We have been really lucky this year to housesit (twice!) for our friends, Katharine and Craig, in Alresford. They live in a gorgeous little house with a big garden, a wood-burner, their two children and a cat called Flapjack. As we are living with Chris's parents to try and save for our own house we jumped at the opportunity! We spent two weeks in the summer having braais nearly everyday, spending the evenings in pub gardens and going for walks. More recently we had a week in Autumn where we enjoyed the wood-burner, cosy pubs and tea and cake in all the little cafes. I've been to Alresford loads of times, but it was so awesome to be able to totally immerse ourselves in it and have the time to really make the most of it. I thought I'd share a few of my favourite things...
1. The Watercress Line
Who doesn't love a steam train? Is it just me? It might be something from my childhood... my dad always used to take us to see steam trains in South Africa. My grandad used to work on them shovelling coal. The Watercress Line runs between Alresford and Alton and is so cute! We did the Ale Train which was brilliant... you just sit on a lovely old train and drink ale whilst watching the world go by. They have all sorts of interesting themed train rides if you don't just fancy a bit of nostalgia.
2. The Millennium Trail
This is a really well planned out walk. If it is your first visit or you want to just explore a bit more and find out about the town, there is a website which we followed last time we were there and it was actually really good! We started at the train station, walked through the church yard, past all the little shops, the old fire station and cottages, along the stream, past the fulling mill and eel house... and found out all sorts of interesting facts I didn't know before. It is a really easy walk that hardly takes any time at all, definitely doesn't require hiking boots and you get to see all the key landmarks... I can highly recommend it!
3. The Shops
Oh my gosh, anyone who lives here is so spoilt for shops! Cute little gift shops, an amazing florist, an old bookshop with books packed to the roof. Even the hardware shop and the dry cleaners are good and stocked with all sorts of exciting goodies. The dry cleaners is definitely the poshest dry cleaners I've even seen with colourful rugs and a woven laundry basket that was about £120 and I absolutely need in my life. They have a grocer, deli, bakery, fishmonger and two butcheries. Where else has two butcheries!!?
4. The Restaurants
For a small town, again you are spoilt for choice... all of the pubs serve good food, there are two Indian restaurants, Chinese, Fish and Chips, Pizza Express and Pulpo Negro. Pulpo Negro is a little Tapas Restaurant on Broad Street. It is the best Tapas I've ever had. We've been loads of times now for birthday and anniversary meals, we've been a few times with Chris's family and everyone I know who has been believe it rivals a lot of top London restaurants. I think it is so good, I have written a separate blog post about it.
5. The Walks and Countryside
There are numerous walks in and around Alresford. I love that in 5-10 mins you are surrounded by trees, water and open spaces. And with all the countryside comes wildlife :-) I've seen deer, owls and all sorts of birdlife!
6. The Pubs
Within walking distance from Katharine and Craig's house (and probably any other house in Alresford), there are 4 pubs:
- The Globe - they have the best beer garden next to the lake
- The Horse and Groom - the food is good and they have a gin club (which I will be joining when we move there one day!)
- The Bell Inn - super cosy and friendly with a little pub garden courtyard out the back
- The Cricketers - this was our most local. The staff were super friendly. They have a huge garden and a pizza oven!
Four pubs!!! Every house I've ever lived in in the UK I've only had one pub in walking distance, sometimes half an hour away. Never mind having 4 pubs in walking distance, they are all lovely, cosy, friendly pubs with good food and drinks. We did our own little pub crawl, it was great. In addition to this they also have the Ship Inn in Bishop Sutton, which is about a 2 minute drive away and The Flower Pots Inn in Cheriton, which is a slightly longer drive, but they have their own brewery and do takeaways, where people bring their own bottles to fill with beer to take home. They also have a lovely handpainted sign... Sigh!
7. The Cafes
If the pubs weren't enough, you need to see the cafes. They are on every corner. I think we tried nearly all of them... and definitely had to go on diet when we got home after all that tea and cake! You have a choice of awesome breakfasts, afternoon tea and cakes galore!
- The Courtyard Tea Room - Super cute little tea room down an alleyway off Broad Street. As Alresford is famous for watercress, I thought I better try their watercress scones and they were very good!
- Caracoli - Gah, this place is gorgeous! On a Saturday morning there is a long queue of patient people waiting for their coffee. They sell all sorts of little goodies and foodie products. The breakfast options are fab and the coffee is goooood!
- Heidi's Patisserie - I obviously had to go here as it is named after me! It is more of a bakery than a tea shop. If you eat in it is more basic than the other tea shops, but the cakes are good and they sell all sorts of fresh bread and other baked goodies.
- Tiffin Tea Rooms - Fab little tea room for afternoon tea. The cake is good and they have an extensive tea menu which Chris and I found exciting - I love trying out new teas. It is always packed!
- Long Barn - This is a 2 minute drive out of Alresford on the way to Bishop Sutton. It is fab fab fab! It is a sort of posh garden centre/ gift shop/ coffee shop/ lavender farm/ distillery in a big old barn and is super popular. There are loads of interesting goodies, I wanted all of them and couldn't afford any of them (except two or three little things I may have bought!).
- Mange2 Deli - We didn't actually eat here, but stopped to see what it was like and it is super cute and worth mentioning. The shop is a brilliant well stocked deli and in the back they have a few tables where they serve coffee, cake, smoothies etc...
8. And finally... the Community
Every time I visit Katharine, she is chatting to other locals in the shops and out and about when she bumps into people. I see this with everyone there, even though it is a small town it feels more like a village. There are loads of annual events that bring everyone together... I've been to a couple so far, which were really good:
- The Watercress Festival
- The Alresford Show
- Bonfire Night
- Broad Street Open Gardens
- Alresford 10k
- Etc etc.