Pound for pound, watercress contains more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk, and more iron than spinach. But it only found a place on the nation’s tables in the early 19th century, when growers in Kent began to cultivate it hygenically in running water. From Kent, it spread to the Thames Valley, and then to the chalk streams of Hampshire and Dorset with which it is most closely connected today. Even now, the Alton to Alresford steam railway is known as the Watercress Line.
Where to stay
Hampshire’s beguiling, ancient New Forest, expansive farmland and maritime splendour secure its place on any must-visit British destination list
For a warm welcome
Chewton Glen (01425 275341; www.chewtonglen.com) on the edge of the New Forest National Park at New Milton provides true English hospitality. Set in 130 acres, this five-star hotel has a three AA-rosette restaurant
A little further up the coast, at Milford On Sea, stands Victorian Westover Hall Hotel (01590 643044; www.westoverhallhotel.com). Built by the architect Arnold Mitchell in 1897, the Grade II-listed mansion enjoys panoramic views over Christchurch Bay, the Isle of Wight and the Needles. It even has a private beach hut
For a romantic weekend
It’s hard to imagine a more picturesque setting for a hotel than that occupied by The Master Builder’s (0844 815 3399; www.themasterbuilders.co.uk), which looks out over the Beaulieu River
For history buffs
Luttrell’s Tower (01628 825925; www.landmarktrust.org.uk), a Georgian folly, stands on the shore of the Solent at Eaglehurst. It sleeps four and was built for Temple Luttrell, an MP who was reputedly also a smuggler
For woodland walks
It’s in the heart of the New Forest, but Lime Wood (023-8028 7177; www.limewoodhotel.co.uk) is still just an hour and a half’s drive from London. This elegantly renovated Regency property was originally established as a hunting lodge in the 13th century
What to look for
In June, there are sedge warblers and chicks on Milton Common, common terns and oystercatchers at Hayling Island, swifts, swallows and house martins at Sandy Point and skylarks on the Downs. Mottisfont Abbey on the River Test arguably boasts the county’s finest June rose display. Portsdown is a great place to wander among pyramidal orchids, squinancywort and harebell.