Winnie-the-Pooh's Hundred Acre Wood is based on a real forest in the English countryside. NPR's Ari Shapiro visits Ashdown Forest with Kathryn Aalto, author of The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh. (This story originally aired on All Things Considered on Oct. 26, 2015.)
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
We're going to take a moment now to visit a land that inspired heffalumps and have a lump and expotitions - a forest in Southeast England. You may have been there in your imagination. Last year, I had a chance to go there in real life and told you all about it. Since today is a holiday, how about we go back together?
This view is sort of a quintessential English countryside. You have rolling hills and trees and squares of farmland and heather and gorse and a perfectly blue sky day. That might be the only thing that's not very English about this.
KATHRYN AALTO: (Laughter).
SHAPIRO: And our tour guide for this place is author Kathryn Aalto.
AALTO: I wrote the book "The Natural World Of Winnie-The-Pooh: A Walk Through The Forest That Inspired The Hundred Acre Wood." And this is the real landscape that inspired Milne to write his famous Winnie the Pooh stories.
SHAPIRO: As Aalto explains in her book, nearly a hundred years ago, the author A.A. Milne and his son, Christopher Robin, lived near Ashdown Forest, where we are now. Milne watched his son play with his stuffed animals here. Ashdown Forest became the Hundred Acre Wood, and Christopher Robin's adventures with Winnie the Pooh became some of the most beloved children's stories of all time about a honey-loving, silly old bear and his friends.
Just a little ways down the path is a cluster of trees. What's that place?
AALTO: It's called the enchanted place. There are either 63 or 64 trees in there.
SHAPIRO: Christopher Robin was never able to count exactly...
SHAPIRO: ...Whether it was 63 or 64.
AALTO: Even if you put...
SHAPIRO: And that's how he knows it's magic.
AALTO: That's exactly right.
SHAPIRO: Let's go there.
AALTO: All right.
SHAPIRO: In the enchanted place, the trees make a circle, almost like a shelter. Dappled light streams through the rustling leaves overhead. It's the highest spot in Ashdown Forest. The ground is flat and inviting.
Will you read a section from one of the Winnie the Pooh stories that describes this place we're standing in?
(Reading) 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.
SHAPIRO: And this is, in the books - and because of that, kind of in real life - a place you say goodbye to childhood, a place of transition.
AALTO: It is. Every time I'm here, I sort of - it's really emotional, actually. I - it's saying goodbye to free time, you know, the protection of mother and this sort of thing and father and leaving and going out into the world. And so there's great symbolism here.
SHAPIRO: Where should we go next?
AALTO: I think we need to play a game of Poohsticks, Ari.
SHAPIRO: That sounds like a perfect activity for a day like today.
Poohsticks is a simple game that kids of any age can play. Each person stands on a bridge, holding a stick. Drop your stick in the water from one side of the bridge, and see whose comes out the other side first. It's a sort of race. We meet 10-year-old Anna Matthews with her family. She's wearing an "Avengers" t-shirt.
Playing Poohsticks is very different from watching a superhero movie.
ANNA MATTHEWS: Yeah. I think it's nice to sort of unwind and sort of get away from the violent side of some movies and books but go sort of towards the Winnie the Pooh, where it's nice and it sort of teaches you a story, as well. So I like him.
SHAPIRO: At the Poohsticks bridge, lots of children are playing with their parents and grandparents.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Who's going to get those three first, then? Can you see them going through?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Those yours?
AALTO: The wonderful thing about this game is that there is no strategy. Right, so shall we play?
SHAPIRO: All right.
AALTO: All right then.
SHAPIRO: Give us a countdown of three...
AALTO: Two, one...
SHAPIRO: One, go.
SHAPIRO: Mine's in the lead.
AALTO: Yours is under the bridge first. I think can amble across.
SHAPIRO: I just think of the generations of kids who have leaned over this bridge, looking into this water, waiting for their stick to come out the other side. Oh, oh, oh.
AALTO: Stop. Whose is that?
SHAPIRO: I think that one's mine.
AALTO: Oh, you won, Ari (laughter). There they go.
SHAPIRO: My parents always taught me that the loser should say congratulations, and the winner should say good try.
AALTO: Congratulations, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Good try, Kathryn.
Kathryn Aalto is author of the new book "The Natural World Of Winnie-The-Pooh: A Walk Through The Forest That Inspired The Hundred Acre Wood." In the words of Tigger, TTFN, ta-ta for now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.