If you are superstitious, fears might be growing about the quality of this year’s apple crop, because Covid restrictions have left the spirits of the orchards high and dry.

This is the traditional season in the Ledbury area, and elsewhere, for wassailing: where Morris Men employ strange rituals to get on the right side of orchard spirits and make sure the autumn season brings a bumper harvest.

But the Covid lockdown means that large wassailing gatherings are a no-no in 2021; but at least there are good memories of an eerie tradition that is sure to return with a literal bang, at least if some wassailing rituals are followed to the letter.

It is not unknown for shotguns to be fired into the trees, to awaken the orchard spirits, and this and other ceremonies usually take place by the torch-glow of living flames.

The tradition of wassailing, to ensure good harvests and good fortune, dates back several hundred years at least; but although the word has its origins in the Old English toast ‘Waes Hael’ meaning Good Health, persistent claims that the origins are pagan, from Pre-Christian times, have not been established.

Indeed, the fact that Twelfth Night is a popular date for wassailing indicates a possible Christian link, or at least a strong association with the Christmas season.

In the last and present century, wassailing has often been a spectacle of revival, rather than evidence of ritual continuity.

For instance, in 2012, the wassailing spectacle at Kempley was reported to be "only the second time in three decades that wassailing had taken place in a Kempley orchard”.

And fund-raising often comes with spectacle.

That particular Kempley event, which featured a torchlit procession, a big bonfire, and the serving of hot, mulled cider, raised £600 for the Kempley Village Hall Redevelopment Fund.

Much Marcle has a strong wassailing tradition, not least because of the presence of Westons Cider.

Usually watched by hundreds of onlookers, the celebrants there are the Silurian Border Morris Men, supported by Westons.

There is usually dancing by the Westons Cider Visitor Centre, followed by a torchlight procession into ancient cider orchards.

Often, after the ceremony “of singing, carousing and general merriment” there are performances by folk musicians and mummers at the nearby Slip Tavern.

But even with well-organised spectacles like this, there is the suggestion that old beliefs are not so far beneath the surface.

In 2012, Ian Craigan of the Silurian Border Morris Men told the Reporter: “The poor apple crop this year needs addressing and fast.”

By which he meant the 2011 crop hadn’t been so great.

But the orchards spirits can always be placated, with offerings of cider and toast, left by the tree roots or sometimes in the branches.

Elsewhere on the country, a small child was often chosen to sit in the boughs of an apple tree, to represent the spirit of the orchard, and to accept the offerings when they were handed up.

Let’s all hope the orchard spirits are understanding about the Covid lockdown in 2021, and that they will still provide a wonderful apple harvest, come the autumn.