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Holywells Park in Ipswich hosts annual ‘wassail’ in its ancient orchard

PUBLISHED: 16:09 15 January 2017 | UPDATED: 16:09 15 January 2017

Mayor of Ipswich, Roger Fern, with the children who gathered to sing and dance around the oldest apple tree in the orchard to chase away Winter and to encourage a fruitful Spring and a bountiful apple harvest.

Mayor of Ipswich, Roger Fern, with the children who gathered to sing and dance around the oldest apple tree in the orchard to chase away Winter and to encourage a fruitful Spring and a bountiful apple harvest.

A centuries old tradition has been upheld as part of a day of activities aimed at encouraging people to make the most of their local park during the winter months.

Wassail King and Queen; Andy Smuk and Yvonne Westley, lead the procession of singing wassailers towards the apple orchard at Holywells Park.Wassail King and Queen; Andy Smuk and Yvonne Westley, lead the procession of singing wassailers towards the apple orchard at Holywells Park.

Holywells Park in Ipswich hosted its fifth annual Wassail Cold Fair on Saturday.

More than 300 people turned out in crisp cold conditions to witness the “wassail” ceremony in the park’s orchard, which is only opened up to the public on special occasions.

The custom of wassailing dates back to pagan times. The historic ceremony involves singing to the trees in the apple orchard to promote a good harvest.

Visitors to the fair, including many families, made wassail sticks to help ‘wake up’ the trees.

Some of the children poured apple juice over the roots of oldest apple tree in the orchard which is believed to hold the fertility for the entire orchardSome of the children poured apple juice over the roots of oldest apple tree in the orchard which is believed to hold the fertility for the entire orchard

According to Yvonne Westley of the Friends of Holywells Park group, which organised the event, it was a very successful day.

She said: “We have lots of fairs in the park during the summer so we came up with the idea of having a ‘cold fair’ in the winter, just to get people out and about and show them that there’s something here for everyone to enjoy – all year round.

“Even when it’s cold or wet, you can be outside getting the fresh air and exercise in a lovely space – and it’s free, which is a big consideration for families these days.

“We decided to incorporate a wassail into the fair as an added attraction, where we go down to the orchard in the park and wake up the trees to get them ready for spring.”

Amelia, 6 , hands out bread that is traditionally on the trees to help feed the robins of the orchard during winterAmelia, 6 , hands out bread that is traditionally on the trees to help feed the robins of the orchard during winter

There were lots of activities for children to take part in, including a treasure hunt, making wassail sticks and bird feeders, and ‘dressing’ last year’s Christmas tree. Jacket potatoes were also cooked on an open fire for visitors to enjoy.

“I think everyone had a really good time,” Ms Westley added.

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