Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Enchanted Place

Deep in the Hundred Acre Wood
Where Christopher Robin plays
You'll find the Enchanted Neighbourhood
Of Christopher's childhood days

The car left behind us, we slip along a narrow path between threatening gorse hedges, and wind our way up to Galleon's Lap. A small copse set at one of the highest points of the Ashdown Forest, its sheltering canopy glowers over a couple of benches and a stone monument. My elder daughter and her little brother inspect the inscription. It marks the Enchanted Place, and was set up decades ago by a local Hartfield resident and opened by Christopher Robin Milne himself. The view northwards takes in trees, fields, misty impressionistic vistas all the way up to Surrey.

"Being enchanted, it's 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. Siting there they could see the whole world spread out until it reached the sky, and whatever there was all around the world over was with them in Galleons Lap
- AA Milne 'The House At Pooh Corner'

Gorse, bracken and heather. No shortage of that. We strike west, finding a stumbling, pebble-riven track through the undergrowth below the tree that Pooh lived in, and head toward the darker parts of the Forest, to the areas where the Romans and their medieval successors tore the stone from the ground and melted it to make swords, to where we hope to see deer and, maybe, wild boar.

  We see neither. The Forest hides its wildlife from us, no deer, no boars, and certainly no tiggers. We clamber up the gradient, tired and thirsty, through Roo's sandy place, past awe-struck Americans, return to the car and drive the two miles to Pooh Corner.

  Hartfield is a small but very popular village, thanks to Milne. We are granted a miracle, and actually manage to park along its main street, only a few steps from Pooh Corner. The building, once a shop where C.Robin and his Nanny bought cakes and sweets, is now a tea room/ Pooh paraphenalia emporium.

  We sit there, eating hot crumpets and drinking sweet tea, surrounded by a childhood memory, and I say to my daughter, 'How English is this!'

  She smiles with the cynical smirk of a teenager who has visited Watership Down, who has followed the footsteps of Arthur from Tintagel to Glastonbury, has stumbled through mist, drizzle and wind to stand at the top of Yr Wyddfa, has seen chirpy alcoholics stumbling along Molly Malone's streets and has heard the melody of church bells ringing across Firenze. My return smile reflects her experiences.

  We drive away from Hartfield. Next week I will make sure there are deer. We will head in the opposite direction, we will visit the Duke of Bedford's seat in Bedfordshire, where there are more deer than you could shake an antler at.

  But no willy nilly silly old bears.

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