Not wishing to sound negative, but after only 4 ½ hours sleep, the last thing I wanted was to go wassailing this morning. But luckily my old school friend, Susannah was driving, and by 10am we were on the road heading towards the Weald and Downland Living Museum near Chichester, and I was knitting a haggis.
Both of us had been to the museum before, but not since we were wee. The only thing I could remember from my school trip was being told an awful lot about wattle and daub (of which we did see many fine examples today). If you don’t know W&DLM, it’s a collection of rural houses and buildings spanning the last 1000 years. And this weekend they were also hosting troupes of storytellers and wassailers.
It was the most perfect weather; sunny, frosty, brisk, and the smell of woodsmoke clung everywhere as nearly every house had a fire roaring in an open pit or in the hearth. Which was very handy, given that in my sleep deprived stated I’d imagined that wearing a short skirt and 50 denier tights would keep me warm. We wandered. We listened to storytellers. We made ‘come hither’ noises at the pigs and the ponies (who quite rightly ignored us). We sampled pottage and wassail cake. I got into a conversation with a food historian about braggot and Cherry Sunday. Then we wandered back to the market square and joined the wassail, performed by the Rabble Folk Theatre. Unlike the Mari Lwyd kind of wassailing that goes house to house, this type of wassailing is performed outside and is about blessing the apple trees in the hope of getting a good harvest (and therefore more cider). Also, in Sussex wassailing also goes by the name of apple howling or yowling.
After a bit of singing and some banging of kitchen implements, we wended up to the cow byre and they told us some more stories, and sung to the cows (who were elsewhere, but it’s the thought), and then we wended up further to the apple orchard, where we necked back some hot mulled cider (or tried to, it was served in those tiny paper cups they put pills in to give to patients in hospitals, and almost all of it ended up down our chins and in our scarves), and listened to the last wassail as they blessed the orchard by sprinkling salt, giving a tree bedecked in red ribbons bread soaked in cider, and pouring cider into the roots. And then finally we all made a lot of noise to frighten away any lingering evil spirits.
Here is a recording of some of the singing, with us having a good old yowl at the end:
And then Susannah and I gently sauntered back down the muddy track, through the market square and into the gift shop, before heading home.
The wassailing was great fun, and the museum, all of the volunteers and the storytellers were brilliant. And I’m hoping that with all this fresh air, I’m going to sleep like the proverbial tonight and not wake up again at ten past four after having a long and involved dream about ear wax.
Now, back to finishing that haggis, I’ve got a hunt to organise…