THE good health of the apple trees in and around Colwall will be toasted when the village holds its wassailing festival.

The wassail is a traditional Old English mid-winter festival designed to wake up the apple trees and encourage them to produce a good harvest.

The event is organised by the Colwall Orchard Group, which has been working for ten years to preserve and improve the fruit orchards around the village.

Although the group has not discovered any history of wassailing in Colwall itself, the group has drawn on elements of ceremonies across Herefordshire to create its own event.

Helen Stace of the group said: "The wassail is a firm favourite in the village calendar and we wassail whatever the weather – our first wassail was held in gale-force wind and rain, and our most memorable was in deep sparkly snow on a still moonlit night. Why not come and see for yourself?

"This year, we hope to be joined by the Mistletoe Man – a winter incarnation of the Green Man."

This year's event is on Saturday, January 13, with revellers meeting at Colwall Stone in the middle of the village at 5.30pm, and setting off at 6pm for a torch-lit procession to Colwall Community Orchard.

Once gathered in the orchard, the butler leads the wassailing ceremony, which involves circling the largest tree in the orchard, pouring a libation of cider on the roots and lifting a small boy, known as Tom Tit, into the tree to put toast in the branches.

Mrs Stace said: "We encourage the audience to participate with whooping, hollering and shouts of Waes Hael and bashing of pans and whistling to make lots of noise to drive away evil spirits. After the ceremony, there will be food and drink and our wassailing choir will lead us in songs around the bonfire.

All are welcome to what the group describes as a fun family event, and are encouraged to wear silly hats and clothing suitable for the weather, including boots or wellies.

Mrs Stace said: "We ask for a donation of £3 per adult for the event and will be selling hand-held wax flares and sparklers before the event and hot food and drink after the ceremony. All funds raised will be used to support Colwall Orchard Group and help us to conserve traditional orchards."