Villagers have taken part in an ancient tradition performed to assure a bumper crop of apples.

The ancient pagan ritual of wassailing, an important event believed to help ward off evil spirits that might spoil the year’s apple harvest, lit up Hartley Wintney on Friday.

An enthusiastic audience of around 250 watched Hook Eagle Morris Men warm up with dancing and ale outside The Waggon and Horses pub in the High Street before a torchlight procession paraded to the Vaughan Millennium Orchard at Hunts Common.

There, Hook Eagle Morris Men led the singing of two traditional Wassail songs and the blessing of the apple trees which, after putting cider-soaked bread in the branches and sprinkling cider on the roots of a chosen tree, culminated with everyone making as much noise as possible to scare off any evil spirits from around the orchard.

"There was a great deal of shouting and hollering, which the children particularly enjoyed," said John Ellis, bag-man for Hook Eagle Morris Men, North Hampshire’s oldest men’s Border Morris side.

On their return to the Waggon and Horses, the Wassailers waited at the locked front door while the ‘toaster’ entered through the back door, toasted the pub and allowed all to enter.

"We were then treated to some lovely jugs of ale," said Mr Ellis.

"It really was a very pleasant evening and we're always very happy to do anything that brings communities together."

The group, which performs at festivals, pubs and fetes throughout the year, starts its winter practice season in the Elizabeth Hall, Hook, on Friday night and is looking for new members.

"All are welcome and no experience is necessary," said Mr Ellis. "It's huge fun and 2015 has some really interesting events in store.

"We will be taking part in a big celebration of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in Odiham over the spring bank holiday and are hoping to celebrate the Battle of Waterloo this summer."

For more details, call Mr Ellis on 07900886855.