THE market town of Alresford hosts the annual Watercress Festival tomorrow.

Now in its 14th year, the festival is the ultimate celebration of watercress with the chance for visitors to enjoy all kinds of family fun.

This year’s free event will feature a huge variety of watercress treats, from watercress sausages, burgers, bread, fudge and ice cream to watercress beer and gin, available from more than 80 stalls that will line the streets.

Pubs and restaurants will also be serving a range of watercress-infused dishes especially for the festival.

A key attraction is the cookery demonstrations by local chefs, designed to educate spectators about the versatility of watercress, with a wide range of recipes to try at home.

The afternoon will feature the hilarious highlight of the day - the annual World Watercress-eating Championships. Entry is free for anyone wanting to try their hand at winning the title by consuming 85g of watercress in the fastest time. Last year’s winning time was 37.6 seconds!

The day will begin at 10am with live music from jazz bands.

At 10.30am, a horse and cart carrying the Watercress King and Queen will lead a cavalcade of Morris dancers, musicians and schoolchildren through the town, liberally dispensing bags of freshly picked watercress to the waiting crowds.

And Alresford’s heritage railway, The Watercress Line, will be operating a free diesel or steam service between Alresford and Ropley station for festivalgoers.

The Watercress Festival is also offering a free park-and-ride service on a coach between the stations. ‘Free Festival Travel’ tickets will be issued at Ropley car park and will be required for travel to and from the festival on both trains and coaches. Visitors can also park in the field next to Ropley station for £5 per car.

Woodies Mountford, marketing manager at the Watercress Line, said: “The team here at the Watercress Line is very excited for the nationally-acclaimed Watercress Festival, celebrating community, food and watercress.

“We are very much looking forward to trying delicacies from local restaurants, market traders and wine merchants, shopping for some unique gifts, jewellery and arts and crafts, and boogying to a bit of jazz music.

“We hope festivalgoers will make the most of the park and ride on the Watercress Line, and for those who haven’t been on a steam train before, guests can also combine their visit by paying for a ride on one of our trains to travel along the full length of our 10-mile line, experiencing everything the railway has to offer.”

The Alresford Watercress Festival runs from 10am to 4pm and is supported by Alresford Chamber of Commerce, New Alresford Town Council, Hampshire Farmers’ Market, and a host of community groups.

The principal sponsor is the NFU Watercress Association, which since 1936 has looked after the interests of watercress growers in England.

Watercress farmers from the UK’s two biggest watercress growers, The Watercress Company and Vitacress, will be at the festival to demonstrate the unique growing process of watercress, discuss the health benefits of this original superfood, and explain the extraordinary history of this very British crop.

The Watercress Festival is held at the start of National Watercress Week, which marks the beginning of the UK watercress season.

Free bags of watercress plus samples of watercress smoothie, or watercress pesto, will be available but the organisers do urge visitors to give a donation in return to the Joe Glover Trust, a local children’s cancer charity.

A Watercress Festival spokesman said: “With arts and crafts stalls, music, children’s entertainment and fabulous food, the Alresford Watercress Festival is a great day out for all the family.