Wassail, wassail up the allotments in Swaffham, to make the apples grow
- Credit: Ian Burt
Allotmenteers staged a centuries-old fertility rite in a bid to boost their crop.
Plot holders on Tumbler Hill allotments, on the outskirts of Swaffham, held a wassail around a blazing bonfire to bless the trees in their community orchard.
Wassail master Adrian Tebbutt, a semi-retired educational consultant from King's Lynn, led proceedings.
'The whole point of a wassail ceremony, which comes from the Saxon two words, wass and hail, good health, is to drive the evil spirits out of the orchard and to stimulate the trees into producing a good crop next year,' he said. 'It worked last year, we had a fantastic crop last year.'
Wassailing has its origins in cider producing regions of the Westcountry, where copious amounts of the local brew were drunk.
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In Swaffham the evening began more sedately with mulled apple juice, rather than scrumpy, which was pressed from last year's crop.
After whetting their whistles and practising a few wassail chants, the 50-strong throng which by now included a folk band adjourned to the orchards and formed up next to their oldest tree.
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After praising its gnarly 100-year-old boughs, they draped its branches with pieces of toast dipped in the apple juice to feed the robins.
Then they set off through the orchards making as much racket as possible, with the help of the band and a few pots and pans, to drive away any evil spirits which might interfere with this autumn's fruit.
Katy Fullilove, co-ordinator of Escape, a community gardening project which is based in Swaffham, said: 'It's the middle of winter, so you want to wake up the trees and drive away any bad spirits that might be lurking in your orchards to ensure a bountiful crop.'