In the heart of Posingford Wood in Ashdown Forest, East Sussex, lies the famous Poohsticks Bridge. This bridge, built in 1907, was originally known as Posingford Bridge. Its original purpose was to enable timber and felled trees from the wood to be carried by horse and cart over the trickling little stream, Steel Forge River. However, the bridge has since found fame due to the publication of the second book of stories about a cuddly teddy bear named Winnie-the-Pooh.
Author Alan Alexander Milne and his son, Christopher Robin Milne, owned a house near the village of Hartfield in Sussex. Christopher Robin and his toy collection helped inspire AA Milne's creation of the fictional Christopher Robin and his favourite stuffed animal Edward Bear, more popularly known as Winnie-the-Pooh1. There were two Winnie-the-Pooh books written:
- Winnie-the-Pooh (1926)
- The House At Pooh Corner (1928)
AA Milne also wrote two books of children's poetry, some featuring Winnie-the-Pooh and many featuring Christopher Robin:
- When We Were Very Young (1924)
- Now We Are Six (1927)
The games and the places where Christopher Robin played, in the area near his home, were also a major influence on the places described in the Winnie-the-Pooh books, both in their appearance and their names. The Hundred Acre Wood, the enchanted home of Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends, was inspired by the Five Hundred Acre Wood in Ashdown Forest. Galleon's Lap, mentioned in Chapter Ten 'An Enchanted Place' in the book The House At Pooh Corner, is based on Gill's Lap, as Christopher Robin Milne confirmed in his autobiography The Enchanted Places, saying:
At the very top of [Ashdown] Forest is Gill's Lap. I could see Gill's Lap from my nursery window... And of course you can see it as Shepard drew it in The House at Pooh Corner. In the book it is Galleon's Lap but otherwise it is exactly as described, an enchanted spot before ever Pooh came along to add to its magic.
This connection between the real world of Ashdown Forest and the fictional world of Winnie-the-Pooh was made even stronger when the illustrator of the Winnie-the-Pooh books, Ernest H Shepard, more commonly referred to as EH Shepard, drew the illustrations that accompanied AA Milne's texts. These were drawn in Ashdown Forest in exactly the same locations that AA Milne was describing.
Just as many other features in the area near their home inspired AA Milne and found their way into the two Winnie-the-Pooh stories he wrote, Posingford Bridge was the direct inspiration behind the bridge featured in The House At Pooh Corner where the game of Poohsticks was invented. Christopher Robin Milne confirmed this, saying:
This bridge still stands and still looks much the same as it did when [EH] Shepard came there to draw it: it is Poohsticks Bridge. It is difficult to be sure what came first. Did I do something and did my father then write a story about it? Or was it the other way about, and did the story come first?
A comparison of the drawing made of the bridge by EH Shepard in The House At Pooh Corner and the Poohsticks Bridge corroborates that this is where Poohsticks was invented2. The bridge is described in The House At Pooh Corner:
There was a broad track, almost as broad as a road, leading from the Outland to the Forest, but before it could come to the Forest, it had to cross this river. So, where it crossed, there was a bridge, almost as broad as a road, with wooden rails on each side of it.
The bridge is an all-wood structure. It has five large vertical posts each side of the bridge with two smaller vertical posts in the gap between each large post. Three horizontal rails run from each side of the bridge to the other, and there are approximately 40 planks that pedestrians walk on to get from one side to the other.
After the publication of Winnie-the-Pooh, and especially after the broadcast of the Disney adaptations, the bridge has become a tourist attraction, and is popular with people of all ages from all around the world. East Sussex Council, who own the Poohsticks Bridge, have said:
The attention focused on the wooden bridge has turned it into a place of pilgrimage.
Poohsticks: the Game
Poohsticks is the famous game invented by the fictional character of Winnie-the-Pooh. Sticks are dropped on one side of the bridge and then raced beneath the bridge, with the first one visible on the other side of the bridge the winner.
This was invented in The House At Pooh Corner Chapter 6 'In Which Pooh invents a new game and Eeyore joins in'. The invention of the game of Poohsticks is described with the words:
One day, when Pooh was walking towards this bridge... he picked a fir-cone up. ...He had just come to the bridge; and not looking where he was going, he tripped over something, and the fir-cone jerked out of his paw into the river. ...Then he thought he would just look at the river instead... and suddenly, there was his fir-cone...
...And that was the beginning of the game called Poohsticks, which Pooh invented, and which he and his friends used to play on the edge of the Forest. But they played it with sticks instead of fir-cones, because they were easier to mark.
How To Play Poohsticks
Eeyore wanted to tell Tigger How to Win at Poohsticks, which you do by letting your stick drop in a twitchy sort of way, if you understand what I mean.
- The House At Pooh Corner
Poohsticks is an easy game to play.
Each player selects a stick and shows it to their opponents. All must agree which stick is which, and whose is whose. Sticks must be found loose on the ground – never remove branches from trees or bushes.
Check which way the stream is flowing and stand on the bridge facing upstream, so that the river runs under the bridge beneath you.
The competitors hold their sticks at arms length over the bridge at the same height.
An agreed starter announces when to drop the sticks.
Sticks must be dropped, not thrown. Throwing is a cause for disqualification.
The players cross to the downstream side of the bridge. This should be done with care, as horses and vehicles also use the Poohsticks Bridge.
