Marc West comes a-wassailing among the leaves so green... to bless the fruit trees for a bumper harvest

Once a Twelfth Night novelty on the wane, the little-known tradition of wassailing is bouncing back, thanks to a new generation of January revellers with an appreciation for the past.

Increasingly being appropriated by modern foodie folk, the ancient pagan ritual of wassailing goes hand-in-hand with the renewed interest in community gardens, local produce and healthy eating.

Named after the Anglo-Saxon greeting “be well”, this annual celebration is said to prepare orchards for the year ahead… using the most unusual methods.

In days past, men would go about the trees placing slices of alcohol-soaked bread in the branches and pouring the last of the previous summer’s cider over their roots. The ceremony is said to bless the trees and produce a good crop in the forthcoming season. On this particular grey Midwinter’s day, at Hogacre Common Eco Park, in Oxford's Grandpont, a group of young and old, armed with homemade noise-making implements, worship the fruit by means of a riotous racket that’ll easily ward off the evil spirits and no doubt leave eardrums ringing for days to come.

Traditionally hosted in cider making counties, no two wassails seem the same – possibly due in part to the amount of fermented juice that seems to be drunk at them! However, despite the mild intoxication, such charming ceremony certainly quickens the sap.

Following the pied piper playing his rauschpfeife, we process behind South Oxford folk musician –and expert in all things Pagan – Tim Healey to the candle-lit branches beyond.

Gathered in a tight circle around this master of ceremonies, we recite mysterious incantations to thee ol’ apple tree…huzzah, huzzah, HUZZAH! And, with a roaring fire lit, we sing and dance into the frosty night – slurping on the hot mulled punch being passed to the left. This pomological pantomime certainly shook me from my winter slumber, so I’ve no doubt it’s awoken the trees too and will once more play its part in ensuring yet another fruitful harvest come autumn.

Less than a mile from the city centre, Hogacre Common Eco Park is a veritable Garden of Eden, with 85 fruit trees of local heritage varieties including pears, plums, quince and mulberries.

This community-led resource is an inspiration to all those recognising the need to act locally to tackle climate change globally. As an active social enterprise, supporters work in partnership with like-minded organisations to nurture a sacred space to encourage low carbon projects.

They include OxGrow, a creative edible laboratory that’s experimenting with organic growing techniques to create produce you’ll never find in the shops. The group hosts regular Sunday afternoon work parties for all those wanting to lend a hand and get stuck into some serious gardening.