Hampshire walk along the River Alre
PUBLISHED: 16:11 15 June 2015 | UPDATED: 16:11 15 June 2015
Follow Steve Davison to Hampshire’s ‘watercress capital’ for a peaceful walk alongside the River Alre, to the east of Winchester
Our walk this month starts from New Alresford – often just called ‘Alresford’ – a picturesque, small town dating from the late 12th century that was, for several hundred years, a prosperous wool town. Just to the north is Old Alresford which was mentioned in the 11th-century Domesday Book. Between the two Alresfords flows the clear waters of the River Alre, a classic ‘chalk stream’ that is ideal for growing watercress, and the town is known as Hampshire’s ‘watercress capital’.
Alresford is also the terminus of the Watercress Line (Mid-Hants Railway) which gained its name from the days when watercress was transported to markets in London. Take time to explore the station, or maybe take a ride on a train along the 10-mile stretch of preserved line to Alton with intermediate stops at Ropley – the railway’s engineering base – and Medstead & Four Marks (www.watercressline.co.uk; 01962 733810).
From the station car park the walk heads past the Church of St John the Baptist, which dates from the 13th century, although it was later rebuilt, except for the tower which dates from the 14th century. We then head north along Broad Street, lined with an impressive collection of colour-washed Georgian houses that grew from the ashes of two great fires in the late 17th and early 18th centuries that destroyed many of the older buildings. At number 27 a simple plaque mentions that the author, Mary Russell Mitford, was born there in 1787; her best known work was Our Village, a collection of short stories based upon life in the village of Three Mile Cross.
After passing the former Town Mill, the walk follows a short section of the Wayfarer’s Walk to arrive at a picture-postcard thatched cottage straddling the River Alre. For several hundred years this was a water-powered fulling mill where raw wool cloth was washed and thickened. The route then passes areas of watercress beds near Pinglestone Farm before heading to Manor Farm and following hedge-lined tracks down to Fobdown Farm. Here the walk rejoins the Wayfarer’s Walk and then follows the peaceful River Alre back towards Alresford, passing the Eel House on the way.
Built in the 1820s, the Eel House was where eels migrating down the river were trapped for eating (limited opening: www.towntrust.org.uk/eel_house.htm). Each year eels migrate down the rivers and head across the Atlantic to reach their spawning grounds in the Sargasso Sea.
The walk leaves behind the river and heads up The Dean and then along West Street; the building on the left, at the junction, was the original home of Perins School founded by Dr Henry Perin in 1697. Continue along West Street past shops and tea rooms to reach The Bell Inn which dates from 1767, and head past the 18th-century Swan Hotel back to the car park.
• Distance: 4.5 miles (7.1km)
• Time: 2 hours without stops
• Terrain: Gentle ups and downs, tracks and paths which can be muddy, sections of country lane
• Start/Finish: Alresford Station car park (pay and display) access from West Street (B3047) in Alresford just off the A31; grid ref SU588324
• Map: OS Explorer 132
• Refreshments: Choice of pubs and cafes in Alresford centre
1 (SU588324) – From the car park, head northwards away from the station following Station Road for 50m and fork right along a tarmac path between walls. Continue through the churchyard, passing to the left of the St John the Baptist Church, to reach the junction of West Street, East Street and Broad Street. Cross straight over following Broad Street (B3046) – site of the weekly Thursday market, keeping to the left-hand side (lookout for the plaque at number 27). Keep left and head down Mill Hill soon passing the former Town Mill rebuilt in the 1890’s and then turn left along Ladywell Lane to its end. Keep ahead along the path, soon with the River Alre on the right, to reach a thatched cottage (former mill). At the path junction immediately after the cottage, turn right and follow the gravel drive to a lane.
2 (SU584332) – Turn left for 100m past watercress beds (to the left and right of the road) and then go right along the track. Once level with the houses, continue along a parallel path on the right and enter a field. Follow the field edge, go through a kissing gate and then along the enclosed path. Continue along the track, keeping right at the split to pass to the right of a converted thatch-roofed barn at Manor Farm. Follow the tarmac drive and where this bears right, turn left up along the hedge-lined track (Oxdrove Way).
3 (SU585339) – Follow the track for slightly under three-quarters of a mile, keeping straight on at the first junction (Oxdrove Way goes left). At the second junction, turn left down the hedge-lined byway. Continue down past houses and farm buildings at Fobdown Farm and turn left up along the lane for 400m, to arrive at a track junction on the right. Turn right down the track to a junction and go left along the tree-shaded byway (Wayfarer’s Walk), heading gently uphill and then down to a lane.
4 (SU573327) – Turn left for 50m and fork right along the enclosed path. Keep ahead over the drive and at the path junction take the right-hand fork down to the River Alre. Cross over the footbridge and continue alongside the river, soon passing the Eel House. At The Dean (road) turn right up to West Street. Turn left, and once level with The Bell Inn, turn right across the road and follow Station Road back to the car park.
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