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Ashdown Forest, East Sussex

Ashdown Forest is an echo of what was probably once a vast river delta existing 130 million years ago. The sandy soil, so clear on paths that run across the forest, derives from sands of this lost world of rivers and islets. The warm river delta was eventually covered by debris left by later periods in history, including a three hundred meter thick layer of chalk laid down at the bottom of a tropical sea. About 65 million years ago the whole of what is now the Weald of Kent was forced up into a dome one thousand meters high. This dome has been eroded away, leaving chalk at the edges as the North and South Downs. In the centre, the dome has been eroded away, revealing the lost river delta world of Ashdown Forest.

Evidence of human habitation on Ashdown Forest goes back a very long way. In the Forest Centre an axe is displayed from the Paleolithic period, around 40 - 50,000 years ago. This was a warm interglacial period between ice ages. Later in history, flint flakes have been found from the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age, representing a span of time from about 8000BC to 550BC. There is also visible evidence of more recent historical residents. A section of Roman Road survives on the forest, which can be seen best from the car park named after it. But it was with the Norman invasion that Ashdown Forest began to approach something like its modern form. William the Conqueror loved hunting, and deer were kept on Ashdown Forest for this purpose. William the Conqueror also agreed that "Commoners," people who traditionally had rights of grazing on the forest, could continue to use the land. No doubt his motivation here was to allow Commoners to continue controlling the forest environment through grazing. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries a 55km earth bank, called a pale, was built to contain the deer, and this can still be seen in some areas, especially near Legsheath Farm. There were more than forty gates, or hatches, in the pale, and these are still recalled in present place names, such as Chelwood Gate or Coleman's Hatch. King's Standing, at King Standing car park, is believed to be the site of a stand or hide, past which deer would be driven for the benefit of hunters in Tudor times. Henry VIII is supposed to have hunted deer on this spot.

Ashdown Forest was a huge royal playground, but it has also been a place of work. Pillow mounds in the northern area of the forest were built for the rearing of rabbits in the late seventeenth century. These huge mounds are made of turf and are up to two hundred meters long and seven meters wide. Then in the sixteenth century Ashdown Forest became a major industrial area. In the late sixteenth century William Camden wrote: "Full of iron mines it is in sundry places, where for the making and fining whereof there bee furnaces on every side, and a huge deale of wood is yearely spent"(quoted in Ashdown Forest: An Illustrated Guide). At this time iron was made in small batches, the iron ore placed in pans and heated with burning charcoal. As Camden said, a great deal of wood was required to provide the necessary charcoal. The reason that Ashdown Forest is now a generally open landscape is because most of the tree cover was cut down to provide fuel for iron production. Today glassy slag and cinder can still sometimes be seen on the ground, or in stream beds. The streams can also still reveal rusty coloured stains of iron compounds that drew early industrial activity to Ashdown Forest. These traces are all that now remain of the iron industry. By the early eighteenth century iron production techniques were changing. Coke derived from coal was being used instead of charcoal, and iron smelting was moving to areas where coal was present, such as the Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire. Ashdown Forest reverted to the kind of landscape we see today.

 

 

A.A.Milne and E.H Shepard Memorial

Walking on Ashdown Forest it struck me that William the Conqueror tried to turn this place into a kind of fantasy land. It was a violent fantasy, for a violent time, but nevertheless it was a fantasy land where he could hunt deer. In the 1920s a resident of Hartfield, A.A.Milne, would take his little boy Christopher Robin out for walks on the forest. Milne then created stories for his son, where the little boy's cuddly toys were turned into characters who inhabited a fantasy world based on Ashdown Forest. This was a new version of William the Conqueror's playground. The forest is a place that looks wild and natural but which has actually been shaped by human activity and imagination for many centuries. When Christopher Robin finally leaves the imaginative world of the forest there is a very moving scene set at a place called Galleon's Lap. Here the natural world, and the imaginative world seem to come together:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gill's Lap - the model for Galleon's Lap

"They walked on, thinking of This and That, and by-and-by they came to an enchanted place on the very top of the Forest called Galleon's Lap, which is sixty-something trees in a circle; and Christopher Robin knew that it was enchanted because nobody had ever been able to count whether it was sixty-three or sixty-four, not even when he tied a piece of string round each tree after he had counted it. Being enchanted, its floor was not like the floor of the Forest, gorse and bracken and heather, but close-set grass, quiet and smooth and green. It was the only place in the Forest where you could sit down carelessly, without getting up again almost at once and looking for somewhere else. Sitting there they could see the whole world spread out until it reached the sky, and whatever there was all the world over was with them in Galleons lap." (From An Enchanted Place)

Galleon's Lap is based on Gills Lap, which can still be found near Gills Lap car park on the B2026 (see Pooh Bear Places Map).

 

 

 

 

 

Pooh Sticks Bridge

 

Another very affecting spot for fans of A.A. Milne is Pooh Sticks Bridge, which inspired the game of Pooh Sticks in The House at Pooh Corner.

There are a number of car parks on Ashdown Forest from where you could start a walk. You can print off our own Ashdown Forest Pooh Bear Places Map. Information and displays about the forest are provided at the Ashdown Forest Centre, at Wych Cross near Forest Row - visiting details below. Maps of walks to Pooh Sticks Bridge are available at Pooh Corner in Hartfield. The shop now known as Pooh Corner - selling the world's biggest range of Pooh Bear memorabilia - was once a sweet shop frequented by Christopher Robin and his nanny - visiting details below.

 

 

 

 

 

Duddleswell Tearooms

For food and drink there is the Duddleswell Tearooms nearby, off the B2026 near Fairwarp.

 

 

Visiting details for Ashdown Forest Centre

Directions: One mile east of Wych Cross traffic lights on the Coleman's Hatch road, off the A22 in Sussex. Click here for an interactive map centred on Ashdown Forest Centre.

Opening Times: Please use contact details below.

Address: Ashdown Forest Centre, Wych Cross, Forest Row, East Sussex RH18 5JP

Access: Official web site does not include access information. When I visited I recall a level ground floor, with steps to a second floor.

Contact:

telephone: 01342 823583

fax: 01342 824177

e-mail: conservators@ashdownforest.org

web site: http://www.ashdownforest.org/about/forest_centre.php

 

Visiting details for Pooh Corner, Hartfield

Directions: Hartfield is on the B2026, east of East Grinstead, Sussex. Click here for an interactive map centred on Pooh Corner.

Opening Times: Please use contact details below.

Address: Pooh Corner, High Street, Hartfield, East Sussex TN7 4AE

Access: You will probably park along the High Street in Hartfield. There are steps down to the sunken pavement. In the shop itself there is a step to the doorway. Once inside room is very tight, with narrow doorways and corridors.

Contact:

telephone: 01892 770456

fax: 01892 770872

e-mail: info@poohcorner.co.uk

web site: http://www.pooh-country.co.uk/

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©2008InfoBritain (updated 11/12)