The Setting Of The Pooh Books


The original

 

While many of the poems in When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six are based strictly on fantasy, others draw on real places and people who lived in London and Sussex -- notably, of course, on Alan and Christopher Milne (with honorable mention going to Olive Rand and Anne Darlington). Likewise, however true to its own rules, the world described in Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner draws on a very real rural countryside: that near Cotchford Farm in Sussex. It is this countryside which is the focus of this brief page.


The countryside near Cotchford Farm, Sussex

This map (taken from The Enchanted Places by Christopher Milne) shows the region near Cotchford Farm. A small stream runs past it, a tributary of the River Medway. On the other side of the stream from Cotchford is (or was) a chicken farm (or so Christopher Milne wrote, p. 57; in the illustrations to the poem "Us Two" in NWAS, however, it looks more like a turkey farm). This is (or was) Posingford Farm (see map).

Further upstream was and remains a bridge leading into Posingford Wood, the bridge that inspired the "Poohsticks Bridge" of
The House at Pooh Corner. On the other side of the bridge, the "Charcoal Burner" immortalized so charmingly in Now We Are Six lived, worked and told his tales.

In "The Charcoal Burner", we are told that "He lives in the Forest, / Alone in the Forest..." Actually, this is a slight inaccuracy (for the sake of the poetry, or simply due to colloquial usage), because "the Forest" properly speaking is Ashdown Forest, just to the south of and directly bordering Posingford Wood. ("Anyone who has read the stories knows the Forest and doesn't need me to describe it," wrote Christopher in
TEP, p. 61. "Pooh's Forest and Ashdown Forest are identical.") Within the Forest is Gill's Lap -- also called Galleon's Lap, where Christopher Robin and Pooh go at the end of The House at Pooh Corner. (According to Thwaite, p. 528, there is some confusion today about the actual names and to what features of the area they belong.) This is also the area labeled "nice for picknicks" on the famous map of the Forest in Winnie-the-Pooh.

Near another stream, still within the Forest, the "North Pole" was "discovered". "As you make your way down to it," wrote Christopher, "and continue up on the other side you will be following the route Pooh took...when he went 'down open slopes of gorse and heather, over rocky beds of streams, up steep banks of sandstone into the heather again; and so at last, tired and hungry, to the Hundred Acre Wood' -- only, of course, as your map will have told you, it is really the Five Hundred Acre Wood". This is "a real forest with giant beech trees, all dark and mysterious" (
TEP, p. 62).

Owl's House, though squarely within the Hundred Acre Wood in the Pooh Books, was actually a tree situated in a cluster of trees growing somewhat north of the main body of the Five Hundred Acre Wood. Again, though in
Winnie-the-Pooh Owl's House is called "The Chestnuts" ("an old-world residence of great charm"), it was in reality "a huge and ancient beech tree, one of a group of about half a dozen" which were regrettably cut down during World War II (TEP, p. 63). E.H. Shepard rendered the tree itself faithfully, as his illustration matches Christopher's description of the tree precisely. North of Owl's House, and about due east of Cotchford, one finds the Six Pine Trees that figure so prominently in the stories.

In the stories and the accompanying fictional map, of course, the relative placement of these features of the landscape are changed, and others are added which Christopher doesn't point out on his own real-world map.


Christopher Robin's map of the Forest from Winnie-the-Pooh (

So then -- are "the Forest" and "the Hundred Acre Wood" simply two different names for the same place or region in the Pooh Books?

Not at all! We have already cited Pooh's journey to the Hundred Acre Wood as described by Christopher Milne -- a journey that was based on a journey one would take in real life from Ashdown Forest to the Five Hundred Acre Wood. That journey is described in Chapter IV of Winnie-the-Pooh. (All references to Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner are taken from The World of Pooh, E. P. Dutton, 1957.) In "a thistly corner of the forest" (Alan was not then capitalizing "the Forest" consistently), Pooh encounters Eeyore, who has lost his tail. Pooh sets out from there to find it.

It was a fine spring morning in the forest as he [Pooh] started out....Through copse and spinney marched Bear; down open slopes of gorse and heather, over rocky beds of streams, up steep banks of sandstone into the heather again; and so at last, tired and hungry, to the Hundred Acre Wood. For it was in the Hundred Acre Wood that Owl lived" (Winnie-the-Pooh, p. 48).

Again, after "Piglet's flood" in Chapter IX, we read this:

One day when the sun had come back over the Forest...on such a day as this Christopher Robin whistled in a special way he had, and Owl came flying out of the Hundred Acre Wood to see what was wanted (op. cit., p. 136).

We know from several references that "Christopher Robin lived at the very top of the Forest" (p. 129). As we see on the map above (taken from Winnie-the-Pooh and colorized), he also lived at its east end, whereas Owl lived south and east of its center. Only the cluster of trees in which Owl lived is titled "100 Aker Wood" on the map. Again, Owl flew out of the Hundred Acre Wood to get to Christopher Robin's house, which was all the same at the very top of the Forest.

