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Destination: England : Bear Country : Following in the footsteps of Winnie-the-Pooh . . . over Poohsticks Bridge to Owl's House, the Hundred Acre Wood and other enchanted places in East Sussex immortalized by author A.A. Milne

June 19, 1994

UPPER HARTFIELD, England — Many of the enchanted spots where Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore, Rabbit, Piglet, Owl, Tigger, Kanga, Roo and Christopher Robin found adventure are tucked away in the English county of East Sussex, about an hour's drive south and slightly east from London. Poohsticks Bridge, Galleon's Lap, Owl's house, Roo's sandy pit, the North Pole, the Hundred Acre Wood and the dark and mysterious Forest can be found amid the villages of Hartfield, Maresfield and Crowborough, southwest of the larger and better-known town of Tunbridge Wells.

It was there, at Cotchford Farm in Hartfield, that author A.A. Milne and his family spent their vacations, and there that Milne's son and his stuffed animals became models for the characters in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories that have charmed children and adults throughout the world since the first book, "Winnie-the-Pooh," was published in 1926, followed in 1928 by "The House at Pooh Corner."

Some places, such as Poohsticks Bridge and the tiny shop where Christopher Robin Milne and his nanny traveled in search of candy, are well marked and easily accessible.

Finding others requires a good map of the area, Christopher Robin Milne's autobiography, "The Enchanted Places," and some imagination. But the treasure that awaits, especially for those who have grown to love Christopher Robin and his friends, is worth the effort.

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West of Tunbridge Wells is the village of Upper Hartfield, the site of Poohsticks Bridge. A rustic wood sign points the way down a wooded path lined with dark-green holly bushes and towering oaks.

It's a beautiful walk to the bridge, especially in the late afternoon, when the sun illuminates shiny holly leaves, while other sections of the path are dark and mysterious. Some of the bigger trees look as if they'd make perfect homes for brainy owls and tiny pigs and lovable bears. It's easy to see how a boy and his Bear could find adventure here.

The footpath leaves the woods and, after several yards, turns to the right along meadows lined with split-rail fences.

No fences or gates block the way to the bridge, but the surface can be rutted or muddy and is not suitable for wheelchairs or bicycles.

Anyone who plans to play Poohsticks should gather twigs in the woods, because none usually can be found at the bridge. Almost everyone who goes to Poohsticks Bridge does play Poohsticks.

For those who have forgotten, or perhaps never knew, the game of Poohsticks came about one day when Winnie-the-Pooh accidentally dropped a fir cone--we Yanks would call it a pine cone--from the bridge into the lazy stream below.

At first Pooh was perplexed by his clumsiness, but then he decided to watch the water for a while. Soon he was surprised to see his fir cone floating along on the other side of the bridge.

He may have been a Bear of Very Little Brain, but Pooh realized it would be fun to drop two or more cones--or later, sticks--from the bridge and have a contest to see which would come out first on the other side.

And so the game of Poohsticks was born, and continues to be played by countless children and grown-ups. There's something compelling about tossing sticks over the wooden bridge railing and running to the opposite rail to watch them emerge, something magical about the place that draws even the stuffiest of adults into the game. It might be the simplicity of the idea, or the desire to be a child again, if only for a few moments.

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Poohsticks Bridge is a wood structure that looks very much as it does in Ernest A. Shepard's illustrations for the Milne books, often with a young child, not unlike Christopher Robin, hanging over the rail, watching for his stick to float by and shouting with glee when it appears.

The dirt path continues past the bridge to the intersection of two narrow roads. The right fork leads northeast to Cotchford Farm, where the Milne family vacationed. To the west and south is Ashdown Forest, known simply as the Forest in the Pooh books.

North of the farm is the center of the village of Hartfield and a tiny shop called Pooh Corner, or Christopher Robin's Sweet Shop.

The 300-year-old Queen Anne-style building is at the edge of Hartfield's High Street, set down a few feet beyond a grassy slope. A Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh over the door leaves no doubt this is the place.

Visitors to the shop can find bull's-eye candies similar to the ones Christopher Robin Milne used to buy with his nanny, Alice, as well as hundreds of Pooh-related books and gifts.

The store is stuffed from floor to rafters with needlework kits, note cards, pencil cases and other children's gifts, postcards, T-shirts, sweat shirts and pricey but authentic-looking stuffed versions of Pooh and his friends. Most of the Poohs here are Shepard's sketchlike designs rather than the more stylized, red-jacketed Disney version of Pooh that is better-known in the United States. Pooh lovers, beware: It's easy to lose many pounds--the monetary kind--in this tiny shop.

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