Winnie-the-Pooh in the Ashdown Forest
Sing Ho! for the life of a bear. Head down to the Ashdown Forest, just south of the M25, into a wilderness of woods and open heath. This is where A.A. Milne wrote the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. Walk through the real Hundred Acre Wood and play Pooh-sticks at a stream, but avoid the hoards of tourists that inevitably descend on the official Pooh sights in one small corner of the forest.
We have found a quieter corner of the forest for our walk with its own small wood (Friends’ Clump), a fabulous windmill, a small waterfall and a wooden bridge over a stream for Pooh-sticks. The walk starts at a clump of scots pine trees just like the ones drawn by E.H. Shepard in the Pooh stories. Let yourselves get carried away with the Winnie-the-Pooh adventure. Gather sticks for Pooh-sticks, hunt for heffalumps in the woods, set a trap for woozles. Gather pine cones and build Eeyore’s house. Make up Pooh-ish songs as you walk along. Set off on an expedition to discover the North Pole. Tiddly-pom.
It is a beautiful place to be. The Ashdown Forest, in spite of its name, is mostly open heath land, with rolling valleys and great views. And it is just as you would imagine, as if you are walking through the drawings in the Winnie-the-Pooh books. Rumour has it that some wallabies escaped from a captive colony and once roamed the forests. Perhaps a sighting of Kanga is still possible.
Map Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 135
Distance 3 km/2 miles to the waterfall and back
Terrain The walk involves easy downhill to a stream, looping back up to Friends’ Clump. Open heath land with a small wood at the bottom of the valley, running alongside a stream to a charming, small waterfall. It can be very muddy.
START: Friends’ Car Park, Crowborough Road, Ashdown Forest
WALK THE WALK
1 Take the path in front of Friends’ Clump down to the left, heading straight down the hill towards some trees.
2 There is a great windmill off to the left if you feel like a quick detour. Otherwise stick to the main track, ignoring the right hand path that curves down before the woods. Nutley Windmill is only open on the last Sunday of the month but is worth a look open or closed as it’s very charming.
3 Get back on the main track and keep following it through the trees, ignoring any minor turns to the left and right. Just before the path starts to descend, keep to the right. Ignore the left fork here.
4 At the bottom of the valley, as the path levels off, follow it round to the right and then to the left, through some silver birch trees, towards a small brook.
5 Cross at the wooden footbridge ahead of you. Turn right, scrambling along the left bank of the stream. It soon becomes a much easier bank to walk along, if a little muddy. In spring this riverbank is full of wild daffodils, in late spring, bluebells and in summer, foxgloves. The banks are gorgeously soft, mossy and green. It is a good spot for playing, exploring, pond dipping and adventures. As Christopher Robin would say, it is just the sort of place for an ambush.
6 Before too long, cross back over to the other side of the stream (a sign says Keep Out: Property of the Ministry of Defence) over another narrow wooden footbridge. This is a good place for mini Pooh-sticks.
Carry on along the path, following the direction of the yellow arrow, this time with the stream on your left. Make your own path straight ahead, alongside the stream. The path starts to climb a little, leaving the stream below, but still travelling parallel to it. Follow it higher into the trees until it becomes a good, clear path, heading straight on. You are now in a wood of silver birch, beech and rowan trees. Look out for trees that could be Owl’s house. And for Rabbit’s house in the soft earth under foot.
As the path starts to climb, it splits left and right. Take the left hand path, still parallel to the stream, but now way above it in the woods. The path comes out onto a wide bridleway, or firebreak. Keep going straight on. Friends’ Clump is now on the hill to your right. Continue until the path dips down to a small pond. Good for a rest and a small smackeral of something.
7 If you want to head back at this point, turn right and follow the wide track up the hill to Friends’ Clump.
Otherwise, turn left here and take the wide and open path to the left of the pond, heading straight on, for about 15 minutes. You are walking just above the stream and woods. As the path dips down to a small wooden footbridge, listen out for the sound of the waterfall and cut left into the woods in search of it. It is very small but charming. It is just the kind of waterfall that Roo went over when he fell into the stream on their Expotition to the North Pole. If you want to carry on walking, the wide path takes you further into the forest and eventually to Gil’s Lap. Make sure you have the Ordnance Survey map with you.
When you are ready, head back the way you came, this time scrambling along small paths by the stream back to the small pond. Keep walking straight ahead, on a wide path out onto open heath covered with gorse bushes and purple heather and up to the top of Friends’ Clump, something very like Christopher Robin’s Enchanted Place. Look back at the long views behind you. Ahead of Friends’ Clump are equally stunning views of the South Downs.