A.A. Milne observed the adventures his son, Christopher Robin, had with his toys in the woods by their home in Ashdown Forest, East Sussex, gaining inspiration for the beloved Winnie the Pooh books. To mark the renowned author’s birthday, we explore this corner of south-east England.
The first book was published 90 years ago, delighting young children (and their parents) with its simple tales of adventure in the woods. The undoubted inspiration was Ashdown Forest in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty of East Sussex. Christopher Robin even said in his autobiography that is was “identical” to Pooh’s forest.
In 1925, A.A. Milne, a Londoner, bought a country home just north of Ashdown Forest at Cotchfield Farm, near Hartfield (a property that was recently put up for sale for £1.9m).
“The four of us – he, his wife, his son and his son’s nanny – would pile into a large blue, chauffeur-driven Fiat and travel down every Saturday morning and back again every Monday afternoon,” wrote Christopher. “And we would spend a whole glorious month there in the spring and two months in the summer.”
Several locations in the Pooh stories can be matched to real places in and around the forest. “Hundred Acre Wood”, for example, was really Five Hundred Acre Wood, while Galleon’s Leap was inspired by the bare hilltop of Gill’s Lap.
E.H. Shepard, who illustrated the books, was also inspired by Ashdown Forest distinctive heathlands, gorse and bracken, and clumps of pine trees.
And the game of Poohsticks was first played in the area – on a footbridge across a tributary of the River Medway in Posingford Wood. The bridge is now a popular photo spot for tourists visiting the area.
The region is at its best right now. Nicholas Roe, writing for The Telegraph, recommends a three-mile walk starting at the village of Nutley.
“One of the greatest open spaces in southern England, Ashdown Forest is the place where A. A. Milne found inspiration among woody clumps and stick-racing streams,” says Roe. “The irony is that much of the forest disappeared centuries ago, to be replaced by heath and fern. Yet this 6,500-acre spread offers particularly vivid pleasures to autumn walkers.
“Huge landscape variety in this ancient royal deer-hunting spread includes a blend of space and intimacy that’s particularly fantastic for children. Naturally, they can play Pooh Sticks in muddy streams among oak and birch stands, but they can also run wild on open heath and enjoy the sheer distance in every direction.
“You, meanwhile, can see 20 miles of gorgeous treetop views spreading from the forest’s high ground towards the distant North Downs. And as autumn progresses, these trees mottle and daub the horizon in a hazy way that’s interspersed with lines of low mist. It feels like impressionist art.
“There are countless walking opportunities here, but perhaps the best lies on a minor road off the A22 just north of the village of Nutley. Turn right immediately beyond the village, rattle over a cattle grid and find the car park a few hundred yards on. Go off to the right of the road, not left, and you’ll find a vast open space fringed by woodland. Simply follow the space around, pausing to play Pooh Sticks in streams at the bottom of the hill. Allow one to two hours, depending on how the stick races go.”
For more on what to see and do, visit this website. It lists numerous walks in the area. The nearest train stations include Sheffield Park and Horsted Keynes.