The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh
By Kathryn Aalto
Published by Timber Press, 7th October 2015
There cannot be many people who have never heard of Winnie the Pooh. The books of his many adventures were an integral part of my childhood and my children have also grown up with Pooh and his companions: Piglet, Tigger, Owl, Rabbit, Eeyore, Kanga and Roo.
We all feel we know the Hundred Acre Wood, but this book tells the real story which inspired the creation of the Hundred Acre Wood - Ashdown Forest in Sussex, which was a beloved and familiar stamping ground to the Milne family. Determined to give their son Christopher Robin as idyllic a childhood as they had themselves enjoyed, Alan Alexander Milne and his wife Daphne purchased Cotchford Farm on the edge of Ashdown Forest to use as a regular retreat from life in London, and a few years later, they moved there permanently.
Christopher Robin had a menagerie of stuffed animals which would become the focus of the characters which we know today through the books. Phenomenal bestsellers, the published stories were the result of a productive and pleasant working collaboration between Milne and the artist E.H. Shepard, who visited the area to make on-site sketches. Milne was already an incredibly successful and prolific author and dramatist with a prodigious output of literary work, yet his stories about life in the Hundred Acre Wood would eclipse his other works.
Kathryn Aalto has skilfully woven together the geology, geography, history and natural history of the Forest and its surrounding villages, providing a travelogue, a guide, a nature spotting manual and a nostalgic glimpse of the past, all rolled into a delightful and eminently readable book, profusely illustrated with photographs and drawings. This is an area of outstanding beauty and Ashdown is home to an incredible variety of wildlife, ranging from adders to eagles, bees to carnivorous plants as well as trees. She pinpoints as many places as possible which can be identified from the stories and gives suggestions for activities for visitors to undertake which involve utilising the natural features of the Forest. Poohsticks, of course, gets a special mention and I was delighted to learn about the World Poohsticks Championships and that restoration of the iconic bridge has been done without in any way spoiling or altering it.
Mercifully the area remains very much as it was in Milne's day; Hartfield village was mentioned in the Domesday Book and is still a very traditional English village, unspoilt and with only a discreet sign to show the path to the Poohsticks Bridge and a small Tea Room/ Gift Shop to give a clue to its connections with Winnie the Pooh. No theme parks here!
I want to describe so much of this book that the review would be enormous, so I must content myself with strongly recommending this book to *anyone* who loves Winnie the Pooh.