A UNIQUE annual sponsored walk has raised nearly £15,000.

walk the Line gives people the chance to go along the track of the Watercress Line between Ropley and Alresford.

More than 950 walkers, including children and dogs, dusted off their walking boots recently to raise over £14,750 to preserve an important part of the steam railway.

Families took part in either a three, six or ten-mile walk, each offering them the opportunity to experience the railway from a completely different view and enjoy a peaceful stroll in the heart of quintessential English countryside.

David Brace, Walk the Line organiser, said: “Walk The Line is a fantastic opportunity for all the family to see the Watercress Line from a different view and play an important part in securing its future.

“On behalf of all of the staff and volunteers at the Watercress Line, I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who took part in this year’s annual walk. The money raised will go a long way to keeping Hampshire’s heritage railway on track.”

The funds raised from the sponsored walk will be used to re-ballast a section of 1,000 yards of track at Wanders Curve between Medstead and Four Marks and Ropley and maintain the trackbed.

The Mid Hants Railway Ltd, famously nicknamed ‘The Watercress Line’ in the early 20th century for its role in transporting the crop to London, is Hampshire’s only standard gauge heritage railway.

It runs for 10 miles through idyllic countryside along the border of the South Downs National Park, between the market towns of Alton and Alresford. Opened on the 2nd October 1865 as the Alton, Alresford and Winchester Railway, it became part of British Railways until its hotly contested closure in 1973. The line and services were quickly reinstated by a dedicated preservation group and today the Watercress Line is one of the south’s premier visitor attractions, attracting 125,000 visitors annually with a turnover in excess of £2m.

The railway employs 50 staff and five engineering apprentices, and is supported by over 450 dedicated volunteers which without it could not function. It is committed to preserving Hampshire’s railway heritage and maintains a fleet of steam and diesel locomotives, rolling stock and infrastructure, creating the essence of a bygone age. As a living history attraction, it provides a comprehensive timetable from February to October and throughout December with standard running days and many special events including ‘Day Out With Thomas’, War on the Line, Wizard Weekend, Steam Galas and Santa Specials. Other popular services include the famous Real Ale Train (RAT), The Watercress Belle and the Countryman Dining trains.