“We didn’t realise we were making memories. We just knew we were having fun.” Winnie- the-Pooh
Yorkshire had the Bronte sisters, Dorset had Thomas Hardy, and Warwickshire celebrates being “Shakespeare’s County”. But in East Sussex we can lay claim to one of the world’s foremost literary characters, and arguably its most famous bear. For Ashdown Forest in East Sussex was home to A.A. Milne and the birthplace of Winnie-the-Pooh.
And Ashdown Forest, a very special corner of our county to the south and west of Crowborough, will be propelled into the limelight on Friday (17 August) when the new movie blockbuster, Christopher Robin, hits the cinema screens. Starring Ewan McGregor, some of the filming actually took place on the forest.
National and international protection
Originally a deer hunting forest in Norman times, and once a favourite hunting ground for Henry VIII, the forest is now one of the largest free public access spaces in the South East. Criss-crossed with paths and dotted with car parks, it’s a fantastic place for walking and nature spotting quite apart from its links with the honey-obsessed bear with little brain and his forest friends.
The forest is at the heart of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and has national and international protection because of its wildlife. It’s actually perhaps a bit misleading to call it a forest because nearly two thirds of its 6,500 acres are heathland, a rare habitat in the UK.
But it’s for being the home of Winnie-the-Pooh that the forest has properly secured international fame. In 1925 A.A. Milne, Christopher Milne’s father, bought Cotchford Farm in Hartfield and although still living in London, the family would spend weekends, Easter and summer holidays there.
The place became the inspiration for the Pooh stories. Gills Lap inspired Galleon’s Lap, the group of pine trees on the other side of the main road became the Six Pine Trees, the bridge over the river at Posingford became Poohsticks Bridge, and a nearby ancient walnut tree became Pooh’s House. Five hundred acre wood in real life was scaled down to “100 Aker Wood” in the stories. Christopher’s toys, Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet, plus two invented characters, Owl and Rabbit, came to life. Kanga and Tigger were later presents from his parents.
The movie, which promises to be the family blockbuster of the summer, tells the tale of a grown up Christopher Robin who has lost his sense of imagination, only to be reunited with his old stuffed bear friend, Winnie-the-Pooh, and returned to the magical world of the forest.
If you haven’t already discovered this marvellous corner of East Sussex, once described by a national newspaper as one of the best kept secrets of the south east, I would urge you to pull on your walking boots and step out into the landscape that inspired AA Milne. Or like Christopher Robin in the movie, perhaps now is the time to rediscover its magic.
Play real Poohsticks
You won’t, I suspect, find any Woozles or Heffalumps, and if you track down Eeyore’s Gloomy Place (rather boggy and sad), Rabbit’s House, or the sandy pit where Roo plays, you are likely to find they are elsewhere. But you most certainly will be able to immerse yourself in some of the best countryside East Sussex has to offer and even follow in footsteps of Pooh and his friends by trying your hand at Poohsticks on their very bridge.
For more information about the Ashdown Forest and even a couple of walks to take you in search of Winnie-the-Pooh visit here Ashdown Forest and Winnie the Pooh. And as Pooh himself said: “When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.”