There are so many days out and places to visit in Hampshire that, even after living here for almost a decade, I’ve yet to explore. The Watercress Line is one of these.
So when the team there got in touch with me to see if I wanted to go along to War on the Line 2019 to see what it was all about, I jumped at the chance.
I had heard a lot about this event and, since it was taking place over Father’s Day weekend, it seemed the perfect opportunity to treat my Dad to a vintage adventure, too!
War on the Line transports visitors back in time to the 1940s, with wartime entertainment and experiences at each station; your ticket entitles you to as many journeys up and down the line as you like during the day, hopping on and off (or even just staying on for the thrill of it!).
My Dad is a big fan of trains, planes, and automobiles (especially old ones!) so it was the ideal chance to try something new, celebrate Father’s Day, and commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
We – my Mum bought a ticket and joined in too, as she didn’t fancy missing out! – drove up to Alresford on the Saturday in our finest makeshift outfits (I had cobbled together a sort of ‘Land Girl’ look with my trusty dungarees and headscarf). It turns out that you can dress up if you want to join in!
For me, that was all part of the fun, and we eventually found that many others had also made an effort, with some really stunning costumes on show. From authentic uniforms and beautiful vintage dresses, to ARP warden outfits and super-smart suits! There were plenty of characters about, too; we spotted familiar faces from Dad’s Army, Sid the Spiv tried to sell me his wares, and Soviet filmmakers were capturing the day on their old cameras.
We decided to start at Alresford station, where we found the place abuzz. There was dancing, singing, a traditional tea bar, and even a visit from our Russian and American allies. We learned about different weapons, which was fascinating; it was a great place to begin our day.
After a look round, we hopped on board and made our way to the end of the line to Medstead. Here we learned about the Home Front, enjoying music, meeting washerwomen, putting out fires and chatting to local shop owners, stores complete with original packets of sweets, cereal, and household items. There was even a plotting room display of Operation Overlord.
While at Medstead, the heavens opened and we sheltered for a while; but the weather didn’t dampen our Blitz spirit. In true wartime form, we powered through, dried off as best we could, and enjoyed the music of May Blossom as we waited to board our next train.
We then made our way back to Ropley, the biggest of the stations and certainly the most popular. We enjoyed watching engineers working on the trains from the viewing gallery, and saw soldiers ‘deactivate’ unexploded bombs.
There were homes that had been moved into tents after being bombed, and we enjoyed watching The Wield Glenn Miller Tribute Band over a much-needed cup of tea and some biscuits. We didn’t have the chance to try out the Miniature Railway or stop by Pearl’s Pin-Up Parlour, but they both seemed to prove popular. It was the perfect place for a little people watching, too.
There were plenty of places to stop and get refreshments throughout the day; cakes, sandwiches, crisps, and enough tea to sink a battleship. If – no, when! – I return, however, I might make the effort to bring my own picnic. It would be lovely to sit and enjoy the atmosphere with some homemade treats, especially on a sunnier day.
Throughout the day people were so taken with our outfits, they asked to take photos – which was surreal, flattering and a little odd all in one go! We obliged – everyone was so friendly and enthusiastic and, to be honest, we were just happy that we fitted in! Somewhere out there are photos of me posing next to old cars and pretending to take photographs with my vintage-looking camera!
The station staff and re-enactors and display owners were all so friendly, helpful and interesting; it was a really welcoming and lovely atmosphere, ideal for fanatics and families alike.
Travelling by steam train was a really special experience, too. The last time I went on an engine was for a Santa Special trip when I was very, very tiny; so it was exciting to travel the old-fashioned way once more. Everything was so well organised, expertly presented and as authentic as possible.
We had a top-notch day; I would highly recommend going along to War on the Line next year, or even checking out some of the other events at the Watercress Line throughout the next few months. We are lucky to have such a special experience so local to us, and it makes for a fabulous day out.
If you like all things vintage and retro; if you enjoy a good old-fashioned day out; if you love an excuse to dress up; and if you want to experience a little (rose-tinted) snippet of wartime spirit, then this is the event for you.
Keep calm, carry on, and pack up your troubles before you head out to War on the Line.
Two of the three tickets we used for War on the Line were gifted in exchange for an honest review; all of my thoughts and feelings about the event are my own and entirely genuine.
All images are my own and not for use elsewhere without my consent and credit.