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The Ashdown Forest in Ashdown, England, is a 6,000-acre protected area that is a mix of woodland and open heathland. It is said to be the inspiration for "Winnie the Pooh" illustrator E.H. Shepard. Illustrates TRAVEL-POOH (category t), by Paige McClanahan, special to The Washington Post. Moved Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012.

Mcclanahan, The Washington Post

Pooh Corner, a shop and Winnie the Pooh information center, lies on the main street in the village of Hartfield in southern England.

Paige Mcclanahan, Washington Post

Winnie-the-Pooh's corner of the world

  • Article by: PAIGE McCLANAHAN
  • Washington Post
  • November 10, 2012 - 2:10 PM

It was an unassuming spot, and we probably would have walked right past it if we hadn't known what we were looking for: a clump of about five dozen trees perched on the top of a blustery hill.

But when we walked up, there was no mistaking it: There before us lay the Enchanted Place, also known as Galleons Lap, a resting ground for childhoods the world over.

It's the spot where Christopher Robin, no longer a little boy, and his beloved companion Winnie-the-Pooh came to say their fumbling goodbyes in the final chapter of A.A. Milne's "The House at Pooh Corner."

Being enchanted, its floor wasn't like the floor of the Forest, gorse and bracken and heather, but close-set grass, quiet and smooth and green. ... Sitting there they could see the whole world spread out until it reached the sky, and whatever there was all the world over was with them in Galleons Lap.

We were on a pilgrimage of sorts on that cool, sunny September morning. We'd driven down to East Sussex, about 35 miles south of London, to follow in the footsteps of Winnie-the-Pooh, perhaps the world's most famous bear.

It was here in the quiet, forested hills of southern England that Milne wrote and set the adventures of Pooh, Christopher Robin, Piglet, Owl, Eeyore, Rabbit and, of course, all of Rabbit's Friends and Relations. Having grown up with the stories -- like so many millions of others -- we wanted to see the place for ourselves.

We started our morning in Hartfield, a cozy little hamlet. Milne, who was born in London in 1882, bought a second home in Hartfield in 1925 and came to the area regularly. His former home isn't open to the public -- it isn't even marked -- but his influence in the village is palpable.

Our first stop was the Pooh Corner Shop, where you can pick up everything from Pooh lunchboxes to little pots of local honey, Pooh's favorite snack. We sat down for a coffee in Piglet's Tea Shop, a sunlit room in the back of the store, and asked the friendly staff for some Pooh-tracking advice.

We'd come to the right place. The shop is owned by Mike Ridley, a Pooh fanatic who has devised a guided tour of local Pooh-related sights. We bought a copy of his pamphlet, titled "Two Expotitions to the Enchanted Places" (an "expotition" being Pooh-speak for an adventure), and set off on our way.

Destination No. 1: The Poohsticks Bridge. For those who may need a refresher, Poohsticks is a game -- invented by Pooh -- in which the participants drop twigs off the upstream side of a bridge, then race to the downstream side to see whose stick floats through first. The bridge is at the bottom of a wooded hill a couple of miles outside Hartfield.

After a quick drive, we found the right trail and set off into the woods, keeping our eyes peeled for promising-looking twigs as we went. A mile or so down the trail, we came to the bridge, a simple wooden structure that, like many objects of celebrity, was somewhat smaller than imagined. But still, it gave me a little thrill to see it.

Twigs in hand, we took our spots on the upstream side and commenced our Poohsticks competition. We played at least four rounds, plus tiebreakers. (A tip: The secret to winning is "letting your stick drop in a twitchy sort of way," as Eeyore once explained to Tigger.)

Now onto the forest

We wandered back to the car and set off for the next stop: Ashdown Forest, a 6,000-acre protected area that lies just outside Hartfield. Milne and his son, Christopher Robin, spent many hours wandering through the forest in the 1920s, and it was here that the beloved Pooh illustrator E.H. Shepard came for inspiration.

Today, the forest is home to many spots of interest to Pooh fans -- assuming, that is, that you know where to look. We set off on our walk, guide in hand, and kept our eyes peeled for our first point of interest, the Enchanted Place, which we encountered at the top of the highest hill. We paused for a good half-hour in that magical little circle of forest, but there were other spots to find.

And find them we did: We saw the Cunning Trap to catch a Heffalump (but that ended up catching Pooh), as well as the Sandy Pit Where Roo Plays, which really is quite sandy. In the bottom of a little valley, we discovered the North Pole (including the spot where Roo fell in), as well as Eeyore's Gloomy Place, which Milne rightly describes as "Rather Boggy and Sad." And looking across to the next hill, we could see the Hundred Acre Wood, which is where Owl lived, in a house with a bell pull and a doorknocker.

We carried Milne's two most famous books, "Winnie-the-Pooh" and "The House at Pooh Corner," with us as we walked, and we enjoyed rereading the stories as we encountered their settings. But even apart from all things Pooh, the area was beautiful in its own right, with its shady streams, quiet forest corners and fields of wind-swept purple heather.

At one point, a sudden clearing in the trees revealed a lovely view to the north and west. And there in the middle of the clearing we saw the memorial stone that honors both Milne and Shepard. The stone is placed at the precise spot where, according to Christopher Robin, who died in 1996, his father liked to pause for a rest and admire the view.

The walk finished and our pilgrimage complete, we passed through Hartfield one last time. We stopped for a meal at the Anchor Inn, off the village's main street.

It might have been because of all that walking, or maybe it was the sun and wind followed by a hearty meal, but sitting there sipping my soup beside the pub's 500-year-old fireplace, I suddenly found myself in a daydreamy sort of mood.

This would be a lovely place to write, I thought -- and I imagined Milne sitting quietly in a corner, scratching away at his notebook. And then I started to think about Pooh in a nostalgic kind of way, almost missing this comfortable little corner of England before we had even left it.

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