VILLAGERS are reviving an ancient winter tradition to ensure the prosperity of a flourishing community orchard.

Members of the environmental group Eco People in Croft and Hurworth (EPICH) are inviting villagers to join in a traditional apple orchard “wassailing”.

Pat Simpson, chair of EPICH, said: “The purpose of the wassail is to wake up the orchard, to wish it good health, to scare away any potential evil spirits, and to invite the robins in, because they are the guardians of the orchard.

“We’re bringing back wassailing now because this orchard has stood here for twelve years, and lots of people walk by and maybe don’t realise it’s here, so this is a great way to show them what they have on their doorsteps, while having a bit of fun!”

Wassailing – from the Old Norse ‘ves heill’ meaning to ‘be in good health’ – also involves pouring apple juice on the roots of the trees and hanging toast in the branches. In olden times, these acts were thought to help ensure a bountiful crop of apples the following summer.

The Northern Echo: Pat Simpson hangs toast from the trees to encourage robins into the orchard. Picture: Chris Barron

The Hurworth Community Orchard was planted by volunteers in 2010, thanks to a grant from Durham County Community Fund, in the grounds of Hurworth Grange Community Centre, adjacent to the miniature railway.

Now, it is maintained by EPICH volunteers, who receive support and funding from Hurworth Parish Council and Tees Valley Nature Partnership. The trees grow apples, damsons, pears, plums, and quince, and EPICH hopes that visitors will help themselves to the ripe fruit later in the year.

Local resident Ken Pattison was one of the volunteers who helped plant the orchard, and who continues to help maintain it. He said: “It’s very gratifying to look at the orchard now and see how far it’s come. It’s a great community thing, and we really hope that people realise the benefit of it.”

During the wassail, a chorus of the traditional song will be sung in the orchard, led by choir No Added Sugar, and a toast to the orchard will be made using warm spiced apple juice and apple cakes – provided by EPICH.

The Northern Echo: EPICH volunteers prepare the orchard ahead of the wassail: (Left to right, Pat Simpson, Judith Redfern, Lyn Wylie, and Ken Pattison. Picture: Chris Barron

Villagers are invited to bring a torch and something to make a big noise – such as pots and pans to bang together or instruments to play. They are asked to meet at The Coffee Pot, at Hurworth Grange, on Old Twelfth Night: Monday, January 17, at 4:30pm.

The Coffee Pot will also be open, serving a range of hot food and drink.

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