When Eeyore had a birthday (
Winnie-the-Pooh, Chapter VI), Piglet rushed home from Pooh's House to get a balloon and bring it to Eeyore. His path to "Eeyore's Gloomy Place" would have taken him south of the area labeled "100 Aker Wood" on Christopher Robin's map. When Piglet fell and broke his balloon, "BANG!!!???***!!!", he thought at first "that the whole world had blown up; and then he thought that perhaps only the Forest part of it had," and then that perhaps only he had. When he finally got up and looked around, he "was still in the Forest!" (p. 80).

What of Piglet's own House? "The Piglet lived in a very grand house in the middle of a beech-tree, and the beech-tree was in the middle of the forest, and the Piglet lived in the middle of the house" (
Winnie-the-Pooh, Chapter III, p. 36). Technically, of course, Piglet lived in the southwestern part of the Forest -- but, he lived in the Forest, not in the Hundred Acre Wood.

We know from Chapter II of
Winnie-the-Pooh that Rabbit lived at one end of the Forest and Christopher Robin "lived at the other end of the Forest" (p. 31). Later, in The House at Pooh Corner (Chapter V), we find that Rabbit, going from his house on the way to Christopher Robin's house -- and thus traveling within the Forest from one end to the other -- "hurried on by the edge of the Hundred Acre Wood". At the same time, "several members of the Beetle family...made their way to the Hundred Acre Wood and began climbing trees" in hopes of seeing whatever was about to happen (p. 221). These came to the Hundred Acre Wood from "the place where his friends-and-relations lived", a place Rabbit had just passed through (ibid.). This place (according to Christopher Robin's map of the Forest) was north of the Hundred Acre Wood where Owl lived.

Finally, we learn in the very first story of
Winnie-the-Pooh that Pooh and Christopher Robin lived in different parts of "the forest [sic]" (p. 14). In Chapter VIII of The House at Pooh Corner, Pooh and Piglet visited all their friends' Houses (in order: Pooh's own House, then Kanga's, Rabbit's, Christopher Robin's, Eeyore's and Owl's). After leaving Pooh Corner (where Eeyore lived), "it seemed hours before [Pooh] got them into the shelter of the Hundred Acre Wood" where Owl lived (p. 272). We have already established that Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit and Christopher Robin lived in different parts of the Forest. So did Kanga, Roo and Tigger (Chapter IV, p. 203), and so did Eeyore (Chapter VI, p. 246). While Owl likewise lived in the Forest (Chapter V, p. 223), only Owl's House was specifically located in the Hundred Acre Wood.


 

Some might be confused by this reference in Chapter V of Winnie-the-Pooh: "The Sun was still in bed, but there was a lightness in the sky over the Hundred Acre Wood which seemed to show that it was waking up and would soon be kicking off the clothes" (p. 64). Does this mean that the whole Forest was also called the Hundred Acre Wood? Again, not at all! At that moment, Pooh was visiting the Very Deep Pit near the Six Pine Trees. Dawn was breaking in the east or just slightly south of due east (see Shepard's illustration on the left) -- and that is precisely where the Hundred Acre Wood was, relative to Pooh's position (see map). Interestingly, earlier in the same story we read of Pooh and Piglet walking "along the path which edged the Hundred Acre Wood" before coming to the Six Pine Trees (p. 57). That path would have skirted the northern edge of the Wood, as they were coming from Christopher Robin's House or somewhere nearby. The map shows that path clearly (see above).

Obviously, then, in the Pooh Books "the Forest" and "the Hundred Acre Wood" are not one and the same place. Rather, the latter is a place within the former (even if the Five Hundred Acre Wood was not within Ashdown Forest in real life). How then did the two get confused in almost everyone's minds -- so much so that even the outstanding Web site Christopher Robin's Winnie-the-Pooh Character Guide gives all the characters in the Forest a proprietary mailing address in the "100 Aker Wood" (deliberately copying the misspelling found on Christopher Robin's map of the Forest as given above)?

Here the blame may be laid squarely at the feet of Walt Disney, Inc., which acquired certain rights to the use of the Pooh Properties. In all of Disney's productions relating to Pooh (including the theme song to Winnie-the-Pooh and the Honey Tree, written by the Sherman Brothers), and in the spin-offs licensed to Disney, the place where Pooh and his friends live is consistently called "the Hundred Acre Wood" -- never "the Forest". This is probably the most subtle of the many differences between "Classic Pooh" (the characters and settings as Milne and Shepard created them) and "Disney Pooh" -- which is no doubt why it seems to be the least noticed. (It must be admitted that "the Hundred Acre Wood" is a much more memorable place name in literary and euphonic terms than is "the Forest" - yet all of the events in both the Pooh Books and especially in Disney Pooh, even allowing for "Cartoon Physics", couldn't possibly happen on a mere one hundred acres of land!)


 

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"RETURN TO POOH CORNER" BY KENNY LOGGINS (VERSION 2)

Updated June 17, 2016