|Illustration by E.H Shepard.|
About an hour south of London, in the county of East Sussex, lies Hartfield. Its one street consists of little more than a tearoom, a couple of shops, a pub and a bed and breakfast. But its size belies its importance. For it is the home of a bear of very little brain, a doleful donkey and a wise “wol.” A.A Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories remain favourites with my dear friend Ange and me. Which is why one day when we had nothing else to do we thought we’d do something. So we tripped away to the Hundred Acre Wood.
From London, we train to the pretty spa town of Tunbridge Wells. After a half hour stopover wandering through the public gardens we board a double decker bus that takes us down a meandering country road, past inns with names like “The Dorset Arms,” and houses called “Mole End” and “Vine Cottage.” The shadows of overbearing trees dapple the road, their branches sweeping the bus windows. We look out at age-old stone fences coaxing paddocks into haphazard squares, the odd tractor complementing the drone of the bees as it tills the fields. With hills rolling up to the skyline, it’s a storybook rendering of the English countryside.
When we reach Hartfield it’s time for a little something. We decide upon a shepherd’s lunch at the local pub before a wander down the road to “Pooh Corner”. Once the sweet shop Christopher Robin Milne and his nanny frequented for treats (The Milnes lived at nearby Cotchford Farm from the mid 1920s), it’s now a lovely little café cum gift shop that sells Winnie the Pooh post cards and sketches of the Hundred Acre Wood, alongside smackerels and strengthening medicines.
Armed with maps showing us how to reach Poohsticks Bridge (where the game in The House at Pooh Corner was invented), we clamber over stiles, duck under overgrown hedgerows, and pass grand old homesteads as we make our way through public access farmland to Ashdown Forest, where the books are set. As we walk I almost expect to see Pooh around the next corner humming a little rhyme. There’s certainly an air of the fairytale here, especially when we look down to see a tiny door hidden in a tree root and a miniature pot of honey resting outside.
At the bridge, we spend a happy half hour throwing our sticks over the edge before wandering into the woods again where a real life animal, a fallow deer, eyes us through the trees. Perhaps it’s a descendant of King Henry VIII’s prey – Ashdown Forest was a favourite hunting ground of his.
We head back to Pooh Corner to sip tea in the honeysuckled courtyard and reflect on a most delightful day. Nearly 90 years after Winnie the Pooh was published one can still discover the North Pole, stumble into a heffalump trap, farewell a friend at Galleons Lap, and visit the six pines. It’s comforting to know that somewhere in the forest a tigger is being too bouncy, a gloomy Eeyore is looking for his home and Pooh and a brave little piglet are being much more friendly with two.
|A Tiny House in a Tree|