlight of our calendar.  It is a real reflection of the importance that apple growing has in this part of the country, and provides the perfect opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate this fact with our guests.   We place great value on the cultural heritage of cider making in the South West, particularly Somerset, and are immensely proud to be playing our part in keeping wassailing alive.”

Helping the region’s growers and makers

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