The Dawn to Dusk Day on Sunday 30 April 2017 was very well supported.
The Watercress Way trustees were delighted with the support of many local people on our activity day on Sunday April 30th.
Much of the day was focused on the route of the old Mid Hants railway, dubbed the Watercress Line, in the upper Itchen Valley.
The old railway at Kings Worthy was the site for our morning activities.
There was a very early start for 26 people who identified 26 bird species starting at 4.45am near Worthy Down Halt.
It was a beautiful morning and walkers enjoyed the circular walk from the halt to South Wonston and back.
We were expertly led by Phil Jeffs ably supported by Trustees Clive Cook and Phil Allen in identifying birds heard and occasionally seen.
Highlights were blackcaps, whitethroats and a close-up view of a yellowhammer. Read more.
At the more civilised hour of 11am over 40 children and their families went on a half kilometre mouse house hunt from Woodhams Farm.
Local artists had donated beautiful unique mini doors we hid along the old track for the children to hunt, some of which had tiny cast iron mice waiting behind them.
A ‘walk on the wildside’ from Couch Green attracted 20 people, and all got to The Plough safely!
Trustee botanist Jim Thompson from Alresford led this gentle ramble identifying plants.
We found King Alfred’s Cakes fungi used as medieval tinderboxes, Lords and Ladies lilies and an ancient oak tree which preceded the railway line construction in the 19th C.
It was amazing to see how plants have taken over since the era of steam and early diesel trains- this line only shut in 1973. Read more.
At Itchen Stoke the demands of the digital age meant a generator was needed in the church with no mainline electricity to power a laptop and projector for our guest speaker: Peter Clark.
His expertise on the history of the Watercress Line and the Didcot to Winchester lines was enjoyed by over 30 people.
It was fascinating to compare current well known landscapes and buildings with the rare images he has collected of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Images ranged from the watercress flatbed horse drawn carts used to the incredible engineering works needed to create the railways.
We take so much of our local landscape for granted yet so much has been crafted by pickaxes and human sweat!
The exhibitions at The Wonston Arms and Itchen Stoke Church attracted a steady flow of interested visitors with maps available to see the Watercress route.
The excitement and interest of 1 to 90 year olds, generated by the Dawn to Dusk day made the efforts by our local charity incredibly worthwhile.
We raised many gift-aided donations, which will help us to continue waymarking and opening up more access to the 26 miles for a wider group of visitors including cyclists, horse riders and the disabled.
So, what’s next for The Watercress Way?
Our focus over the next year is to finalise the route with as much access to the two old railway lines as possible, and publish routes for walkers, cyclists and horse riders with useful parking and stopover points.
The northern section of the route between Alresford and Sutton Scotney via Micheldever woods is along established bridleways such as The Oxdrove and minor roads, and this will be waymarked over the summer with help from The Ramblers.
Then HCC will adopt the route formally and it will feature on OS maps.
Our fund raising continues, and we have been successful recently in some grant applications including Hampshire County Council and one from Boomtown, awarded via the Itchen Valley Parish Council.
Each waymarker costs about £2 (with over 20 needed per kilometre in some sections!) and the interpretation boards we have started to design cost over £500 each.
We are updating our Strategic Plan which includes timelines for more clearance and maintenance of the old railway lines
We have planned to contact a wider number of local businesses to help sponsor our costs, with several local pubs already supporting us.
The Watercress Way trustees welcome others to help as friends of the route- you don’t need a hedge trimmer or pickaxe to help keep the railway sections clear you might like instead to help on a focus group or help design our interpretation boards, website content and future leaflets.
See our website for details, photos and videos