An or­chard rit­ual

Devon Life - - Gardens -

Or­chards awake from their win­ter sleep to the beat­ing of drums, the clang­ing of pots and pans, the sharp re­port of a shot­gun and the strains of an­cient songs and tra­di­tional dance tunes. It is Jan­uary again, on and around Ex­moor.

The fren­zied ac­tiv­ity on cold, dark evenings of mid-win­ter is to help en­sure the pros­per­ity of the West Coun­try’s great gift to the world, the hum­ble but pre­cious cider ap­ple, and its po­tent liquor. The an­cient cer­e­mony of was­sail­ing tells the trees that spring is not far away, scares away evil spir­its and en­cour­ages the liq­uid gold to flow in boun­teous quan­tity and fra­grant qual­ity.

Does it work? Well, was­sail­ing’s pro­mot­ers and grate­ful drinkers across the na­tion sim­ply point to their cer­tainty that, for cen­turies, Devon and Som­er­set have pro­duced the best cider.

The ex­act was­sail rit­ual varies, but at the heart of the cer­e­mony is usu­ally a singing pro­ces­sion to the cho­sen or­chard, led by a king and queen. On ar­rival the queen is lifted into the branches of a tree to of­fer cider-soaked toast to the good spir­its of the or­chard.

A song is then sung:

Was­sail­ing is pre­ceded each Oc­to­ber by ap­ple fairs, cel­e­brat­ing the har­vest . At South Molton vis­i­tors flocked to the event or­gan­ised by Or­chards Live, en­thu­si­asts from Ex­moor and North Devon who for nearly 30 years have been ar­rest­ing the mid-20th cen­tury de­cline in fruit grow­ing.

Tattwa Gyani, who chairs the group, ex­plains: “Devon and Ex­moor has lost the ma­jor­ity of its or­chards since the last war. The tra­di­tion of was­sail­ing de­clined in the 1950s but is now re­viv­ing. Tra­di­tional stan­dard or­chards are valu­able for their beauty, his­tory, wildlife and rich va­ri­ety of lo­cal ap­ples.”

At ap­ple fairs the group dis­plays many va­ri­eties from the re­gion in­clud­ing, of course, cider ap­ples. Mem­bers of the pub­lic flocked take bags of their own ap­ples for turn­ing into juice. More de­tails from or­chard­slive. org.uk

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