Monday, 5 May 2014

Winnie-the-Pooh Country

Hartfield Lych Gate

Following the Disneyfication of Winnie-the-Pooh in recent years most people in the wider world have no idea that the stories were largely set in Ashdown Forest in Sussex.  With onset of bluebell season and all the trees sporting new growth I thought that the girls would enjoy walking around the area in which the stories were set.

Hartfield Church
We began our walk in Hartfield, the small village now seemingly forever associated with the bear of little brain.  We left the charms of the village for the end of the walk, heading first to the church of St Mary the Virgin.  The entrance wasn’t obvious and is found through a most unusual lych gate.  I couldn’t quite decide whether the house attached happened to be part of the gate or the other way around.
Wrecked Hut

Hartfield church has an unusually tall spire and the golden clock sparkled in the warm April sunshine.  Inside the church was rather unusual – all the pews had been removed and replaced by moveable chairs.  In a way I thought this were rather sad, but I suppose that the church then has a multitude of uses as a community space just by moving the chairs around.  Pews these days are valuable too, so I don’t doubt that a fair price was achieved by selling them off.  We had a good look around inside the church & the stained glass was particularly eye-catching.

Withyam Rectory
Once we had had a good scout around the church we headed on our way across the fields towards Withyam following the High Weald Landscape Trail, which I had previously walked a few years ago.  The ground across many of the fields was pretty boggy in places, despite the recent spell of good weather.  When we reached the first big bridge the girls were convinced it was the famous Poohsticks bridge.  Alas they were to be disappointed for I had saved that until almost the end of the walk.
Withyam Church

As we passed through the wood just beyond though we found one of those things that set my girls’ imagination going.  It was a rather strange little derelict building that was starting to fall apart.  Strange, because we couldn’t work out what it was for?  It was rather more substantial than you might think for such a remote location.
De La Warr Tomb

Just beyond was the church at Withyam, a rather more substantial church than it looked from our approach.  In contrast to Hartfield, this church had a squat tower and looked small, but stepping inside was a revelation.  Far bigger than the frontage suggested this was a much more traditional looking church with a full set of pews in place.  While we were there a couple of old ladies came along to decorate the church for Easter.  They took a shine to the girls and gave them a treasure trail to do so that they could explore the finer details of the church.  They were in their element, writing down all the answers to the questions as they were quizzed about the stained glass windows, artwork and historical features of the church.  Of particular prominence was the family vault in the chapel at the far corner in the chapel of Earl De La Warr.  This vault is the family tomb, including the famous gardener Vita Sackville-West, whose remains are said to be contained in an inkpot within the tomb.

Five Hundred Acre Wood
After a long time exploring the church we headed onwards, following the route of another long distance trail, this time the Wealdway.  This is one I have yet to do any more than one section of – I think eventually it will come towards the top of projects left to do.  Certainly the short section into the Five Hundred Acre wood was promising.  This wood is of course the one that the Hundred Acre Wood was to become in the Pooh stories.  On the way we passed a long line of cottages that presumably were once the domain of forest workers.  Now I am not sure who might live there, but it certainly is a bit of a lonely spot so you would have to get on with your neighbours.

Waiting For Pooh Sticks
The walk through the woods was pleasant if unremarkable.  By now the children were getting impatient for the Poohsticks bridge and a couple more went by without it being the real one.  We crossed a rather busy road, which wasn’t a very pleasant experience as we had to walk about a hundred metres alongside the traffic before thankfully disappearing into the countryside once again.  After a couple of false alarms we finally reached the bridge and the girls were thrilled to have it all to themselves.

Cuckoo Flowers
The bridge has been rebuilt recently and is said to resemble the illustrations in the book far more than the previous version, which A.A. Milne would have used when coming up with the idea for the story.  His residence was a nearby farm, which incidentally was the same that the Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones drowned in the swimming pool.
Looking Back at Ashdown Forest

The girls knew what to do without any second bidding.  They had a couple of games before other children came to join them.  Satisfied that they had taken part in one of those age old children’s games at the epicentre of Poohsticks the girls were happy to move on, spurred on by the prospect of a cup of tea at The House at Pooh Corner.  The path back to Hartfield village is clearly a well-trodden one, for the signage was unusually good all the way back to the village.  By now we had well and truly lost the sunshine as clouds had rolled in.  This did not diminish the views back across Ashdown Forest though – they were still very special.

The House at Pooh Corner
Back in Hartfield we did go to the House at Pooh Corner.  Surprisingly for me that is the first time I have ever been inside.  It was full of Pooh paraphernalia, which the girls loved.  By now though we were all rather more interested in the cup of tea – it was very welcome after our walk though the woods.  Since the walk both my girls have rediscovered Winnie-the-Pooh and not in a Disney way, which makes me feel rather good...

This walk appears as no.9 in Pathfinder Guide no.24 Surrey and Sussex and also walk no.13 in Pathfinder Guide no.67 East Sussex and the South Downs.

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