Alresford's famous Watercress Festival took place recently after a three-year absence.

The festival, in its 18th year, saw people gather to enjoy watercress that has been grown locally in the chalk stream farms for over a century.

Hampshire Chronicle: Hook Morris dancers gather alongside the ladies of the Mayflower Morris and the two Suffolk punch drawn carriage with the King & Queen outside the Globe pub for the start of the procession Photo: Russell Sach

Established nearly twenty years ago by the watercress company to raise awareness to the health giving properties of the plant which grows naturally in chalk streams, the festival has grown, bringing in up to 10,000 visitors this year despite the wet weather.

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Hampshire Chronicle: Watercress is gathered in the old victorian way with Wicker flats at nearby Manor Farm before being transported by two rare breed Suffolk punch horses to the festival. Photo: Russell Sach

A procession in which the watercress King and Queen pronounced the festival open with their launching of bunches of the plant to the waiting crowds paved the way for a day in which cookery demonstrations, musical groups, a flash dance mob and the World Watercress eating championship helped raise money for local charity Abby’s Hero’s.

Hampshire Chronicle:

The day became progressively wetter but still the crowds watched cookery demonstrations by TV chefs Lesley Waters and Shelina Permaloo, as well as other popular chefs from local restaurants and hotels.  They enjoyed entertainment from live bands, choirs and even a surprise Flash mob who danced to ‘Footloose’ taking bystanders by surprise.

Hampshire Chronicle:

Perhaps the most anticipated event of the day, however, was the return of The World Watercress Eating Championships and the opportunity for anyone to pitch themselves against long standing champion Glenn Walsh.  Each contestant must try to eat 85g of watercress in the fastest time.  Alresford local, Glenn had won the title the previous 14 years but with a determined line up of 21 other hopefuls, including his own son, Connor, triplet daughters, Ellen, Laura and Beth, and even one competitor from Columbia, the competition looked daunting.  But, in the end there was no competition; Glenn seemed to almost inhale the watercress and ate it in an astonishing 25.5 seconds.  This annihilated his 2019 time of 42 seconds, let alone the official Guinness World Record held by Leah Shutkever from Redditch in Worcestershire with her 45.26 seconds!  What’s more when Glenn does finally lose his crown, it could well be to his daughter Laura who was runner up at 56 seconds!


The Alresford Watercress Festival is a celebration to mark the start of the UK watercress season and so, of course, there must be recognition of watercress in food.  Local traders attending the festival were invited to enter the award for ‘the most awesome use of watercress’.  This year it was won by Naomi Aylott for her wondrous watercress pesto.  Naomi heads up Naomi’s Preserves, based in Four Marks and handmakes her range of chutneys, condiments and jams.

A public recipe competition was also held.  Entitled ‘A dish fit for a Queen’ participants were invited to enter a savoury or sweet recipe that used only seven ingredients, including, of course, watercress.  The winner was Hope Talbot from Banbury with her watercress and asparagus crustless quiche with quail eggs.  The entries were judged and presented with their prizes by Lord Mayor of Winchester, Vivian Achwal and The Watercress Company’s Charles Barter.  One of the judges commented: “the recipe was an excellent use of local and seasonal produce, the combination of all the ingredients gave the quiche a good balance of flavours. Because it did not have a pastry base it was gluten free.”

Hampshire Chronicle:

Tom Amery, MD of The Watercress Company, a key supporter of the festival commented: “We can’t thank everyone enough for sticking it out in the pouring rain to make the 18th festival such a success.  It was so great to be back and to be able to celebrate the start of the UK watercress season in style.  Thanks too to all the stall holders, our guest speakers, chefs and entertainers, but most of all the over 120 volunteers who give their time so willingly and without whom there wouldn’t be a festival.  See you next year!”

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