Celebrate the Wonderful World of Watercress at the Alresford Watercress Festival. On Sunday 20 May join the thousands of foodies who converge on the market town of Alresford, Hampshire to celebrate the Annual Alresford Watercress Festival.
Alresford is a Georgian gem nestled in the heart of the beautiful South Downs near Britain’s ancient Saxon capital, Winchester. Every year it gives itself over to celebrations of the crop that for over 150 years has given the town its unique identity as the ‘Capital of Watercress’. At its peak, in Victorian times, Alresford even had its own railway line which was given the pseudonym the ‘Watercress Line’ since its main purpose was to transport the handpicked bunches of watercress from the watercress beds that proliferated in the area, direct to Covent Garden Market.
Today, visitors to the town can arrive at the Festival using the same Watercress Line and while the acres of watercress beds are somewhat fewer, Alresford remains one of the prime watercress producing areas in the UK, still using the traditional growing methods that utilise the clear, flowing spring waters that have filtered down through the ancient chalk hills of the South Downs.
The Festival, now in its 14th year, is the ultimate celebration of watercress with the chance for visitors to enjoy all kinds of family fun including a raft of edible watercress treats from watercress sausages, burgers, bread, fudge and ice cream to watercress beer and gin, available from over 80 stalls that line the streets. Local pubs and restaurants will also be serving a range of watercress infused dishes especially for the Festival. A key attraction for the Festival are cookery demonstrations by local chefs to educate spectators about the versatility of watercress with mouth-watering recipes to try at home, while the afternoon brings a demo of slightly less educational value but which for many is the hilarious highlight of the day – the annual World Watercress Eating Championships. Entrance is free for anyone to try their hand at winning the title by consuming 85g of watercress in the fastest time; last year’s time to beat is 37.6 seconds!
The day begins at 10am with live music from local jazz bands while at 10.30am a horse and cart carrying the Watercress King & Queen leads a cavalcade of Morris dancers, musicians and school children through the town liberally dispensing bags of freshly picked watercress to the waiting crowds.
The principal sponsor of the Alresford Watercress Festival is the NFU Watercress Association, which since 1936 has looked after the interests of watercress growers in England. Watercress farmers from the UK’s two biggest watercress growers, The Watercress Company and Vitacress will be at the Festival to demonstrate the unique growing process of watercress, discuss the health benefits of this original superfood, and explain the extraordinary history of this very British crop which will have just come into season. The Watercress Festival is, in fact, the start of National Watercress Week to mark the beginning of the UK watercress season.
The Alresford Watercress Festival runs from 10am to 4pm and is supported by Alresford Chamber of Commerce, New Alresford Town Council, Hampshire Farmers Market and a host of Community Groups. It is free to attend although there is a parking charge in Alresford’s car parks or at the Park & Ride at Ropley from where the steam train brings festival goers into Alresford on the Watercress Line. Free bags of watercress plus samples of delicious and healthy watercress smoothie, or watercress pesto, are available but the organisers do urge visitors to give a donation to the Joe Glover Trust, a wonderful local children’s cancer charity in return.
With local arts and crafts stalls, music, children’s entertainment and fabulous food, the Alresford Watercress Festival is a great day out for all the family.