Published: 00:01, 04 October 2017
| Updated: 11:24, 04 October 2017
When did you last play Pooh sticks? You don’t have to head to the original bridge where Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet played the game in AA Milne’s stories, because any bridge with water flowing under it will do, but it’s an extra special game if you do.
Ashdown Forest is just over the border in East Sussex. Venture into Hundred Aker Wood, in reality called the Five Hundred Acre Wood, and you’ll come across a wooden signpost to Pooh Bridge, signalling you’re in Pooh territory.
Be ready with twigs to watch them sail down the river – a tributary of the Medway – before darting to the other side to see whose twig appears first.
Christopher Milne, who died in 1996, did much for the restoration of the bridge.
AA Milne’s biographer Ann Thwaite, consultant to the film Goodbye Christopher Robin, which opened at the weekend, said: “He also led the fight to save the forest from development and oil exploration. He said he took the playground of his Sussex childhood with him wherever he went.”
Today, the area is highly protected. The only sign of any building in the forest are versions of Eeyore’s house in the woods, made from twigs and branches by those on a family day out.
In the open heathland, rugged sandy paths are bordered by swathes of purple heather and yellow gorse and bracken, while in the wooded areas, tall pine grow next to chestnut, birch and oak.
“The whole thing is a celebration of outdoor play and imagination,” said Ann. “Christopher Robin, the real boy, was very keen on climbing trees.
“The great outdoors was a great therapy for Milne when the whole of England was trying to recover from the effect of war. The landscape hasn’t changed in all those years,” she said.
“You can’t even hear any traffic. It’s very sandy, too. There’s a scene in Winnie-the-Pooh when Roo is playing in a sandpit and if you look at the books you can see where Shepard (illustrator EH Shepard) was drawing the actual place.”
The still unspoilt spot where AA Milne and his son Christopher Robin spent their time in the 1920s on walks, may now be the subject of a film, but there is no hint of Disney-esque homage to the most famous bear in the world.
Among your ramblings, you can head to a shady circle of pine trees in Gills Lap (renamed Galleons Lap in the books), which in Milne’s words was an ‘enchanted place’.
And just out of the trees, take in the spectacular view from the High Weald of the Downs, a patchwork quilt of green fields, divided by forest.
Near here is a small, inconspicuous reminder on the rock where father and son sat and where the actors who play them are featured in the film. It is a commemorative plaque to AA Milne and illustrator EH Shepard who captured the magic of the forest.
As AA Milne wrote: “Sitting there, they could see the whole world spread out until it reached the sky.”
Forever in generations of families’ hearts, AA Milne’s books about Winnie-the-Pooh, his friend Piglet and the other characters Tigger, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo, Owl and Eeyore, were based on his life with his own son, Christopher Robin.
A successful playwright, Milne had been a casualty of the First World War, suffering shell-shock at the Somme.
He bought a rural retreat at Cotchford Farm, on the northern edge of Ashdown Forest, to aid his recovery and would spend weekends and holidays there with his glamorous wife Daphne and their son, who they called Billy Moon.
The new film shows some of Milne’s best moments with his son were spent in the forest, playing cricket, fishing and create adventures – including the game of Pooh sticks. But their relationship struggled after the Winnie-the-Pooh books were published in the 1920s.
Christopher Robin had wanted his father to write a story for him, not about him. He grew to loathe everything connected with the stories and angry at his father for not protecting him from the glare of the publicity.
“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?”
“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.”
“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.”
“When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.”
“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”
All written by AA Milne, taken from Winnie-the-Pooh
Ashdown Forest is less than a half hour’s drive from Tunbridge Wells. It has a Forest Centre which is the headquarters of the Conservators of Ashdown Forest and the best starting point for finding out about the forest, what to see and where to go.
There are two walks available that take in the main Pooh sites. You can downloaded a leaflet from the walks page at ashdownforest.org or you can pick one up from the Forest Centre.
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