Visiting the unspoilt town of Alresford, surrounded by undulating Hampshire countryside, is a bit like stepping back in time. Celebrated for its watercress, the traditional market town is situated in between Alton and Winchester, England’s ancient capital. Rows of pastel coloured Georgian houses, quaint shop fronts, and postcard-perfect views make Alresford an ideal day-trip destination.
Boasting a mix of modern up-market boutiques and an array of quirky gift shops, Alresford would please any shop lover. Retail highlights include the designer clothes stockist Moda Rosa (recently graced by none other than Kate Middleton), the country chic Susie Watson Interiors, and a gloriously dusty second hand book shop. If you are searching for something to satisfy your taste buds, Alresford offers a selection of high quality traditional stores including a patisserie, a bakers, two butchers, a greengrocers and a fishmongers. As well as this, there are two sophisticated and irresistible delicatessens selling locally sourced treats. The weekly farmers market also sells fresh local produce and, if you’re lucky, you could catch the WI selling homemade cakes and jams in the town hall. If it’s a return to nature you seek, the popular millennium trail is a must; the walk guides you through Alresford’s famous watercress beds and along the sparklingly clear river Arle where you can feed the ducks (let’s face it, you are never too old!) If after all this you need a rest, as well as hosting an impressive six pubs, Alresford has a number of classic English tearooms; the quirky Tiffin Tearoom, currently the proud recipient of a Tea Guild Award for excellence, is the perfect place for a clotted cream tea or a spot of lunch.
If you were to visit Alresford in May, you might witness the annual watercress festival; an eccentric event which attracts thousands of tourists, along with the odd celebrity. This popular day boasts a watercress parade, Morris dancers and an eclectic mix of stalls. Here you can sample various watercress themed culinary delights such as the strangely popular watercress chocolate. During September, the town plays host to the Alresford Show; boasting vintage tractors, livestock parades, over 150 trade stands, and a spot of ferret racing, the day is the highlight of the South’s farming calendar. Other autumnal musts are the old-fashioned one-night street fair, held at Michaelmas when the town’s roads are closed and everything comes to a standstill, and the annual torch light procession on November the 5th. Visit in December to see the streets lit up by individual Christmas trees and you might even see Santa when late night shopping; this popular evening brings the locals out to sing carols around the Christmas tree and sample the free mulled wine offered by the local independent wine stockist The Naked Grape. One of Alresford’s year round attractions is the Watercress Railway line, starting at the charmingly time-warped station in the heart of the town and ending in the nearby Alton. Lovingly preserved steam trains (including the famous Thomas the Tank Engine) take tourists between the two towns. The nostalgic Watercress line holds various themed days, including a 1940’s day where people from across the country travel to Alresford, with WW2 tanks and vintage buses, for a day of costume, drama, and war themed fun.
The slow paced Georgian town of Alresford is undoubtedly one of Hampshire’s prettiest; voted Country Life’s favourite market town in the south-east, whatever time of year you visit, a trip to Alresford is sure to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Published in the Travel section of The University of Exeter’s student newspaper, Exepose, on March 9th 2009.
(re-edited in 2011)