Maybe it’s because I too long to write stories for young people like A. A. Milne did, thus becoming, like him and his Winnie-the-Pooh books, a small but meaningful part of the childhoods of countless kids. Or maybe it’s because I generally adore childhood so damn much or because Piglet, my beloved Piglet, has played and continues to play an important role in my life as a kid, kid at heart, and dad to a pair of daughters.
Whatever the reason or combination of reasons, few static experiences (those devoid of stuff like a climatic finish to a big game or an intimate reunion concert of a favorite band — the in-a-very-specific-place-and-time irreplicable moments of immediacy) have moved me to tears like the few hours I spent in Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, in the south of England. This is the real life Hundred Acre Wood and it is so incredibly moving.
It was incredibly moving to stand and sit in the spots, and walk among the thickets, trees and trails, that A.A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin stood and sat playing and creating the wonderful world of Winnie the Pooh. I talked to my kids about the Pooh Bear stories and characters (it, regrettably, had been a while so they needed a little refresher), hiked and took photos through tears of absolute joy. To say I was a bit emotional would be a minor understatement.
The real Hundred Acre Wood is also incredibly tricky to locate because, amazingly, the real life Hundred Acre Wood isn’t a theme park. I’d have bet money that Disney would’ve had that erected by now. Hell, the real Hundred Acre Wood doesn’t even have signage on the roadways in and around it. Sure, there’s the Piglet car park (we parked there, naturally) and a cutesy tourist shop and cafe called Pooh’s Corner but that’s about it.
There are maps sold in the store and available online too, and those will attempt to guide you and your kids into the Hundred Acre Wood location inside Ashdown Forest but this experience, the one that will have you traipsing over sticks and through the bushes of the world that Winnie the Pooh, Piglet and Tigger once inhabited, is equal parts geography and imagination, and maybe, just maybe, the lack of brochures, trinkets, tour buses and the abundance of quiet, reflection and serenity is why I was moved to tears as I stood in the very footsteps of so many beautiful childhoods.
Is Ashdown Forest, at least this ‘Hundred Acre Wood’ portion of it, the most picturesque place in the world (let alone southern England)? Will you take a single photograph that will awe your friends?
I’d be lying through my teeth if I answered ‘yes’ to either of those questions but what I can say is that if you have time in London (Ashdown Forest is just 30 miles south), a day long layover at Gatwick, or if your family will be road tripping around the U.K. as we did this past summer AND you love children, children’s book and/or childhood, meandering around A.A. Milne and Christopher Robin’s Hundred Acre Wood, the home of Pooh Bear, Tigger, Roo, Piglet, Rabbit and maybe a Heffalump, is a remarkable way to spend a few hours in the British countryside.
*Note: my wife fell and hurt her knee badly during a hike in the Lake District a few days prior so we broke the rules by ignoring the ‘private road’ signed to drive close to Pooh Sticks Bridge. Unfortunately, I missed out on the chance to play Poohsticks with my girls since I had to stay with the running car but reports were that this bridge, the gently flowing water and the floating sticks were everything she and the girls could have hoped for. I’m sure I’d have cried there too, but you probably could’ve guessed that.