What it’s like to live in New Alresford
PUBLISHED: 10:09 09 January 2018 | UPDATED: 10:09 09 January 2018
From watercress to wine, New Alresford has an awful lot going for it. Emma Caulton considers its finer points over a cup of coffee
If you are searching for the perfect market town, then Alresford (the New is usually dropped) is probably the answer. Over the years it’s won the title ‘Favourite Market Town in the South-East’ and been positioned among the 20 friendliest places to live in the country.
Alresford is about lifestyle; with the emphasis on style. It is where I hang out when I want to pretend I’ve wandered into the glossy pages of a country interiors magazine. Sipping a cappuccino on a Saturday morning in one of its chic cafes (such as the cafe at Long Barn, Caracoli or Tiffin Tea Rooms), there’s a feeling that everyday living can’t get much better than this.
First there’s Alresford’s stunning good looks – from charming flint and brick cottages on Pound Hill with classic chaotic country gardens to elegant Georgian houses colour washed in toning shades of duck egg, dove grey, pale green and cream on Broad Street. Ah yes, Broad Street: as broad as its name, edged with trees and described as one of the most beautiful streets in Hampshire.
Second there’s the shopping: from basics to luxuries encompassing everything you need and lots you don’t, but want really badly. Boutiques include Delilah, influenced by Scandi chic, Moda Rosa, so well-established it’s an institution with top names such as Amanda Wakeley and Weill, and Fitique for fashionable activewear (and fitness classes). There are interior stores to help you create the most inviting homes, among them Design Realities, Interior Style and More by Design. Families will like kiddies’ shops Billy Goat for cute shoes and Toy Box for old-fashioned fun. There are traditional shops you are delighted to discover have survived into the 21st century, the likes of Lawrence Oxley bookshop, selling books old and new and art materials. There’s also a sensational array of foodie and practical independents: not one top quality butcher’s, but two, and one of those has a terrific wet fish counter, a greengrocer with a colourful display of figs and sweet red peppers, the excellent Naked Grape with its wines sourced, tasted and selected by owner Simon Evans, and possibly the most stylish dry cleaners ever, The Alresford Linen Company, with Avoca coats and candles as well as laundry and repairs. Plus there are banks, bakeries and beauty salons, delis, dentists, florists, a proper hardware store, hair salons (such as prestigious Hair Art), gift shops (check out appropriately named Alresford Gift Shop), opticians, pharmacies and pet stores. It even has a great little library with an enticing display of cookery books when I was last there. For a small market town, the shopping experience is astonishing.
Third is the selection of eateries: from characterful old inns such as The Bell, The Horse & Groom, with 16th century origins, The Globe, with gardens overlooking Old Alresford pond and The Swan, undergoing a bit of a do-up, through popular Indian restaurants to Good Food Guide recommended Pulpo Negro tapas bar. There are plenty of country pubs to discover in the villages round and about - like The Ship Inn at Bishop’s Sutton, Tichborne Arms at Tichborne and The Bush at Ovington.
Four is events. Alresford has a whirlwind of a calendar. This is largely thanks to the Watercress Line, Alresford’s heritage steam railway named after the local superfood crop growing in the clear waters of the River Alre, which used to be transported to London on this line. The timetable includes Santa Specials and Thomas the Tank Engine days for children, and dining cars and real ale trains for excitable grown-ups. The town also holds weekly markets and hosts annual festivals, such as the Watercress Festival, Alresford Music Festival, Alresford Show, Alresford Fair and new Grange Festival, launched this June with a focus on performing world-class opera at The Grange, a neo-classical mansion in Northington, north of Old Alresford (itself just north of New Alresford).
Which brings us to number five: the area. If you like your scenery pastoral, this is it. It is a landscape where you can imagine family weekends roaming down footpaths. Alresford nudges up close to the South Downs National Park in a setting of chalk downland and verdant valleys, such as the Itchen Valley (home to West Lea Farm Shop and Andrew Smith & Son’s auction rooms held in a picturesque barn) and the Candover Valley (where there is a vineyard producing award-winning fizz). Despite this rural location, access to road networks is reasonable for the commuter as the A31 skirts the town, leading to the M3 in one direction and the A3 in the other.
Sixth is schooling. In Alresford, Sun Hill Infants is ‘outstanding’ says Ofsted, and Perins, at secondary level, is ‘good’. In nearby villages, Cheriton, Four Marks and Preston Candover Primaries are all ‘outstanding’, while Itchen Abbas, Ropley and Medstead Primaries are ‘good’. The only one not achieving top marks is Sun Hill Junior, although substantial improvements are being made according to its last Ofsted report. Otherwise local independents have strong reputations and include Prince’s Mead, a co-educational prep school at Abbots Worthy graded ‘excellent’ by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, and St Swithun’s on the outskirts of Winchester, one of the country’s leading independent schools for girls.
And finally: housing. Hankering after a tile hung farmhouse or thatched cottage in the country? A Georgian townhouse or red brick Victorian villa in town? Then you’re sorted as Alresford does period with panache, but it will come at a premium. However, there is also quality modern infill available, while tucked away beyond the station, significant development post-war has created estates of 1960s and 1970s properties, providing family homes on grass-verged roads. Not as pretty as the centre of Alresford, but making it possible for most to buy into the dream of the perfect market town, and sit in cafes and sigh contentedly.
Agent talk - Gordon Thoday, director, Hellards, Alresford
“Characterised by its elegant Georgian townhouses on tree-lined streets and its diverse mix of independent shops and businesses, the charming market town of Alresford is a huge draw, attracting people from far and wide. While many of the distinctive period homes in the town are Grade II listed, there are a surprising number of more modern homes, ranging from detached family properties to bungalows as well as Victorian semis, and the surrounding villages are overflowing with thatched cottages, accompanied by pubs, village halls and cricket pitches.
There is a steady flow of buyers wanting to move to this area and a number of new developments are currently underway to help satisfy demand from buyers, including six houses being built by Friday Street Developments in Ropley (due for completion in spring 2018), four detached homes built by Millgate Homes in South Road, Alresford, three of which are already under offer, and McCarthy and Stone retirement homes being built in The Dean in the centre of town. Further development in The Dean is planned and some years hence, a large development is planned on the eastern outskirts of the town.
As for myself; we discovered Alresford 16 years ago, when we were looking to move out of London for a better quality of life for our young children. We have never looked back and can vouch personally for the excellent local schools and the amazing, inclusive community spirit in the town.”
• What it’s like to live in Southampton - With redevelopment on an impressive scale, has Southampton’s ship finally come in, wonders Emma Caulton