THE annual Watercress Festival will take place in Alresford next month, one of the biggest events in Hampshire.

On Sunday May 18 the town will celebrate its iconic produce with the sale of watercress ice cream, cakes, soup and even watercress beer from 10am-4pm. Crowds have topped more than 10,000-strong.

At 10.30am freshly cut cress will be brought to Broad Street on a traditional horse and cart which will also carry the newly crowned watercress King and Queen to hand out the freshest crop.

The cart will be followed by a procession of Morris dancers, musicians and school children as they parade through the town.

There will be cookery demonstrations by local award winning chefs, Andy MacKenzie of Lainston House, James Durrant, chef proprietor of the Plough Inn in Longparish and Robert Quehan, head chef of the Holiday Inn in Winchester, as well as a demo by internationally acclaimed food writer and author Lucas Hollweg.

They will provide a number of watercress recipes developed specifically for the festival.

Mr Hollweg and local MP Steve Brine will also be judging the Watercress Food Awards. The awards are open to all festival stall holders, eateries and food producers in Alresford, and there are four categories: sausages and burgers, soups and sauces, sweet treats and most innovative.

The principal sponsor, the Watercress Alliance, will have experts on hand to talk about the history, health benefits and the growing and harvesting of this ancient crop. Tours of Pinglestone Farm, a watercress farm within walking distance of the town, will take place to show firsthand how it is harvested. Please book these tours in advance by calling Jess Mason on 01264 732009.

The Watercress Festival is free to attend with the only charge being the car park in Alresford or at the Park and Ride in Ropley where visitors can start their day in old fashioned style by hopping on the Watercress Line steam train to the festival. The event is sponsored by Alresford Chamber of Commerce, New Alresford Town Council, The Watercress Alliance, Hampshire Farmers Market, The Co-operative, Charters Estate Agents and a host of community groups.

It marks the start of National Watercress Week which runs from May 18–24.