Steam, Tranquil Rivers & Watercress
4th May 2018
A 10km (6 mile) circular walk from Arlesford, the watercress capital of England and around the beautiful Hampshire countryside.
We started the trek by having a look around Arlesford Station on the preserved heritage railway known as ‘The Watercress Line’. The station was open but unfortunately no trains were running today, apart from a couple of diesels that they were restocking with beer ready for the ale train that would be running later in the week. The Mid Hants railway started in 1865 and was intended to link Alton with the main route from London to Southampton, the line was in full service for 108 years, playing an important role in both wars before it was closed in 1973. It has since been restored and is now a successful visitor attraction.
We left the station and headed to Broad Street in the centre of this beautiful Georgian town, that for many years was a prosperous wool town and is now the UK’s capital for watercress. Before we turned off of Broad Street and headed to the watercress beds we caught sight of the tiny old fire station that was built in 1882 to originally house a horse drawn fire engine.
At the northern end of town we took the Wayfarers Way trail to the tranquil River Arle, with it’s crystal clear waters and gently wavering riverbed plants that can have you memorised for ages. We continued for a short way along the river and came to ‘Fulling Mill’ that dates from the 13th century, it was built to make the fulling of cloth easier and for many centuries the hammering of the fulling stocks would have been heard as they tightened and shrunk cloth into a closely woven product. The mill was disused in the early 19th century when larger mills took over this process. We crossed the river at the mill and headed towards Old Arlesford passing the first watercress beds of the trek, some empty and presumably resting whilst others were a sea of vibrant green as the watercress is coming into full bloom.
Just on the outskirts of Old Arlesford we headed east on quite a defined bridlepath through the bright yellow fields of rape. With a slight incline we followed this path all the way to Abbotstone, the site of an old medieval village. The distinct ridges in the ground indicate where the village once stood and the few trees standing eerily amongst the mounds could probably tell a story or two.
We joined a minor road here which led us through this tiny hamlet with its many river tributaries and we then headed up to ‘Itchen Stoke Down’. After climbing for some time we were due for a well earned break and at the cross paths near the top we decided to stop and to take in the varied wildlife such as the yellow tipped butterfly, cowslip growing in the path edges and kites hovering above, looking for their next meal. I also tucked into a pink kitkat that i bought earlier, which was made from the new rose chocolate. We took in and admired the great views across the Hampshire countryside to the edges of Winchester where the white domes of the science museum could be picked out too. The raised mounds of the tumuli in the surrounding fields that are known as Itchen Stoke Down Barrows were also clearly visible too.
Continuing on the Wayfarers Way we then headed back down towards Arlesford passing further watercress beds before reaching the River Arle again, where wildfowl such as ducks with their ducklings and little egrets were going about their business. We also met up with a swan that albeit behind a fence was very grand in it’s demeanour.
We strolled along the banks back towards the town, passing the ‘Eel House’ that straddles the river. Built in the 1820’s its purpose was on dark moonless nights between August and November to trap mature eels at the start of their amazing migratory journey to the sargasso sea. For more than 160 years the river keepers would catch the eels in nets and sell them live to merchants from billingsgate market. It was only a short walk back from here through the town and past the church to the station that completed this months trek.
This months recipe is inspired from the fresh watercress that was seen growing in the fields.
Linguine with Watercress and Almond Pesto
- 200g linguine or spaghetti
- 85g bag watercress
- 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
- 25g parmesan (or vegetarian alternative), half grated, half shaved
- 50g toasted flaked almond
- 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp sugar
- Cook the pasta following pack instructions. Meanwhile, put the watercress and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and blend for a few secs until finely chopped. Add the grated cheese, half the almonds, the olive oil, lemon juice and sugar. Season well, then blend until you have a smooth purée consistency.
- When the linguine is cooked, drain, reserving a cup of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pan and pour over the pesto, using a little pasta water to loosen the sauce if necessary. Stir everything together and divide between 2 bowls. To serve, top with the shaved cheese and remaining almonds.