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A Watercress Walk Around the Alresfords

Exploring the 'new market' town at the heart of Hampshire's watercress industry.

Distance 4 miles (6.4km)

Minimum time 1hr 45min

Ascent/gradient 240ft (73m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Riverside paths, tracks, field, woodland paths and roads

Landscape River valley and undulating farmland dotted with woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 132 Winchester

Start/finish SU 588325

Dog friendliness Keep dogs under control

Parking Pay-and-display car park off Station Road, New Alresford

Public toilets New Alresford

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1 From the car park walk down Station Road to the T-junction with West Street. Turn right, then left down Broad Street and keep left at the bottom along Mill Lane. Halfway down follow the Wayfarer's Walk marker left and soon join the riverbank and pass the attractive, timbered and thatched Fulling Mill Cottage which straddles the River Arle.

2 Continue to the bottom of Dean Lane and keep to the riverside path. Cross a footbridge over the river, and ascend to pass some cottages. Shortly, cross a lane onto a wide track and soon follow it gently downhill to a junction of tracks. Bear right uphill to a lane.

3 Turn left, descend to Fobdown Farm and take the track on the right beside the farm buildings. On reaching a T-junction of tracks, turn right and follow the established track for just over ½ mile (800m), gently descending into Old Alresford.

4 Pass watercress beds on your right and follow the now metalled lane left, past houses. Turn right beside the green to the B3046. Cross straight over and follow the pavement right to reach a lane opposite St Mary's Church.

5 Having visited the church, cross the road and turn left along the pavement to a grass triangle by a junction. Bear right along the lane and take the footpath ahead over a stream and beside watercress beds back to Mill Lane and Broad Street.

New Alresford (pronounced Allsford) is not very new at all. In fact, this delightful place, one of Hampshire's most picturesque small towns, was 'new' in 1200, when Godfrey de Lucy, Bishop of Winchester, wanted to expand the original Alresford - Old Alresford. He dammed the River Arle, creating a 200-acre (81ha) pond, and built a causeway (the Great Weir) to link Old Alresford with his new community. His 'New Market', as it was first called, thrived to become a prosperous wool town, with a market being held in Broad Street.

Most of the medieval timber-framed houses were destroyed by two devastating fires during the 17th century, one in 1644 when the Royalists set the town alight following the Battle of Cheriton. As a result, much of the architecture is Georgian, notably along sumptuous Broad Street which is lined with limes and elegant colour-washed houses. Mary Russell Mitford, the authoress of Our Village which sketches her country life, was born at 27 Broad Street in 1787. New Alresford continues to be a prosperous place and a stroll around the three principal streets will not only reveal the traditional shops associated with a small country town but specialist clothes, antiquarian books and crafts shops.

Close to both Old and New Alresford you will find an intricate network of crystal clear chalk streams, rivulets and channels that form the rivers Arle and Itchen and the Candover Stream. Since Victorian times these springs and rivers have played a vital role in one of Alresford's major industries, the production of watercress. Surprisingly, watercress never stops growing in the spring water that emanates from the ground at a constant 51 degrees fahrenheit throughout the year. These ideal growing conditions made Alresford the 'Watercress Capital' of England, with the railway providing the vital link for the industry, transporting watercress to London and much of the country. The watercress beds continue to thrive in this health-conscious age. It's big business now and one producer has expanded to Portugal to import fresh salads for supermarkets, so you are likely to see huge articulated lorries heading down Broad Street to the packing houses by the River Arle.

You'll pass several watercress beds where you can see how the water is collected in concrete channels and pumped back up again. You'll also pass the impressive, 300-year-old, thatched and timber-framed Fulling Mill which straddles the River Arle. Here, home-spun wool was scoured, washed, pounded with mallets, stretched, dried, brushed and sheared. Old Alresford is tiny, with an interesting 18th-century church and two substantial Georgian houses. Make time to visit the church to see the striking monument to Jane Rodney. Admiral Lord Rodney, who is buried in the family vault, built Old Alresford House and is famous for spectacularly defeating the Spanish fleet off Cape St Vincent in 1780.

While you're there

Enjoy a nostalgic steam train ride through rolling countryside on the Watercress Line between New Alresford and Alton. It was from here that watercress was transported to London and there are four stations, sheds and special events.

Where to eat and drink

The Globe in New Alresford offers good pub food, decent ale and wine, and views across Alresford Pond from its waterside garden. Alternatively, try the Horse and Groom or, for good light lunches and teas, Tiffins Tea Room, at the bottom of West Street.

What to look for

Explore the handsome village streets and note the Old Sun, a former pub, in East Street, where John Arlott, the cricket commentator and writer, lived for most of his life. In the churchyard you'll find the graves of French prisoners of war, who died in the village while on parole during the Napoleonic Wars. More unusually, the grave of a stray dog called Hambone Junior can be found close to the banks of the River Arle. It was adopted by American soldiers waiting at Alresford for the D-Day invasion in June 1944 but was run over and killed.

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