Country mouse sees Britain at its best

If one swallow doesn’t make a summer, the arrival of the swifts certainly does. Naturally, I heard them before I saw them, screaming across the skies above Petersfield in Hampshire and, as if on cue, the sun burst out. At this time of year, you can almost watch the plants growing before your eyes.

It was a perfect day for the Alresford Watercress Festival and, like many events over the next few weeks, it began in a car park conjured out of a field. The squashed cowpats scented the heavy air as we were herded up the hill to Ropley station, where a steam train waited to take us into Alresford itself.

Never has a park and ride matched this one. Alresford is one of Britain’s near-perfect market towns. The River Itchen is joined here by the River Arle and these chalkstreams provide the watercress that gives the fair its name. It couldn’t have been more English: morris dancers, local real ales, Hampshire’s answer to Champagne from Hattingley Valley, local pork-local everything.

The Hedges were selling my wife’s Tunworth cheese, which became deliciously runny in the heat and nobody seemed to mind licking their fingers after scooping some off a plate. Nobody seemed to mind anything; it was Britain at its best and without a care in the world.

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