Yesterday we headed off to Stretton Watermill for the apple tree wassailing. Apple trees are very important to mills, their wood being used as the teeth of gear wheels in the machinery, strong enough not to be worn down by constant meshing with other gears, yet brittle enough to shear off in an accident and save the rest of the wheel. The apples themselves would also be enjoyed as food and as cider.
It was a clear and mild winter's day as we drove through along to the mill, the bare trees allowing a clear view of the whole Sandstone Ridge and the low winter sun making Beeston Castle glimmer brightly. The watermill itself is near the border with Wales, these marches being the traditional home of apple tree wassailing.
We set up as the light was dwindling and lanterns were lit to provide a warming glow.
Spiced cider was mulled and shared. We used four gallons of it, the preparation was quite a task in itself, but well worth it.
Friends began to gather and the wassailing began with the telling of the tale of the Apple Tree Man.
Then the group collected rattles, timbrels and drums and set off in procession around the trees making noise to drive away evil spirits.
Toast was hung in the branches for the birds.
Then the procession returned back to the oldest most ancient apple tree. 'Young Ball' the horse from Jones' Ale Soul Cakers accompanying the procession.
A many handled wassail cup was shared around.
We sang the Apple Tree Wassail to the oldest tree.
Cider was poured upon the roots.
A gun was fired through the branches to drive away the witches...
Then it was done, and we headed off to the Carden Arms to share some tunes together.
The apple tree wassail at Stretton Mill is certainly a mixture of various winter traditions, but it's becoming established now and has its own character. They certainly are very important, whether we're encouraging the sun to return after winter or crops to grow, or more simply a chance to bring people together for some merriment in a harsh cold season and the maintenance of good fellowship.
Many thanks to Paul Quigley for some of these pictures.