Watercress new gourmet countryside tour launched

Visitors to Winchester are being invited to step out along the Winchester Watercress Tour and discover the tastes, trails and tales of an area famed for its bountiful rivers, watercress beds and rolling pastures.

Designed to encourage visitors to the city to get out and explore some of Hampshire’s finest countryside, the new self-guided tour includes opportunities to stop off en-route to meet local producers and sample tasty local fare, such as watercress, trout and real ale. The leaflet also incorporates an overview of the history of the ‘watercress villages’ along the way.

Winchester City Council's Acting Head of Tourism Karen Brazier explained: "Winchester is already an established destination for British visitors. But the city is surrounded by towns and villages, landscapes and attractions which all have their own, very appealing character. We hope to persuade visitors to broaden their horizons and lengthen their stays in this area – so supporting the rural economy."

Conscious of the need to preserve the charm of the countryside through which the trail passes, there is a strong emphasis on walking, cycling and riding. Walking and cycling routes criss-cross the map, encouraging visitors to park and explore in a greener way, taking in a lungful of Hampshire air and a spot of exercise on the way.

The tour also tells the fascinating history of the Meon Valley Railway, which once linked Fareham to Alton. Whilst local people fondly remember the trains and stations of the Strawberry Line, as it was called, little can be seen today of the original engineering.

Instead, the former track, which is benefiting from a programme of refurbishment and interpretation thanks to Hampshire County Council, now provides a scenic country route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.

Winchester City Council is launching The Winchester Watercress Tour at the Watercress Extravaganza, a weekend celebrating the start of the season of Britain’s most historic salad leaf, over the 29 and 30 May 2004, with a host of family entertainment in and around the village of Ropley and the Georgian town of Alresford – the UK’s capital of watercress farming.

Karen added: "This is just the beginning of our adventures in watercress territory. We hope to develop the tour to include special events, guided tours and bus excursions in due course."