There's no place like Alresford
PUBLISHED: 16:44 14 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:01 20 February 2013
The unspoilt market town of Alresford is a great place to visit and an even better location to live, says Jill Belcher
How to get to Alresford
For many day visitors, Alresford is the place to board the Watercress Line steam trains for a scenic ride through the Hampshire countryside to the town of Alton.
But anyone who pauses in this beautiful and ancient spot cant fail to be enchanted by the architecture, individual shops and enticing cafes, historic pubs and restaurants.
In fact the original medieval street plan still exists, while the Conservation Area takes in 250 buildings, half of which are listed. Stroll down East Street, West Street and Broad Street, nip into The Soke and Pound Hill and you will walking in the footsteps of those who helped make Alresford a prosperous place to live many centuries ago.
The town was first laid out in the 13th century, when Old Alresford Pond was created by Bishop de Lucy, who built a weir to provide power for local mills. Soon not just millers but fullers and weavers were drawn to settle here as New Alresford became known for its sheep, cattle, pigs and horses.
A series of blazes devastated the town and it was reconstructed in the more fireproof materials of brick, tiles and slate, giving us the beautiful Georgian architecture which has been preserved for us to admire today.
King of the crops
The clear chalk streams, which played such a major part in Alresfords early years, helped put it on the map once the railway had arrived in the 19th century. For hundreds of years, local people had enjoyed the watercress crop which thrived under these conditions, but quickly wilted before it could be sold further afield. Being able to send it swiftly to London markets and restaurants gave this enterprise a huge boost.
Today Alresford watercress is still much sought-after and celebrated in the town each May at the Watercress Festival. The railway line which brought the crop to a wider world was axed in the early 1970s, but revived by enthusiasts and now the steam trains of the Watercress Line are among Hampshires most popular attractions.
Agriculture is still a mainstay of the area, although Alresford is also now home to many country-lovers and commuters who find that the combination of its position, beautiful architecture and community life tick all the boxes for an ideal place to put down roots.
Leading independent Catholic day school, Alton Convent School, offers care for babies from six months, while the prep school has boys and girls up to the age of 11 and the selective senior school takes girls from 11 to 18 years. Nearby at Bramdean, Brockwood Park School is an international co-educational boarding school for 65 students aged 14-19, founded on the teachings of J. Krishnamurti. Local state schools are highly-rated by Ofsted.
While the Watercress Line is a popular tourist attraction, your nearest regular train station is 10 miles away at Alton, from where you can get into London Waterloo in just over an hour. Its fewer than eight miles to Winchester by car and the A31 to Alton passes the town. There are easy links to the M3.
There is plenty of walking, on the Wayfarers Walk north over Abbotstone Down or south to Droxford, beautiful country homes and gardens like Hinton Ampner, and ample opportunity to ride and cycle in the countryside.
Wonderful unique and listed homes
Excellent individual retailers
Good road links
Strong community life
Opportunities for walking and riding close by