Come Christmas time, Emma Caulton heads to Alresford for present purchases, but wonders if she should be picking up a property too?

Do you feel a slight twinge of envy when someone says they live in New Alresford? I do! I was at a Christmas-themed wine tasting at Naked Grape the other evening (independent wine merchant on New Alresford’s West Street), and not only was proprietor Simon Evans as delightful as ever, but everyone seemed to know each other; many lived round and about or ran local businesses. There was an enviable camaraderie and I couldn’t help but think how pleasant it must be to live in Alresford (the New tends to get dropped). It has the community chumminess of a big village, the good looks of a Georgian market town (painted various shades of Farrow & Ball), and the loveliest collection of quality independents.

For locals there is everything they need and quite a lot they want, but don’t necessarily need. There is the traditional, the old-fashioned and the essential – I’m thinking Morgan’s hardware merchant, Laurence Oxley (second-hand bookshop-cum-gallery) and top notch butchers’, fishmonger, greengrocer, delis and bakeries. Then there are enough boutiques to delight the most dedicated fashionista – with everything from the chicest designer labels to stylish (and more affordable) ‘not on the high street’ names. There are home interiors stores supplying everything from swish kitchens to funky lightshades – perfect for sourcing all your redecorating and refurbishing requirements once you’ve bought your Alresford home. Complete the look with a floral display from Wildbunch florists (also on West Street). In short it is the sort of shopping experience you would expect in one of London’s ‘villages’ – I’m thinking Barnes and that ilk.

Another asset is Alresford’s picture postcard perfect location. The River Arle runs between New and Old Alresford (Old Alresford is mentioned in the Domesday Book whereas New Alresford didn’t come into existence until 1200 or so). Its clear waters support the watercress beds for which the area is known (hence the Watercress Line - the town’s popular heritage line - and the annual Watercress Festival). But it is also surrounded by the loveliest countryside. Beyond Old Alresford the lane winds towards the Candover Valley and the Wields. On the other side is the lush Itchen Valley and wide expanse of the South Downs. This is walking country, and those walks can lead to a good country pub or two. Just one or two favourites include The Bush at Ovington (17th century pub on the banks of the Itchen), The Tichborne Arms at Tichborne (unpretentious thatched country local) and The English Partridge at Bighton (friendly traditional country pub).

Alresford itself has a number of good inns (such as The Bell, The Horse & Groom, The Globe and The Swan), a funky tapas bar (Polpo Negro) and I see The Ship Inn down the road at Bishop’s Sutton is newly refurbished and getting good reviews. Plus there’s a plethora of tea rooms and coffee shops – like Tiffin Tea Rooms and Long Barn Cafe (the latter further along East Street).

So, what’s the price of living in a town like this? The grand period properties down lovely tree-lined Broad Street attract a premium and include elegant Georgian townhouses. There are some attractive quaint old terraced cottages, too – take a look along East Street and down The Dean. However, there’s much more to Alresford’s housing stock. Around and beyond the Watercress Line is a lot of late 20th century development with quiet closes of family homes which offer value for money.

The area does attract families - drawn by quality of life and the local schools, rated at least ‘good’ by Ofsted. Sun Hill Infants is ‘outstanding’, Sun Hill Junior is ‘good’, Cheriton primary is ‘outstanding’ and Perins (sports college and secondary school with academy status) is ‘good’ – and none of them are over-subscribed.

The other thing about Alresford is that there always seems to be things to do. Its events calendar includes weekly markets (it’s not a market town in name alone), regular happenings at the Watercress Line (have you booked your Santa Special treat yet?), aforementioned Watercress Festival, Music Festival, Alresford Show and Michaelmas Fair.

For home-workers there’s a chance for a get-together (with lap tops) down the pub. Alresford also offers a gentle way of life that can appeal to retirees and semi-retirees.

Downsides. Well there have to be one or two. Too much traffic (probably due to lorries transporting salad stuff) and too little parking. But then if you live there, it’s all just a stroll away.

By the way that Christmas ‘wine’ tasting I mentioned? It included a very nice Hampshire sparkling cider, as crisp as a good prosecco, a delicious rather modern port (direct from the producer) and Naked Grape’s own sloe gin (made to Simon’s recipe). So, if you’re thinking of moving to Alresford, try the shops first. It’ll give you a rather nice taste for the place.

Agent talk - Gordon Thoday, Director, Hellards, Alresford

Alresford is a charming Georgian market town that attracts people because of its eclectic mix of independent shops, the strong local community and its beautiful setting, located on the edge of the South Downs National Park. Despite having the feeling of being off the beaten track, nearby road and rail links allow easy access to London, the South Coast, Midlands and beyond.

It is the relaxed pace of life which often appeals when people ‘discover’ Alresford. With its clear chalk streams, beautiful country walks and traditional market town atmosphere, the feel of the town reminds one of the days when there was more time to appreciate a better quality of life.

The town has a varied mixture of properties ranging from mediaeval townhouses in East Street and Broad Street to more modern houses and bungalows on the edge of the town. The pretty villages surrounding Alresford have an abundance of charming oak-beamed cottages, often with thatched roofs, facing onto village greens.

We are also blessed with many excellent pubs nearby. There are several in Alresford itself while others can be found along circular walks through lovely Hampshire countryside.


What the market town of Romsey has to offer - As the market town gears up for Christmas along with the big boys, we went to see what it has to offer shoppers and tourists. The answer is a lot