THE sound of Morris dancing and merrymaking filled the air as a noisy procession of people went wassailing through community gardens.

Pots and pans clattered and clanked as the long line made its way around Twigs in Cheney Manor to the gardens' apple tree where the traditional festivities would begin.

The wassail king and queen walked arm in arm around the tree three times while a large and enthusiastic crowd made as much noise as possible to scare away evil winter spirits.

A toast from the wassail king prompted a cheery response before he poured cider around the tree's roots to encourage it to produce more apples in the year to come.

After the toast, children decorated the tree with actual toast cut into the shapes of wildlife then danced to two songs from the Morris men.

Six-year-old Rhea Baxter got to hang a butterfly-shaped slice onto the tree and had a great time. She said: "It was so fun, I liked the dancing and want to come back next year."

Her grandmother Suzanne said: "It's a lovely family-oriented event that the children can enjoy. There's a deeper meaning to it but it's also really fun and interactive.

"I've been coming here for a few years but this is Rhea's first time. I've never seen it so busy - there were twice as many people compared to last year, which is fabulous

"It's good to see that people care about these traditions and want to get connected to the Earth, especially with all the climate issues we face.

"I want to start wassailing my trees now, too."

Finally, the wassail king presented three symbolic items for the queen's basket - a candle representing light, a yew branch representing long life, and a nut representing fruitfulness.

Twigs trustee Dick Millard stepped into the role of wassail butler and king for the day. One of the songs performed during the ceremony came from his home county.

He said: "It gives me an opportunity to dress up and it feels like I'm harking back to my roots in Gloucestershire. People really enjoy wassailing here, which is lovely.

"There's so much to enjoy - I like presenting the candle because of its symbolic light, I like singing because I'm part of two choirs, and I enjoy seeing the contrast of colours that the Morris dancers bring to the gardens."

After the festivities ended, the Morris dancers continued performing while guests enjoyed snacks and drinks.

Helen Basu visited with her children and neighbours. She said: "It's a nice reminder that spring is coming, and the kids loved it. This tradition shows how wise previous generations were about the world and our need to connect with nature."