The wassail…and why we love a pagan ritual

Had the most amazing experience today.    Attended the Sledmere House Wassail ceremony.

Wassail ceremonies are conducted either by visiting homes and singing for gifts (i.e. carollers) or by visiting orchards, where the singers will sing the trees awake from their winter slumbers, and implore the gods to bless the trees and make them bountiful for the next season.   I will post some videos of the dancing on facebook as WordPress won;t allow videos on the freeby plan.

We were lucky enough to be here for this annual event, as it is always conducted near the equinox, the pagan season change.   Morris dance troupes danced for us, and then led us to the orchard, where the trees were blessed, a verse recited by all, and cider from the trees poured on the tree roots.   (Mulled cider was also consumed by the assembly).

We were given cards to write wishes which were then tied into the tree branches.   Toasted bread was handed around, for the attendees to dip into the cider, and hang in the tree branches, for luck.

We chatted to some of the morris dancers about their craft.  Back in the day, it was illegal to beg for money and therefore folk would dance and sing and ask for alms in return.  They would black out their faces with soot so as not to be identified, and turn their jackets inside out, to look more disheveled, hence the rag strips on the costumes.  There are various types of Morris dancing, the type we witnessed is called “Border Morris” but there is also “Cotswold Morris” where the dancers wear white and use white handkerchiefs as accessories.   The purple group looked very steampunk, with black top hats and goggles.   Folk we spoke to said that they loved the ceremony, it might look at bit silly (we don’t agree at all) but they love it, as its part of their heritage.

Our takeaways from this (and many other experiences throughout our journey) is that folk need their traditions.

They are important.  As Australians, we don’t have much in the way of historic heritage, but what we have – hang on to it, be it a street party for Cup Day, or Christmas drinks, it is a big part of who you are.

We zoomed past Sledmere House the other day, and thought we might stop to check it out.  So worth checking out we returned the following day, when we had a little more daylight to enjoy the surrounding grounds, which are generously free to visit (enter through the farm shop…and I dare you to leave without something delicious – Yorkshire Bram loaf for us – you know the fruitcake soaked in tea…ahhhhh- so good).   Sledmere House was a major British stud for horse breeding back in the day, now has three lovely shire horses, which Debbie our sister has been fully updated on.

Sledmere House and estate is still in the hands of the descendants of the original owners – the legacy of a generous squire who was beloved by all….  I am told that many farms in the district are modelled on this estate.


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Is it too late to have a gap year in your late 50s? To take back some time from our day to day working life to travel - unplanned, unescorted, unfettered? To take that leap? It was a defining year - liberating, challenging, humbling, scary. It was many things, but it wasn't a holiday.

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