How many crops can boast a railway line named after them?
Not many, if any, but in Hampshire one heritage train line still steaming through the countryside certainly can.
The Mid Hants Railway is known as the Watercress Line thanks to its history of transporting watercress to the UK’s fresh produce markets during the industry’s heyday in Victorian times.
Today it is one of the country’s most successful heritage railways, and celebrates its historic links each May with a special service to the nationally acclaimed Watercress Festival – which also features a watercress eating championship!
Festivalgoers can travel on the train to Alresford, known as the Capital of Watercress, for the Alresford Watercress Festival(Sunday 19 May 2019) to celebrate the start of the UK watercress season.
Passengers can step back in time and travel on the steam train following part of the journey the tonnes of watercress harvested fresh from the Hampshire watercress beds would have taken to London’s Covent Garden Market.
But as well as the watercress service – and regular ‘hop on and off’ steam train rides running February until October each year – real ale fans have their own special too.
The Watercress Line celebrates Hampshire’s breweries with itsvery popular Real Ale Train,or RAT as it is affectionately known, serving real ale from a restored bar carriage pulled by a steam locomotive. Running weekend evenings until the end of July, up to two local breweries from Hampshire and the surrounding counties are selected for each train, but there is a full bar serving wine, cider, spirits, mixers and soft drinks, plus hot food.Train fares for 2019 are £16 per person and £3 per pint, and there is also a chance to exclusively reserve a compartment, holding up to eight people, for the evening (£55).
This heritage railway was saved from total extinction by a band of enthusiastic volunteers in 1973, and today operates a fleet of steam locomotives, most of them larger classes because of the steeply graded line, which runs 10 miles between the market towns of Alresford and Alton.
Among highlights is the country station of Medstead and Four Marks and Ropley station, with its elevated picnic area as well as the famous Kings Cross footbridge, which was removed from Kings Cross during the station’s upgrade and re-installed in its new Hampshire home in 2013.
During its time at King’s Cross the Grade 1 listed bridge appeared in many films, including ‘The 39 steps’ and most famously the Harry Potter movies, making it a ‘set jetting’ destination for fans.
And the steam railway celebrates those links with its Wizard Weekend (26th – 27th October 2019), when visitors can walk in Harry Potter’s footsteps on the footbridge, borrow Hogwarts costumes to dress up in character and take a trip on the Wizard Express steam train in Harry Potter style coaches, one of which featured in the films.
The railway is open weekends from mid February – October, with additional midweek running May – September and open every day in August. Standard fares for all day travel: adult £16; child (5-16) £8; child (4 and under) free; family (2 adults + 2 children) £40.
For full details about The Mid Hants Railway Watercress Line, see www.watercressline.co.uk
All tourist information for Hampshire can be found at http://www.visit-hampshire.co.uk.