Winnie-The-Pooh's Awfully Big Birthday
by Jenny Speller
Pooh is a star guest at a picnic for specially invited children at Buckingham Palace (June 25) as part of the celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II’s own 80th birthday! For Pooh fans not lucky enough to get such a hot ticket there is plenty of opportunity to picnic and enjoy a little something around Pooh Country, set in the glorious Sussex countryside which inspired the bear’s creator, A.A. Milne, to write the magical stories for his son Christopher Robin.
In and around Ashdown Forest, 40 miles south of London, are these real locations of the fictional “Enchanted Places” where Christopher Robin played with Pooh and his friends, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, Tigger, Owl and Rabbit. The ancient Forest, a fomer royal hunting ground, where deer have roamed for centuries, is a beautiful area where the colours of its heathlands, woodlands and valleys change dramatically throughout the seasons. What better way to explore this enchanted landscape than by following in the footsteps of Pooh’s expeditions or “expotitions?"
At the heart of Pooh Country is Pooh Corner, the 17th century timbered shop in the village of Hartfield where the young Christopher Robin Milne used to go with his Nanny to buy sweets. He recounted stories from his childhood with Pooh in many conversations with the shop’s owner, Mike Ridley who founded it nearly 30 years ago and turned his passion for Pooh into one of the biggest collections of what he calls “Pooh-phernalia” in the world.
The shop provides a free map to guide fans to the Enchanted Places. The walks take in Roo’s Sandy Pit, where he loved to roll around; the place Where the North Pole Was, the spot where Pooh marked his “Expotition” to the North Pole; the frightening Heffalump Trap which never actually trapped a Heffalump and Gill’s Lap the fictional Galleon’s Lap high at the top of the Forest with a circle of ‘sixty-something trees’. Close by is The Enchanted Place with a memorial stone to A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard, whose drawings brought the characters to life in the books.
The best known of the Enchanted Places is Poohsticks Bridge, which is a separate walk. The Milnes lived on a farm on the edge of the Forest close to a stream crossed by a wooden bridge. Here one lazy afternoon A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin and “a Bear with a bit more brain than he realised” threw sticks into the stream on one side of the bridge and then ran across to the other side to see which came through first and the game of Poohsticks was invented. Visitors still play the game on the original bridge, many of them picking up a copy of the “Official Rules for Playing Poohsticks” at Pooh Corner. The game is now so well known there are even international championships held every March on the River Thames in Oxfordshire, at Days Lock.
Adjacent to the forest is a wooded plantation called Five Hundred Acre Wood. Milne adopted the name to create the Hundred Acre Wood as the setting where his characters lived. There are no actual Pooh sites there but walkers can explore the woodlands through a network of paths and bridleways.
Pooh Corner will be decorating the shop with streamers and balloons over the birthday weekend and visitors will be offered a free slice of 80th Birthday Cake and a free 80th Birthday ‘Expotition Guide. A variety of commemorative items will be on sale to mark the occasion, including teas and pots of honey.
A.A. Milne was born in 1882 and died in 1956 so a visit to Pooh Country has an added significance as 2006 marks the 50th anniversary of the author’s death. He was a prolific writer but it was his brilliantly imaginative children’s stories which brought him fame and real success. In 1924 he published his first book of children’s poems “When We were Very Young” followed by “Winnie-the-Pooh” in 1926, another book of verse, “Now We are Six” in 1927 and “The House at Pooh Corner” the following year.
The much loved characters he invented depended equally for their popularity on the unique illustrations by E.H. Shepard. An exhibition, “Winnie-the-Pooh In the Landscape” is planned for August at the Ashdown Forest Visitor Centre. It is organised by the books’ publishers, Egmont Books and will feature modern photographs of the areas in the Forest which correspond to their fictional counterparts and large format copies of E.H. Shepard’s drawings. Egmont has also brought out an 80th anniversary edition of Winnie-the-Pooh.
An exhibition of around 300 of E.H. Shepard’s illustrations of the Pooh characters and other iconic characters in children’s literature is at the Fine Art Society in London’s New Bond Street between 6-21 December. The drawings and illustrations belong to the artist’s granddaughter and it will be a unique opportunity to obtain a genuine memento as a selection will be for sale.
A cartoon character Winnie the Pooh, without a hyphen, was developed by Disney and through feature films, TV, video games and merchandising has brought the stories of Pooh to a huge global audience.
Pooh Country is at the centre of one of the most historic and beautiful parts of Southern England. Within easy distance are stately homes notably Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, tragic wife of Henry VIII. It’s a short drive to Georgian Royal Tunbridge Wells and to the Bluebell Railway, one of the country’s best preserved steam railways.
So while you’re in Pooh Country it’s a great
opportunity to go on as many “Epotitions” as possible and
who knows what you might discover! For useful information
when planning a visit to Britain, see the website http://www.visitbritain.com.