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Here we come a-Wassailing at Trelissick Garden

January sees most of us tucked up beside the fire, but the Annual Wassail at Trelissick Garden takes place in the old orchard after dark. Bring instruments and a torch and follow the Wassail King down to bless the fruit trees.
Old traditions die hard in Cornwall, and wassailing is just such an event. The Annual Wassailing at Trelissick Gardens is just one example of old festivals that were once common across most of the Cotswolds and the Westcountry. Wassailing was used as a blessing of the fruit orchards to ensure a good harvest and it traditionally took place on the Twelfth Night.

Join in the Wassail at Trelissick Garden

On the old Julian Calendar, this was on the night of the 17th January although usually has their annual wassail on the night of the third Thursday in January. Wassail comes from the Anglo-Saxon phrase “waes hael” which means “be well”. The event starts after dark and lasts from 6pm to 8pm.

Everyone meets at the Visitor Reception and there is always a good-natured atmosphere and a sense of anticipation for what lies ahead. The main part of the event is the traditional procession through the garden following the Wassail King. Part of the ceremony includes singing ancient wassailing songs and “toasting” the orchard followed by the Wassail King blessing the orchard.

Wassailing is a noisy event!

Visitors are encouraged to bring a torch and a musical instrument, maracas, drums, pots and pans or something to make plenty of noise with. Children certainly enjoy this rare occasion when they are actually encouraged to make as much racket as possible! At the original wassail shots were fired into the trees, but for obvious reasons this particular authentic tradition has had to be abandoned. The idea is that evil spirits are banished from the orchards and the trees are then blessed.

Different places have different ceremonies for blessing the trees, but it usually entails carrying a wassailing bowl or pot of hot cider down to the orchard and pouring it over the roots of the oldest or best tree in the orchard. In some places toast is dipped into the cider and put onto the branches as a gift for the tree spirits or for the wassail robin. Ancient wassailing pots that have survived are often made of earthenware or silver and look like elaborate punchbowls.

Once the ceremony is over, everyone troops back up through the gardens and gathers around in the barn to hear some traditional wassail stories told by the Wassail King. Hot pasties and a pint are then served along with live music and this part of the evening does require a ticket. It is advisable to book your place for the music, tales and food by calling Trelissick ahead of time.

Booking is not required and children are welcome, but you should definitely plan to dress up warm and wear sensible footwear to navigate the sloping gravel paths that lead through the gardens at Trelissick.

Trelissick Gardens near Truro

Unfortunately you won’t see much of the estate and gardens during the wassail but Trelissick Gardens are well worth returning to in daylight. The estate is located on its own peninsula and is one of Cornwall’s many National Trust properties. It is located at Feock, on the outskirts of and is a lovely place to visit at any time of year.

It covers 300 acres and offers many scenic woodland walks, including one down to Roundwood Quay which is listed as one of the Top 10 Walks in Britain. There are some magnificent trees in the woods just made for climbing, and some artworks to discover along the way.

There are many former farm buildings housing Cornish crafts and demonstrations in the gallery. There is also the Crofters Restaurant serving Cornish produce. The highlight of the attraction are the elevated gardens which have an unusual collection of tender and exotic plants. They seem to thrive in the deep wooded valleys that extend all the way down to the River Fal.

We’d love to hear from locals who have attended a wassail, either at Trelissick or elsewhere in the Westcountry. What was it like to be wassailing under the stars? Do share what you know about this ancient tradition with us.

About Gillian Birch

Born in Cheshire, Gillian Birch moved to Cornwall at her earliest opportunity and never looked back. After 20 years, her ongoing discovery of popular attractions, quiet footpaths and local eateries has made her a fount of knowledge as she entertains readers with her informative articles on the hidden gems of Devon & Cornwall from a local point-of-view.

Find Gillian on Google+, and Twitter.

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