Watercress Line

Travel east from Winchester for some seven miles and you arrive at the town of Alresford (pronounced Allsford), this historic medieval town, mentioned in the ‘Domesday Book’ is home to Hampshire’s Heritage Railway the ‘Watercress Line’.

Some 800 years ago New Alresford consisted of a church, built on high ground, with the humble dwellings of its inhabitants scattered round it. Its swampy ground was eventually overcome by the construction of the Great Weir, a long, high embankment. Today it is an unspoilt, mainly Georgian, market town, rebuilt after major conflagrations in 1689 and 1736.

The first thing that strikes the visitor is the varied colour of the fine houses, giving the town a very pleasant, distinctive look. Alresford new and old is the perfect place to stroll and browse among the many specialist shops selling antiques, gifts, antiquarian books, pictures, china and crafts.

The Mid Hants Railway, known affectionately as the ‘Watercress Line’, runs from the centre of town along ten miles of rolling scenic countryside bordering the South Downs National Park to the market town of Alton. This is the perfect way to unwind and experience the nostalgic sights, sounds and smells of steam travel from a bygone age.

A visit to the Watercress Line is far more than a train ride, it is a journey back in time to the working past of a railway built to serve the local community and transport watercress from the surrounding farms to markets in London, from which the line derived its nickname. Watercress is still grown in large commercial beds around Alresford, fed by the pure chalk spring waters of the river Alre.

Along the line from Alresford is Ropley station, famous for both its Edwardian topiary and the ironwork King’s Cross Footbridge which famously featured in the Harry Potter films. Here you are invited to investigate the impressive engineering sheds with their new viewing galleries to see locomotive preservation in action. Virtually everyone you meet during your visit is a volunteer; from station staff and guards to signal men and locomotive crews.

At the pretty and peaceful country station of Medstead & Four Marks you can relax and watch the world go by or enjoy a rural walk around the village. As the highest station in southern England it means the railway needs a fleet of large, powerful steam locomotives capable of hauling heavy passenger trains over the steep 1 in 60 gradients; the magical chuff chuff of the engine can be heard all around the surrounding countryside!

The bustling town of Alton is at the other end of the Watercress Line, where the steam railway shares the station with the South West Trains line to Waterloo. The town is a delightful mix of historic buildings and modern shops, with its own Curtis Museum and Allen Gallery and links to Jane Austen’s House in nearby Chawton.

Fares give you all day unlimited travel and dogs are welcome, so you can visit all four stations with their period charm and explore these historic towns at your leisure. Open weekends from February until the end of October, midweek May until September and every day in August, the railway also runs popular events throughout the year. These include Day Out With Thomas™ at Easter and again in August, Steam Gala’s, WWII re-enactments, a vintage Bus Rally and of course not forgetting the Santa Specials; giving something for everyone to enjoy at the Watercress Line! We hope you enjoy these pages: please leave for the enjoyment of others 33

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