Players look over the edge of the bridge to see the sticks floating out. The owner of the first stick to emerge under the bridge is the winner.
'They always take longer than you think,' said Rabbit.
A set of official rules for playing Poohsticks is available for those travelling to the Poohsticks Bridge at the nearby Pooh Corner shop.
World Poohsticks Championships
There is an annual World Poohsticks Championship competition. Due to its popularity, this takes place, not at the small Poohsticks Bridge in Sussex, but at the larger Little Wittenham Bridge in Oxfordshire on the river Thames. Mr Lynn David, a lockkeeper on the river, first organised this event in January 1984, and now over 1,500 people take part each year. As there are so many competitors, the finish line the sticks have to reach is further downstream, rather than the other side of the bridge.
At the time of writing, Poohsticks is not an Olympic sport. The world would undoubtedly be a much better place if it was.
Rubber Duck Racing
A variant of the game of Poohsticks is rubber duck racing. This is a long-distance game, where a large number of rubber ducks, normally marked with their owners' names, are released upstream and the first one to reach the finish line downstream is declared the winner.
Getting to Poohsticks Bridge
The Poohsticks Bridge is a mile and a half south of the village of Hartfield in East Sussex. It is easily accessible by car from the B2026, with a dedicated Pooh Car Park nearby at the top of a hill, from which a 15-20 minute walk downhill will take you to bridge. The walk is advertised as being difficult and potentially unsuitable in wet, muddy conditions for prams and wheelchairs. The walk to the Poohsticks Bridge is a popular 'expotition'3 destination for hiking to from Hartfield and is also a mile and half from National Cycle Route 214, which runs along the former East Grinstead to Tunbridge Wells railway line to Hartfield, now known as the Forest Way.
The people living near the bridge have not always found Winnie-the-Pooh to be an easy neighbour to live with. In June 1980, it was reported in The Times newspaper that
[The residents of Hartfield], annoyed at the number of tourists asking for directions to the bridge, have had their request for a signpost rejected by the parish council who fear it might encourage more visitors.
Despite the continued lack of a signpost over 30 years later, visitor numbers continue to rise.
The Poohsticks Bridge Experience
Poohsticks Bridge is very popular with tourists, so much so that it is unusual for visitors to have the bridge to themselves, and you may have to wait your turn to play Poohsticks. The stream beneath the bridge is very slow and shallow. This makes playing Poohsticks challenging, and the sticks frequently get stuck. Unlike other bridges, which have shopping trolleys beneath, the water beneath the bridge is full of sticks that have become stuck in the mud. The water is also slightly orange due to iron deposits in the soil, a natural occurrence in this area. All sticks within a mile of the bridge have been thrown into the stream beneath the bridge at least once, and visitors are requested to only throw sticks that have dropped naturally to the ground, rather than pulling any living branches from the surrounding trees.
The bridge, when built in 1907, was never expected to be the focal point of so much attention, nor was it built to last unchanged. Consequently, it has often needed to be repaired over the years, especially as a result of the cumulative erosion caused by hordes of tourists constantly trip-trapping over it at all times of day, in all weathers. The first major reconstruction of the bridge occurred in 1979, the year the bridge was officially renamed Poohsticks Bridge.
However, less than a year later in mid 1980, East Sussex Council reported that, 'An upright support has snapped, causing a handrail to drop'. This was attributed to the wear and tear caused by continual Poohsticks playing, and repaired. In 1985, the footpath leading to the bridge needed £1,000 to fix it. At the turn of the 21st Century, the bridge was again reconstructed and repaired as good as new, with a plaque thanking all those who contributed to the bridge's renovation. This included the Disney company.
A Day For Eeyore
Numerous bridges of various shapes, styles and sizes have appeared in Disney's adaptations of Winnie-the-Pooh over the years. However, when it comes to the Poohsticks Bridge, it is the short film A Day For Eeyore that is most relevant. A Day For Eeyore is the fourth Disney Winnie-the-Pooh cartoon5. Made in 1983, it is a combination of The House At Pooh Corner chapter 6 'In Which Pooh Invents a new game and Eeyore joins in' and Winnie-the-Pooh chapter 6 'In Which Eeyore has a birthday and gets two presents'.
Poohsticks and the bridge on which it is played dominate half of this cartoon. The appearance of the bridge is very similar to the appearance of the real Poohsticks Bridge from the carriageway level up, with similarly designed wooden rails resting on triangular wooden supports, up to a similar height. In the cartoon, the bridge is depicted as being supported by a stone arch, rather than the wooden pier supports that the real bridge rests on. The bridge is described by the narrator:
Now crossing the river at its most peaceful spot was an old wooden bridge. It was a familiar spot to Winnie-the-Pooh for he would often wonder there doing nothing in particular and thinking nothing in particular.
The bridge in the Day For Eeyore cartoon is much smaller than the real Poohsticks Bridge, having only three vertical supports and two horizontal hand rails. The number of planks walked on also varies in the animated cartoon between 12 and 20, depending on the shot.
Just as in The House At Pooh Corner, Winnie-the-Pooh accidentally drops a fir cone on the upstream side of the bridge and sees it pass downstream.
In the book made of the cartoon, the name of the game is written as 'Pooh-sticks'; AA Milne, however, wrote 'Poohsticks'.
A Day For Eeyore has been released on its own VHS cassette and is available as an extra on some DVD editions of The Many Adventures Of Winnie-the-Pooh.