South to the sea - 100 akers of fun

Day 5 – West Hoathly to Crowborough

Day 5 of my big adventure to the sea and I was following the footsteps of the great Winnie the Pooh, by walking through the 100 Aker Wood (aka the 500 Acre Wood in Ashdown Forest).

Suzannah was still with me for the 5th leg. We grew up exploring the outdoors, but I could tell she was nervous about the challenge ahead of her. She’d never walked more than 10 miles; and today’s ramble was set to be at least 15. But, she was very good and didn’t complain. I think like me, she didn’t want to appear like a wuss. My muscles were really beginning to ache, but I wanted to pretend to everyone I was up for the challenge, even if I felt like an arthritic pensioner.

Ana enjoyed a game of pooh sticksTo prepare for the journey, Suzannah performed a series of stretches to get her muscles into shape. I should probably have joined in, but I felt that my muscles were stretched enough after 70 miles of walking. Plus I enjoyed witnessing her lunge, hop and squat too much to join in.

I’d managed to recruit someone to lead and navigate for this leg. Malcolm McDonnell, Ramblers’ Footpath Secretary for Sussex, plumber, pub expert, motor-biker and storyteller on all of Sussex’s crooks and cronies. The perfect person to lead Suzannah and I through the 100 Aker Wood.

Our walk took us through some lovely Sussex woodland. Autumn was just beginning to arrive and the leaves were still green with hints of red and brown.

We plodded along listening to Malcolm’s tales of the Earl de la Warr, Nicholas Van Hoogstraaten and the new Sussex gentry. People who had too much money and not enough kindness for footpaths and the people who use them.

Occasionally we would stop to marvel at giant mushrooms of the kind that would inspire Enid Blyton to write about Noddy or the Magic Faraway Tree. Malcolm showed us which ones were edible, poisonous and hallucinogenic. As much as I trust Malcolm, I thought it would be best not to pick any for dinner later.

We walked along the Weir Wood Reservoir, through more woodland and joined the Forest Way. The Forest Way used to be part of the railway from Three Bridges to Tunbridge Wells, but was closed when Dr Beeching wielded his axe through rural railways. Like many closed railway lines, it’s now been turned into a shared use track for cyclists, walkers and horse-riders to use. It was quite pleasant walking along and seeing the variety of people passing us. However, after a mile or so it got quite monotonous and I was longing for lunch and new scenery.

We stopped in Hartfield for lunch. Malcolm knows every single pub in Sussex, and has a story for each one plus a biography of the landlord. The Gallipot Inn near Hartfield was no exception. I could share with you some of the stories, but I’d recommend asking him instead as he’s a much better storyteller.

After lunch, our real fun began. When I’d asked Malcolm if he’d lead me on this walk, my only instruction was that it had to lead me from West Hoathly to Crowborough and past Pooh Bridge. I think my childish command added an extra few miles to the route, but I didn’t care, it was all part of my big adventure to the sea.

Rabbit's doorI’ve been to Pooh Bridge with Malcolm before. As Ramblers footpath secretary for Sussex, Malcolm gets told about any plans to move, close or create a footpath in East Sussex. For each one, he, or one of his local footpath secretaries, will go down and walk the proposed route. If it’s inconvenient for walkers, then he’ll object and work with the Council to propose a better route.

A couple of years ago, there were plans to move the path close to Pooh Bridge. As it’s such a famous site, he wanted me to come and have a look and check it was ok. The highlight of my career – a site visit to Winnie the Poohland. We all agreed that it was ok, and now the path has been diverted to accommodate the thousands of Japanese tourists who flock to it each year.

I could tell that I was close to Pooh Bridge, because the yellow waymarks that we’d been following all day were replaced with a sign in Japanese and the trees were free of overhanging twigs as eager Pooh Stick players had picked out their tools, leaving the tree bare. We found a pile of tree cuttings that we explored for use. I went for small and thin twigs, Suzannah went for sturdy sticks and Malcolm just grabbed half a tree.

Just by Pooh bridge was a tree that had a little door in for Rabbit to enter and a note from Pooh thanking everyone for their notes and honey pots. It set my childish heart racing with excitement.

For those that don’t know about Pooh sticks, please have a word with your parents, they should have taught you. I’ll try and teach you instead. It’s a very simple game.

1. Players should find a suitable stick, preferably one found on the floor rather than a live one from a tree.
2. Players stand upstream on a bridge
3. On the count of 3, players drop their sticks in the river.
4. Players sprint across the bridge to see which stick arrived first.
5. The first stick to emerge from the bridge is the winner.

I played several games with Malcolm and Suzannah. At one point, mine and Suzannah’s 15 year friendship looked on the brink of collapse after she accused me of cheating. I would never throw my stick into the river, when the rules clearly say drop! It still brings up a bitter taste to think that she’d make those kind of wild, libellous, statements about my pooh stick playing.

I’m not sure what the final standings were, but I like to that think that I won.

The final walk through the Ashdown Forest was more of a slow plod for me as tiredness took over. Malcolm transformed into some sort of woodland kelpie, leading us merrily up hills and through copses until we reached Crowborough.

At Crowborough we stopped for a few pints in the Coopers Arms. Another pub that Malcolm regaled us with tales about. I was too tired to remember any, sorry!

Bath timeAfter some refreshment in the Coopers Arms, I still had another 2 miles before I reached my bed for the night, and Malcolm another 3½ miles to his home in Withyham.

I was staying at my ex-boss Ade’s house. He used to be “Head of Walking Environment” (strangest job title ever) at the Ramblers he’s now an R.E teacher (Religious Education), a very different path in life. As soon as I arrived, I was shepherded into the bathroom and encouraged to have a very long bath. I can’t have smelt that bad can I?!

As I sank into the bubbles, I thought of the adventure that I’d had so far, and the two long solo days of walking that I had ahead of me.

Day 5 Stats – West Hoathly – Crowborough

West Hoathly to Hartfield – 11.51 miles, 20.17 minutes a mile, 892 calories burnt
PM: Hartfield to Crowborough – 8.12 miles, 23.12 minutes a mile (includes a long Pooh break), 671 calories.
Total: 19.63 miles.
Lunch: Gallipot Inn - £20 for 3 meals.
Highlight: Spotting Rabbit’s house, Winnie the Pooh’s note and playing Pooh Sticks

Anastasia French is the Ramblers campaigns officer. Find out more about her, including her previous posts about walking south to the sea and follow her on twitter @ramblingfrench.