A CHANT of ‘drink hail’ went up from a big crowd as an ancient ceremony was played out in the Dorset countryside.

A noisy spirit-scaring ceremony, colourful hats and traditional apple-themed songs made for a quirky afternoon.

It was all in the aid of wassailing – a traditional ceremony, usually held on Twelfth Night, to awake the cider apple trees and to scare away evil spirits to ensure a good harvest of fruit.

Wassail comes from an Anglo-Saxon greeting meaning ‘good health’.

While the ceremony is not new to Dorset, it was held for the first time this year at the orchards of independent firm Liberty Fields, which makes unique apple-based products including vodka and vinegar on a farm near Halstock.

Organisers were thrilled when more than 100 people turned up to join in, many with decorated hats.

Tim Laycock and members of the Ridgeway Singers led the wassailing songs, below, while cocktail expert Lloyd Brown handed out glasses of his hot wassail punch.

Dorset Echo:

There was then a procession into the orchard to wassail the oldest tree. Everyone then spread out through the orchard, making as much noise as possible to ‘chase out the bad spirits’.

The afternoon finished with a prize handed to the wearer of the best hat, lighting of the bonfire and the firing of the wassail rocket.

Dorset Echo:

Vicky Morland of Liberty Fields said: “'This was our first community wassail, and the turnout was amazing.

"Tim Laycock and the Ridgeway Singers and band provided a wonderful musical accompaniment, singing about Dorset apples as well as the traditional wassail song.

"We were also amazed by the creativity shown with the entries to our wassail hat competition - choosing a winner was really difficult.

"Most importantly, it was great to see people of all ages celebrating along with us. We thank everyone for coming and hope to do it all again next January."