Lifestyle & Human Interest

Real-Life Forest That Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh's Home Goes Up In Flames


In “Spring and Fall,” quirky Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins comforted a child named Margaret who found herself distraught by the falling autumnal leaves in her favorite forest. Hopkins gently pointed out that this such suffering was simply part of human existence.

“It is the blight man was born for,” he wrote. “It is Margaret you mourn for.”

Indeed, as many people scan recent news, they find themselves exactly in Margaret’s place, shocked and surprised about the ravages that have befallen a childhood icon. The iconic Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, England, which inspired the “Winnie the Pooh” stories and cartoons, has caught fire.

According to CNN, the blaze began on April 28 at about 9:30 p.m. Flames soon raced through the forest, which is part of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

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“It’s unusual to have a fire of this size at night,” Andrew Gausden, fire station commander, said. “This seems to have caught hold before people noticed the fire.

“The undergrowth was very dry in the forest, despite the recent rain, and the fire caught quite quickly. We had numerous calls, including from the police who have a training center nearby.”

This isn’t the first time that Ashdown has suffered from conflagrations — and with a name like Ashdown, perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising.

The Daily Mail reported that one 2015 wildfire got started by a camper’s stove, and ended up taking out 16 acres.

Apparently, an errant piece of grass accidentally fell onto the burner, and that was enough. Flames eventually leaped 30 feet high as they consumed trees and undergrowth.

In February this year, two other fires were started accidentally by volunteers, burning around 1% of the forest’s 6,500 acres, according to the BBC.

So far, this most recent fire that burned 35 to 50 acres appears to have been an accident. Details on how it got started have not been provided, and the general consensus is that it was not intentionally set.

According to the BBC, Ashdown Ranger Chris Sutton stated that the destruction was particularly difficult on certain species. For instance, ground-nesting birds lost their nests and eggs.

He explained, “Reptiles like adders and lizards would not have been able to move fast enough. Large animals like foxes and deer would have been able to move out of the area quite quickly.”

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A.A. Milne made Ashdown Forest famous when he penned the first “Winnie the Pooh” book while living nearby in the 1920s.

He populated the rambling place of his character Christopher Robin’s favorite getaway with locations drawn from real life.

Biographer Nicholas Roe told the Telegraph, “One of the greatest open spaces in southern England, Ashdown Forest is the place where A. A. Milne found inspiration among woody clumps and stick-racing streams. The irony is that much of the forest disappeared centuries ago, to be replaced by heath and fern.

“Yet this 6,500-acre spread offers particularly vivid pleasures to walkers. Huge landscape variety in this ancient royal deer-hunting spread includes a blend of space and intimacy that’s particularly fantastic for children.”

Though any forest fire is bad news, this particular incident only affected some 50 or so acres out of the 6,500 — so while the fire is sad, the forest as a whole will probably be just fine.

“All is not lost,” Sutton said. “Within four weeks, we’ll have grass growing and in six months you probably won’t know too much has gone on here.”

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A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine.
A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine. Most days find him crafting copy for corporate and small-business clients, but he also occasionally indulges in creative writing. His short fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines. Loren currently lives in south Florida with his wife and three children.
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