Pooh pilgrimage

For Winnie the Pooh fans a visit to the tiny village of Hartfield in East Sussex – the birthplace of the “bear of very little brain” – is a must. KH  shows you the way to go…

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Over a million people annually visit the Hartfield spots patronised by Pooh – the star of A. A Milne’s whimsical books, which E.H Shepard illustrated with warmth and imagination. Surrounded by lush woodland, Hartfield is the quintessential retreat; an oasis of peace and serenity proving a welcome respite from the frenzied pace of urban life.

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Pooh Corner which serves as a gateway into Pooh Country should be your first port of call. Tucked between two sugar almond shaded cottages and an enclosed shady garden overlooking the high street, it’s a veritable gold mine of Pooh-phernalia; the shelves strain with souvenirs emblazoned with the image of the world famous stout, stumpy bear. The store is situated in the original building that housed the candy store where the Milne’s nanny would take a young Christopher Robin to buy his bulls’ eye candy back in 1905. Under the ownership of the amiable Ridleys, it has been a Pooh shrine since the late 1970s. If you only buy one item, invest in an “exploitation” certificate which allows the visitor to tick off the places of interest beloved by Pooh.

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Two and a half miles south of Pooh Corner you’ll find Pooh Bridge – the most famous of all the enchanted places.  It was here that the author first played the original game of Poohsticks – later immortalised in The House at Pooh Corner – with his son. To reach Pooh Bridge, follow signs to Maresfield; the journey should take approximately 40 minutes by foot. Tip: try to pick up suitable twigs en route as there are few to be found at the bridge itself. Rebuilt first in 1979 and again in 1999, the bridge corresponds to Shepard’s illustration and it’s easy to imagine a small boy and his bear hanging over the rail “just doing nothing” as they watched the stream slip slowly by.

From Pooh Bridge, head for the Enchanted Place; a clump of pine trees on a grassy knoll – and when the sun is shining – the perfect place for a picnic. Dubbed the “enchanted place” because it was only the spot in the forest where Pooh could carelessly sit down without prickling his bottom, it was also the magical site whereby Christopher Robin decided to knight his loyal little friend with the words: “Rise, Sir Pooh de Bear, most faithful of all my knights.”

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Further in front lies a memorial plaque in memory of Milne and Shepard, while to the right the pine covered forest pierces the sky. Within easy walking distance are the lone pine tree, the sandy pit where Roo plays, Eeyore’s gloomy place and the hiding holes of Rabbit and his relations. You can also retrace the steps to the North Pole and with a little imagination locate a Pooh Trap for Heffalumps. All are mapped out in the complimentary Pooh Country visitor’s map.

Encapsulating the great outdoors, Pooh Country is a dream come true. The place puts a spell on you. Everything – work, war, the recession, even Hollywood movies – seems a long way from Pooh’s place.

Eating out

cream-tea_penshurst After a day spent foraging in the forest, chances are you’ll have worked up an appetite for afternoon tea – which is where St Ives Tea Gardens comes in. Don’t be deterred by the queue; tea here is a real treat. Locals and visitors alike sit in the spectacular landscaped garden set amongst beautiful English countryside, although indoor seating is available in converted stables. Plump for the traditional cream tea; a generous sized spread of warm sultana scones, thick clotted cream, the freshest of jams and a pot of tea which the owners will watch you savour with fierce pride. Just make sure you mind the magnificent peacocks! St Ives Tea gardens, Butcherfield Lane, Hartfield, East Sussex 01892 770589 Open daily from 11am

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Top shops The Pooh corner shop is home to the largest collection of Pooh memorabilia to be found anywhere in the world and a Mecca for Pooh fans of all ages and nationalities. Whatever Pooh inspired gift you’re searching for, you’ll find it here. Mugs are perennially popular while younger fans are attracted by the brightly coloured helium filled balloons.  The Pooh Corner Shop, High Street, East Sussex, TN7 4AE 01892 770456 Open Mon- Sat 9am-5pm, Sun and Bank Holidays 11am-5pm

Getting there Trains run from London Victoria to East Grinstead or from Charing Cross to Tunbridge Wells. From either town take the 291 bus 12km to the high street shop in Hartfield. By car (from London) take A23 south and at Purley take A22 to East Grinstead, then B2110 to Hartfield. From Hartfield take B2026 toward Maresfield to Pooh Country.

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For more information on the region visit www.pooh-country.co.uk