Pints, produce and pilfery
PUBLISHED: 16:53 14 December 2010 | UPDATED: 17:42 20 February 2013
Liz Barnett explores Cheriton, Ropley and Old Alresford and discovers intriguing histories, thriving communities and delicious local ales
Many meandering lanes snake through this incredibly picturesque parish. It covers an area of around 10 square miles and has well over 1,500 inhabitants, making it the largest of the three villages surrounding New Alresford.
The first settlement here dates back to the Bronze Age, which is not particularly surprising as much of the south would have been covered by the Andredsweald Forest around and before this time.
There are two extensive woods that still remain as homage to this great forest, Alice Holt and Woolmer, but around Ropley you can still see a spattering of woodland in the form of Old Down Wood, Dogford Wood, Charlwood, Winchester Wood and Stoney Brow.
When it comes to British history, many of the notable battles and conflicts in this particular area of Hampshire seem to have passed Ropley by with not so much as a second glance too small and sleepy to be involved in such rigmaroles perhaps. But one thing that Ropley is known for among historians is its fascinating links to the smuggling trade. Perfectly positioned out of the way among a number of wooded hamlets, Ropley drew in smugglers like moths to a flame.
Once night fell, the villagers would have witnessed a number of coaches, bringing their smuggled wares up from the coast and perhaps some of the houses had hidden cellars to store their illegal goods, such as the one found at Ropley Grove. Such pilfery and law breaking no doubt would
have caused frictions among the more religious inhabitants of the village at that time and with tales of drinking and vandalism being passed down through generations, it seems to me that Ropleys gentle and peaceful exterior hid a magnitude of trouble-making and heist.
The rural parish of Old Alresford stretches from New Alresford to Upper Wield and is a relatively humble village. It contains no shops, schools or pubs, meaning the 450 odd residents that live there usually use the facilities of their neighbouring villages, something that, judging by the busyness of New Alresford on a Friday morning, is a welcome contrast to the peace and quiet. Evidence surrounding the area has shown settlements dating right back to the stone age and later the land was given to the church of Winchester by King Cynegils.
A couple of centuries after this, the settlements of New Alresford, Old Alresford and Medstead were grouped together to form The Liberty of Alresford and were mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. It wasnt until the middle of the 19th century that the three villages developed their own individual parishes; The London to Winchester road ran through these parishes and it was now that New Alresford established itself as a larger and more prosperous village leaving Old Alresford to hide in its shadow.
Old Alresford has never been the bustling market town used to describe its modernised counterpart but that doesnt mean to say it isnt capable of earning a living and has been a steady manufacturer of cress and salads throughout its history and today.
Old Alresfords positioning meant that its surrounding fields were perfect conditions for growing watercress and the arrival of the railway meant that these goods could be transported much further afield; the watercress line is now a fantastic attraction for the whole family and is most definitely worth a visit. If you are looking for a place to stay then look no further than Old Alresford Place, originally dating back to the 1630s it has had several owners and renovations in its time as Old Alresford House and has even played host to Oliver Cromwell after its owner Colonel Richard Norton invited him there during the Commonwealth. Now named Old Alresford Place, its beauty and imposition makes it the perfect base to explore the area.
Another fantastic guest house, Mulberry House, was once the stable block for Old Alresford House but has now been very tastefully converted to accommodate those wishing to explore.
In this picturesque village you can find a pint that has been pumped straight from the brewery on the premises at The Flower Pots Inn. Built in around the 1820s, the Inn originally started life as a farm and was established by an accomplished gardener, hence the name, Flower Pots. The farmer then went on to gain a beer license and it ran as an ale house for the local villagers, becoming fully established around the 1850s. The current owners, Jo Bartlett and her partner Paul Tickner have worked to raise the Inns profile after purchasing it from the brewers in 1990. Jos parents Pat and John Bartlett first leased the pub in 1968 and it has become the familys pride and joy, with Paul setting up the onsite brewery in 1993.
Since then, the Inn has been stripped back to its original decor and now welcomes visitors from all over Hampshire. The village itself is made up of 3,264 acres of land and has over 600 inhabitants, a number which Paul, who was brought up in the village, says is continually growing: More and more young families are moving to the area which is good for business from our point of view, but it also means that the village remains young and lively.
Cheriton Wood lies north-east of the village and beyond that is the notorious plains where the Battle of Cheriton was played out on March 29, 1644 during the English Civil War. The outcome ended in an important victory for the Parliamentarians under Sir William Waller, throwing King Charles I on the defensive for the rest of that year. The Battle of Cheriton project is a non-profit organisation set up to help visitors remember the important milestone and often stages
re-enactments and events on the site. William Cobbett summed up Cheriton in his Rural Rides as a little hard iron village where all seems to be as old as the hills that surround it.