“The Hundred-Acre Wood really exists?” That is the question I was asked 87% of the time when I told friends, relatives and acquaintances that I was making a pilgrimage to the birthplace of Winnie the Pooh - the genuine “100 Aker Wood.” Yup, the real place where the very non-real characters of Winnie, Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Kanga, and Roo frolicked, played, and lived. This is the actual locale where the very real Christopher Robin and his dad A.A. Milne spent their summers.
So, the truth has been established, the Hundred-Acre Wood does really exist. It just goes by a different name, it’s really called Ashdown Forest, and it is located in the tranquil countryside of East Sussex, England. Perhaps to protect it’s identity, A.A. Milne changed the name of the area where he found his inspiration. These woods served as the setting of “Eeyore’s gloomy place”, the “sandy pit where Roo plays”, and of course the location of the homes of the whole crew of characters from Pooh Bear’s house to Owl’s tree. And coming this Friday, to our theater screens, we are getting a unique, unparalleled and breathtaking representation of this legendary land thanks to the brand new Winnie the Pooh film. So what is the REAL Hundred-Acre Wood like?
First I should confess a couple things. 1) I love, love, love the new Winnie the Pooh film. It’s charming, sweet, beautiful, tender and hilarious. 2) Disney flew me to Hundred-Acre Wood to get a chance to experience the location first hand and to meet with the directors and animators who made this movie magic. Yeah, color me stoked, not unlike Winnie falling into a vat of honey.
The filmmakers of the new Winnie the Pooh film had strict orders to “return Pooh to his roots.” They took that directive literally. A production crew went to the source – the birthplace of Winnie the Pooh and his friends. Ashdown Forest plays a significant part in the new film, a costar alongside Winnie and company. The directors and a team of artists spent a week studying Ashdown Forest in order to make sure they captured the look, the feel and the essence of the woods. These were the same woods that the Milne family explored and which became the setting for Milne’s works of fiction. These were also the same woods that E. H. Shepard spent time in for the inspiration of the original drawings for the books.
The Milne family were regular visitors to these woods; they had a country estate near Ashdown Forest. Christopher Milne (A.A. Milne’s son and the inspiration for Christopher Robin) once wrote that, “Pooh’s forest and Ashdown Forest are identical,” a message that the filmmakers really took to heart.
If you are familiar with the book illustrations (or have seen the new film) you will instantly recognize the Hundred-Acre Wood when you set foot into the Ashdown Forest. Something about the trees, the foliage, the open spaces, it really makes you feel nostalgic not just for the stories of your youth, but for a time that is uncluttered, simpler and more carefree, not unlike the stories of A.A. Milne and the new Winnie the Pooh movie.
One thing that is cool about Ashdown Forest today is that it isn’t a commercial zone. There are no gift shops selling Winnie tchotchkes, trinkets, knickknacks, whatnots; there are no hoards of tourists in gas-guzzling buses, there is no pomp or circumstance. Okay, maybe there is a little; there is a plaque, a parking lot called Pooh Car Park and a sign notifying you that you are about to cross Pooh Bridge (and how to properly throw a stick over the side). Besides that, it’s just the natural, unspoiled, and unpretentious landscape. Occasionally you’ll spot things that you can identify from the film or the books like the above mentioned Pooh Bridge, the sandy pit where Roo plays, the “Dark and Mysterious Forest,” “Galleon’s Lap,” and a sweet mock up of Eeyore’s stick house.
This place really possesses the soul of Winnie the Pooh. And while producing the film, the filmmakers accurately captured the sense of the Hundred-Acre Wood but in a way that transcends the real place. They took the Ashdown Forest and gave it a magical patina while not losing the essence of the real place, capturing the heather, the bracken, the silver birch and the clumps of pine trees in a way that makes subtle, sweet magic, a home for that much beloved bear and friends.
You can check out the film when it open nationwide on Friday, July 15th.
Check out these photos from the Ashdown Forest as well as shots from the film of the Hundred-Acre Wood here:
Full Disclosure: The author participated in a press junket for the above coverage and was the guest of the Walt Disney Company while attending. Any opinions presented here are purely held by its author and do not reflect those held by Pixar Animation Studios or the Walt Disney Company.