My saddest book-ending is the final chapter of The House at Pooh Corner—even more tragic than Hamlet or Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Pooh and Christopher Robin go to the Enchanted Place at the top of the Forest and Christopher Robin explains that he is going away. It strikes a chord, I suspect because it’s about lost youth.
They walked on, thinking of This and That, and by-and-by they came to an enchanted place on the very top of the Forest called Galleons Lap, which is sixty-something trees in a circle; and Christopher Robin knew that it was enchanted because nobody had ever been able to count whether it was sixty-three or sixty-four, not even when he tied a piece of string round each tree after he had counted it.
Being enchanted, its floor was not like the floor of the Forest, gorse and bracken and heather, but close-set grass, quiet and smooth and green. It was the only place in the Forest where you could sit down carelessly, without getting up again almost at once and looking for somewhere else. Sitting there they could see the whole world spread out until it reached the sky, and whatever there was all the world over was with them in Galleons Lap.
I went to Galleons Lap (which is actually Gills Lap) in Ashdown Forest last week to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Vanguard Way. I explained in my blog last year about the Vanguards when I wrote about their 50th anniversary walk. They are a most cheerful and companionable bunch.
We started the walk at Ashurst station, just in Kent and soon crossed the Medway into East Sussex. We walked across the weald, through woods of emerging bright-green leaves and bluebells, accompanied by singing blackcaps and willow warblers.
After lunch at the Dragon in Withyham
we visited the church with its Sackville chapel.
Then on across fields to Hartfield and the Pooh Sticks Bridge, where Vanguards sort-of mimicked the EH Shepard drawing of Pooh, Piglet, Roo and Rabbit.
We reached the edge of Ashdown Forest and climbed across the heath to the monument to AA Milne and EH Shepard.
The Enchanted Place is at the top of the hill, with an unusual sandstone trig-point nearby.
It isn’t quite as described in the book, the trees have become more dense and there is no view from inside the wood.
But you could sit comfortably, leaning against a tree as Pooh does in the drawing.
A little further on, we were met by Graham Butler who produced a bottle of Drambuie (a Vanguards’ tradition because Drambuie was enjoyed in the guards’ van from which the group got its name in 1965). I cut the red ribbon in celebration. The ribbon is now quite short, having been cut and retied many times. The way was originally opened by Alan Mattingly, then director of the Ramblers, in May 1981 but Vanguards enjoy a celebration so I suspect they have cut the ribbon and drunk Drambuie every five years or so since.
It was a lovely day out, and good to see Galleons Lap at last.
For completeness, I shall grit my teeth and write those sad words about Pooh and CR to end this piece.
So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.