Wassail, wassail up the allotments in Swaffham, to make the apples grow

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Found

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Foundation, came together for the annual Wassail at the Swaefas Swale Community Orchard, Swaffham. Pictured is Sharon Clifton. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Allotmenteers staged a centuries-old fertility rite in a bid to boost their crop.

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Found

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Foundation, came together for the annual Wassail at the Swaefas Swale Community Orchard, Swaffham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

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.

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Found

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Foundation, came together for the annual Wassail at the Swaefas Swale Community Orchard, Swaffham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

'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.

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Found

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Foundation, came together for the annual Wassail at the Swaefas Swale Community Orchard, Swaffham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt


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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.

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Found

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Foundation, came together for the annual Wassail at the Swaefas Swale Community Orchard, Swaffham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

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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.

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Found

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Foundation, came together for the annual Wassail at the Swaefas Swale Community Orchard, Swaffham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

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.'

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Found

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Foundation, came together for the annual Wassail at the Swaefas Swale Community Orchard, Swaffham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Found

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Foundation, came together for the annual Wassail at the Swaefas Swale Community Orchard, Swaffham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Found

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Foundation, came together for the annual Wassail at the Swaefas Swale Community Orchard, Swaffham. Pictured is Katy Fullilove. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Found

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Foundation, came together for the annual Wassail at the Swaefas Swale Community Orchard, Swaffham. This centuries old traditional ceremony blesses the apple trees to help produce a good crop and ensure a bountiful harvest in the forthcoming season. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Found

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Foundation, came together for the annual Wassail at the Swaefas Swale Community Orchard, Swaffham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Found

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Foundation, came together for the annual Wassail at the Swaefas Swale Community Orchard, Swaffham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Found

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Foundation, came together for the annual Wassail at the Swaefas Swale Community Orchard, Swaffham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Found

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Foundation, came together for the annual Wassail at the Swaefas Swale Community Orchard, Swaffham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Found

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Foundation, came together for the annual Wassail at the Swaefas Swale Community Orchard, Swaffham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Found

Family Action’s ESCAPE Project and Wissey Valley Arts, with support from the Norfolk Community Foundation, came together for the annual Wassail at the Swaefas Swale Community Orchard, Swaffham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

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