MORE than 300 people attended an ancient pagan ritual in Hartley Wintney.
The annual wassail involves a torchlight procession from High Street to the Vaughan Millennium Orchard at Hunts Common to ward off evil spirits that might spoilt the year’s apple harvest.
Members of Hook Eagle Morris Men started the proceedings with dancing outside The Waggon and Horses pub, in High Street, last Friday.
The crowd then moved towards the orchard, with some people carrying flaming torches. Scouts from Hook had set up more torches at the entrance of the orchard.
Once there, the crowd sang, danced, and watched a fireworks display, before a tree was blessed when cider was poured over its roots.
The procession then returned to The Waggon and Horses to continue the celebration.
The crowd was larger than last year, which Councillor Cathy Roberts, vice-chairman of Hartley Wintney Parish Council, put down to good weather and advertising.
She added: “It was an astonishing success. We had catered for around 100 people, but there were probably nearer 400 there. It was absolutely amazing how many people were there.”