If as a child you were spellbound by the magic of Winnie-the-Pooh, then this enjoyable woodland walk will rekindle many happy memories of AA Milne's wonderful stories. The walk skirts Ashdown Forest, the real-life setting for Winnie-the-Pooh; it represents the largest area of uncultivated land in southeast England, covering about 20 square miles (58sq km) in northern East and West Sussex. Once part of the much larger Wealden Forest, the area is now a very attractive mix of high, open heathland and oak and birch woodland scattered across the well-wooded sandstone hills of the High Weald. William Cobbett described it as 'verily the most villainously ugly spot I ever saw in England', though exploring the forest today, with its sunny glades and spacious heathland, it would be hard to agree with him.
Ashdown was a royal forest for 300 years, established by John of Gaunt in 1372. Then, it was a place of wild beauty and thick woodland, so dense in places that at one time over a dozen guides were required to lead travellers from one end to the other. After the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, large parts of the forest were enclosed and given to Royalist supporters. About 6,400 acres (2,600ha) were dedicated to the Commoners and remain freely accessible to the public. Ashdown Forest is cared for by Conservators, and today is the domain of the city dweller seeking peaceful recreation in the country. Despite this, it is still largely unspoilt.There is much more to this place than trees. At first glance, the forest's vegetation may look rather uniform but closer inspection reveals considerable variation. In the valley bottoms, wet bogs proliferate, dominated by sphagnum mosses. Round-leaved sundew, marsh clubmoss and cottongrass also thrive in many of the bogs. The distinctive deep blue flowers of marsh gentians add a dash of colour during the autumn. The open pools are home to the nymphs of dragonflies and damselflies while the drier valley slopes are carpeted with plants such as ling, bell heather and bracken. The higher ground supports gorse and purple moor-grass.
The walk begins in a corner of (privately owned) Five Hundred Acre Wood – the 'Hundred Acre Wood' of AA Milne's stories. The return leg briefly follows a disused railway line before heading south across rolling countryside, passing close to Cotchford Farm, where AA Milne lived, and crossing Pooh Bridge, built in 1907 and restored in 1979. This is where Milne portrays Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin playing 'Poohsticks'.
Follow the path through the gate at the bottom of the car park, signposted 'P. Bridge', and just after a path joins from the left, fork right over a plank bridge and over a stile to enter a field. Go forward along the left-hand field-edge to a track in the corner; turn right. Cross a drive to a gap in the hedge and keep ahead, ignoring a hedge-side way marked 'Alternative Path'. Follow the path through two gates and across a paddock to a stile and the road.
Turn left onto the road, then bear right opposite The Paddocks and follow the path through Five Hundred Acre Wood, taking a left fork and dropping to cross a stream by a footbridge away to the left to reach the Wealdway. Continue ahead, following WW markers, passing Kovacs Lodge. Follow further WW markers along a lane, keeping left at a junction, then just after a house called Honeywood House bear left to leave the forest and take the path to the right of two gates, below the sign for 'Fisher's Gate'.
Follow the path parallel to the drive to skirt the house. Rejoin the drive and keep right, following the Wealdway as it cuts across undulating farmland for 0.75 miles (1.2km). Pass a turning to Old Buckhurst and then bear left over a stile hidden in bracken, just before a driveway to Forstal Cottage, to follow the High Weald Landscape Trail. Cross the field past a clump of trees to enter woodland. Follow the woodland track, soon forking right.
Turn right over a brick bridge at the far side of the wood and bear right to follow the fence, passing a house. Go through the gateway in the field corner and make for the next field ahead. Head diagonally left across farmland to a stile. Keep to the right edge of the field to a stile, then cross a footbridge and continue by the field-edge towards the church. Turn left at a stile and enter the village of Hartfield.
Bear right at the B2026, then immediately left along the left-hand edge of a recreation ground, the home of Hartfield FC. Keep the tennis courts on your right to cross a stile in the field corner and continue over the next stile and onto the Forest Way. Turn left and follow the old railway trackbed, forking left to a gate just before the trackbed crosses a bridge. Cross the pasture to a gate and follow the woodland bridleway. Emerging from the trees, continue to Culvers Farm.
Turn left on the road and walk along to the first right-hand footpath, signposted 'Pooh Bridge'. Take the track ahead, soon passing a wooden shelter and, after going through woodland, emerge by fields and turn right on an enclosed path past a white house. Cross a drive to another stile and head diagonally down the field to a stile in the corner, passing through a kissing gate on the way. Continue on the path and head for the kissing gate, then follow the lane ahead and slightly to the left.
After 80yds (73m), fork right by a signpost, go straight on along the public bridleway to Pooh Bridge, and follow the track all the way to Pooh car park, avoiding minor side turnings.
Paths and tracks across farmland and woodland, many stiles
Undulating farmland and dense woodland
Some woodland stretches suitable for dogs off lead. On lead where notices indicate
OS Explorer 135 Ashdown Forest
Pooh car park (free), off B2026 south of Hartfield
None on route
Five Hundred Acre Wood is privately owned; keep to the Wealdway
WALKING IN SAFETY
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.