Sunday, 12 June 2016

POOH TERRITORY: ASHDOWN FOREST, EAST SUSSEX



I have been a prolific reader ever since I can remember, and one of my fondest literary memories from my childhood is the series of books featuring an overweight, honey-guzzling bear called Winnie-the-Pooh, or Pooh.  The stories, by A. A. Milne and written in the 1920s, followed the adventures of Pooh and a host of other lovable animal characters, including the diminutive Piglet, the morose donkey Eeyore and the excitable Tigger.  The token human, Christopher Robin, was based on the author’s son Christopher Robin Milne, who grew up on the family farm in the village of Hartfield, between Royal Tunbridge Wells and East Grinstead. 

The scene of the action is Ashdown Forest adjoining Hartfield .  Within the forest is the Five Hundred Acre Wood, which features in the Pooh stories as ‘Hundred Acre Wood’ or ’100 Aker Wood’.  The characters frequent a number of locations within the wood, for example ‘Owl’s House’.  There is a car park on Gill’s Lap (Galleon’s Lap in the stories) where there is a map of the surrounding area showing some of the key locations from the stories.  

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Gill's Lap with the Milne Memorial. Photo by Poliphilo, via Wikimedia Commons

Hartfield itself is home to Pooh Corner, which runs an online shop selling Pooh merchandise, and there is also a tearoom there.  Nearby is a stream which eventually runs into the River Medway, and crossing the stream is the famous Poohsticks Bridge, where the game Poohsticks was invented by A A Milne for his son Christopher Robin.  The game involves people lining up on the bridge and dropping sticks into the water.  They then rush to the other side of the bridge and the owner of the first stick to emerge is  the winner.  The game is still kept alive today, and earlier this month the WorldPooh Sticks championships were held in Witney, Oxfordshire.

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Pooh Corner, Hartfield. Photo by Ian Paterson, via Wikimedia Commons

At the south-east corner of the Hundred Acre Wood is a spot described as “rather boggy and sad”.  This is Eeyore’s Gloomy Place, where the sad old donkey lived in a stick house prone to falling down.  The Milne family kept a donkey called Jessica in a pasture, and it is thought that this provided the inspiration for Eeyore’s Gloomy Place.  Meanwhile, at the entrance to the farm itself is a walnut tree where Christopher Robin built a trap which ensnared the foot of the gardener’s wife.  This was the inspiration for the story about the Heffalump trap built by Pooh and Piglet to ensnare the mythical elephant-like beast.

Ashdown Forest was once a medieval hunting forest which was created soon after the Norman Conquest.  Today it is the largest area of open access land in the south-east, running at 9.5 acres of beech woods and open heath with wonderful views of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, making it a popular destination for walkers.  As well as the resident sheep and horses, there is a large deer population and there are also ground nesting birds, so walkers need to keep any dogs under control.  

Map of the area.

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