We parked and set off on foot, in search of that fabled glade. The Ashdown was not just a forest of trees, it was a wild mix of sandstone ridges, gullies, cracked stone openings, and scrubby moorland. The upward path was banked by trees and covered in soft golden fern and leaf mold. After about fifteen minutes, the path opened to a clearing surrounded by huge boulders, like cliffs squeezed together on a coastline. Below the rocks we saw the smooth sandy bottom, Roo’s sandpit. We walked around the dense woodland and rocky outcrop and found a way down. Frances did not share our enthusiasm for things Pooh, but she did appreciate areas of natural beauty, and this certainly was one. I looked around and smiled. Silence. It was so still.
Kate, of course, was far too busy playing in the sand to get caught up in my literary imaginings. Frances rolled her eyes. After a bit, we carried on. Hiking upwards through grasses and tiny dune-like ridges of packed sand, we finally made it to the top of the hill. Before us was a vast patchwork of rocky promontories, sandy clearings, and ancient moorland with exposed tree roots sprawling into dark green forest. Atop the hillside, I was unaware of anything other than the quiet magic of the place, a strange hodgepodge of wild, silent beauty bordered by sprawling towns, villages with cricket greens, and wealthy suburban spurs curving back as far as London. Somewhere in the Ashdown Forest was a statue of Winnie the Pooh. We never found it, but we did find a plaque dedicated to A. A. Milne, tucked away in a semi-circle of trees, almost hidden, overshadowed by the forest he immortalized, those acres of woods he planted in the imagination of so many.
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