Finding Winnie-the-Pooh and the Real 100 Acre Wood in England
Winnie-the-Pooh is a venerable children’s book character who has been with us since 1924. Pooh grew out of the imagination of A.A. Milne who was a playwright and was inspired to write stories for his son Christopher Robin. The characters of Piglet, Tigger, Eyeore, and Roo were all toys owned by his son who translated into the iconic illustrations by EH Shepard.
A.A. Milne is an interesting character who had mixed feelings about the worldwide success of Pooh. In his early career he was a successful playwright and he was pleasantly surprised when his stories throughly connected with the British public. Part of the charm are the wonderful illustrations by E.H. Shepard along with the wonderful way that the stories capture some unattainable essence of childhood and play. Yet as A.A. Milne wrote various stories and novels after Pooh nothing quite connected with the public in the same way.
Sadly Christopher Robin Milne also grew to resent the stories and made some effort to disassociate himself with his namesake character. While serving abroad in World War II he began to resent what he saw as his father’s exploitation of his childhood and came to hate the books that had thrust him into the public eye. He wrote a book entitled “The Enchanted Places” that described his childhood and his complex feelings about the Pooh books.
Milne had a farmhouse on the north side of Ashdown Forest in Sussex, England that became the model for the ‘100 acre wood’. His home was known as Cotchford Farm (it recently hit the market…also owned by Rolling Stones member Brian Jones who died mysteriously there) and it is absolutely beautiful.
Christopher Robin Milne later said that Ashdown Forest and the 100 Acre Wood were synonymous and that makes me want to visit. “Anyone who has read the stories knows the Forest and doesn’t need me to describe it. Pooh’s Forest and Ashdown Forest are identical”.
Located in Sussex which is full of lush countryside along with tumbling hills and valleys the word that comes to mind is quaint with a little ‘peaceful’ thrown in. Ashdown Forest has quite a history that dates back to the Norman conquest of England as a hunting forest that was used by the monarchy up through the Tudors. You can also find some ancient Roman remains.
Illustrator for the Winnie-the-Pooh books E.H. Shepard walked the grounds to find inspiration for the landscapes.
In The House at Pooh Corner. Winnie-the-Pooh plays ‘Poohsticks’ which involves dropping a twig in the river from a bridge and then being pleasantly surprised when it emerges on the other side. The bridge is there and if you are lucky enough to find a twig (apparently all of the trees have been stripped bare over the years) you can play the exciting game. Happily noted that the Disney company donated a large sum of money to restore the bridge that was wearing down from so many Pooh fans visiting over the years.
Also in this section of the park you can find other Pooh places. Be sure to pick up your “Pooh Walks from Gills Lap” available from the Ashdown Forest Visitor Center or you can download here. You can find ‘the North Pole’, Eyeore’s Gloomy Place and ‘The Dark and Mysterious Forest’ on this walk. Last but not least look for the memorial plaque to A.A. Milne at Gills Lap which reads: “Here at Gills Lap are commemorated A.A. Milne 1882-1956 and E.H. Shepard 1879-1976 who collaborated in the creation of “Winnie-the-Pooh” and so captured the magic of Ashdown Forest and gave it to the world”.
Where to Stay?
There is a lot to do in this area (about 20 minutes from London and easily accessible by train). I am told from a dear friend that I studied abroad with that the best place to stay is Brambletye Hotel in Sussex.
The Winnie the Pooh phenomenon has spread across the world and he now can also be found in the Disney Theme Parks.
I hope you enjoyed returning to the 100 Acre Wood with me and that you will consider taking this day trip the next time you are in London. On a side note many of Ernest Shepard’s original drawings can be found at the V and A Museum in London.
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