Medieval-style wassail on cycle path

Wassail queen on Sustrans Fallowfield Loop
6 January 2015

The festive sound of wassailing greeted cyclists passing along the Fallowfield Loop line in in Manchester at dusk on Sunday, as local people joined a traditional annual celebration to bless the harvest for this year’s apple trees.

Wassailing is a medieval ritual in which people sing songs and drink mulled cider on and around Twelfth Night to ensure a good harvest of apple and other fruit trees for the next year. A wassail queen joined the festivities and toasted 35 young fruit trees planted along the popular cycle and walking route with a goblet of cider.

Around 50 participants fixed pieces of toast soaked in cider on the trees’ branches to provide food for birds and to encourage the trees’ fertility. True to tradition they also clattered pans and made noises to ward off evil spirits.

The group stood around a bonfire along the cycle path, which is managed by Sustrans, singing songs, eating cakes and delicacies made from fruit, and toasting each other for the New Year.

Wassails originated in Southern England and were practised throughout England - particularly in apple-producing regions.

The event was organised by the Friends of the Fallowfield Loop and took place at a small orchard planted by the Friends in the Levenshulme area of the leafy former railway line, which runs six miles between Chorlton and Gorton.

Levenshulme's orchard includes apple, pear, plum, damson and greengage trees. They are just a few years old but have already produced a healthy crop, some of which was made into jam, since last year's wassail. 

Cos Harnasz of the Friends of the Fallowfield Loop said:

“Wassailing is a tradition that goes back a long time and has its origins in fertility rites to ensure a good harvest of apples for the coming year. The celebration was an important part of the winter as these apples kept people going through the long dark months.

“We planted Levenshulme’s fruit trees a few years ago and thought it would be great to revive this old custom to light up the gloomy days in early January.”

The Fallowfield Loop is part of the National Cycle Network, which was created by Sustrans and includes over 14,000 miles of cycle and walking routes throughout the UK.

Read more news stories about Sustrans' work in the North West.

Find out more about how Sustrans engages communities.

Find out more about the Friends of the Fallowfield Loop.