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Goodbye Christopher Robin: My day at the Hundred Acre Wood


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Recently named one of the best loved children's book of all time, everyone who is anyone knows and most likely loves the cubby little chubby all stuffed with fluff- Winnie the Pooh, and his band of adorable friends. 

As an individual who grew up in Kent, the thoughtful bear was a large part of my childhood, with regular visits to play Pooh Sticks and building a house for Eeyore being one of the highlights of my innocent summers. 

To celebrate the release of Goodbye Christopher Robin, a cinematic depiction of the life of A. A. Milne, the man we have to thank for the charming stories and his son (the one and only Christopher Robin, no less), The National Student were invited to a day at the Hundred Acre Woods, the hallowed setting for the stories. 

Winnie the Pooh burst onto the radar back in 1926, but the life and toils of its creator, Alan Alexander Milne, were much less well known until bestselling biographer and children's literature expert Ann Thwaite decided to take on the case. A. A. Milne: His Life was published back in 1990, and has earned Ann the title of the ultimate Pooh expert. 

As a consultant for the film and author of the new adapted version of the biography to coincide with the release of it, Ann was our guide around the woods that meant so much to Milne. Ann is an extraordinary individual whose charisma and incredible knowledge awed us all, wishing that we could be like Ann when we grow up. 

With dozens of stories to share and much wisdom to impart, Ann led us into Ashdown Forest- a hidden gem in the East Sussex countryside. Surrounding by miles of rolling fields and tranquil spots to reflect, its no wonder that Milne and his family retreated to this spot in search of peaceful solitude. 

A strong theme of the film and indeed of Milne's life in the countryside was the idea of the wilderness and its depiction in literature as a kind of therapy for him, in which he could escape from the horrors of war. Ann shares that she is pleased with how recognisable the forest is within the film, as Christopher "valued it hugely" as "the playground of his childhood". 

It becomes apparent that really the star of this film is not Winnie, but instead a father and son who came together as a result. 

We wander along to Gill's Lap first, known in the stories as Galleon's Lap in an iconic scene where Pooh is knighted by his good friend and creator Christopher Robin, known as Billy to his beloved mother and father. Ann surprises us with her very own childhood copies of the stories, published back in the 1980s and still in pristine condition. Here we get a sense of just how timeless Alan and Billy's imaginings are, and can almost see them acting out the scenes in front of us as Ann points out the precise spots in which they occurred. 

As we stroll down the dirt track it is clear that this remarkable piece of nature is something which can be relied upon to never change, and always be there as a friend to listen when the state of the world is transforming into something unsettlingly unrecognisable. The site for Milne's and E. H. Shepard's memorial (the iconic illustrator of the stories and close friend of Alan's) is a peaceful spot atop a world of rolling fields, in a clearing far from civilisation and adorned with only the chirps of the birds.

"And by and by they come to an enchanted place on the very top of the Forest called Galleon's Lap", a spot which is the setting for many a poignant scene in the film, in which Milne and his Billy reflect on the war, the life they made for themselves and the magic that they captured from the forest and "gave to the world". 

Ann tells us how she often marvels at the innocent beauty of the forest on her regular strolls around its acres, hoping that children and adults alike could still appreciate its charm and experience the world "as it once was". She tells us that "the whole thing is a celebration of playing and the imagination", and is delighted that the film's screenwriter Frank Cottrell-Boyce picked up on the importance of nature to Milne and his story. "Trees are a very important part of the film, as was the book", which reminds us of the simplicity of the message, embedded within the simplicity of childhood. 

The outdoors was an incredibly important and cathartic entity for Milne, and it is not hard to see why as we acquaint ourselves with his natural therapist. 

The feel of the forest as a time capsule continues as we stroll down the dirt tracks and find an unspoiled haven that is exactly what a Pooh fan would hope it would be. We pass replicas of Eeyore's home made by enthusiastic visitors, and even Owl's house, complete with "PLEZ CNOKE IF AN RNSR IS NOT REQID" sign on his front door.

We eventually come to Pooh Stick's Bridge, a charming spot that feels very special to any readers of the much loved stories. We all fall a little quieter as we happen upon the site, knowing just how much this meant to a father and son back in the 1920s. 

We realise that it is only fair that we dabble in a game ourselves, and so, armoured with our carefully chosen weapons, descend upon the bridge and eagerly run from each side to side in the hopes that we will be today's victors. (I won, just in case you wanted to know). 

In this moment we all let go of our inhibitions, notepads and weights on our shoulders, and returned to a childhood interlaced with magic, hope and innocence, which I learned is the real magic of Winnie the Pooh. Following the trauma of the Great War which Milne himself suffered from to a nth degree, readers craved escapism, innocence and the world as it was. Daphne, Alan's wife, believed that Winnie allowed readers to "turn on happiness, like a tap", and despite his initial concerns regarding the fame of his special friends, Billy himself told his father that Milne created a "magic charm" for readers, and "took them home". 

I think this charm is the indisputable key appeal of the stories and film, with the cinematic piece transporting viewers back to a simpler time, and the world that Milne created in order to teach his son who he really was, and truly learn to love him in return. 

We passed an American family, who felt the need to stop us in our tracks and announce who was the victor amongst their group. In this short interaction the true scale of this little bear became clear, with people travelling from all over the world just to experience the life of Billy and his adventures. It seems that small and mighty is most definitely the case here.

An expedition through the Hundred Acre Wood is the perfect portal to the world of Winnie, but also the world of a man and his son, learning more about each that they could have ever known without him. 

The film is a charming and poignant tale of imagination, war trauma and family, and a must-see this Autumn. 

You can read The National Student's review of the film here.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is out in cinemas 29th September, distributed by Twentieth Century Fox. 

Grab your copy of Ann's adapted biography of A. A. Milne, Goodbye Christopher Robin: A. A. Milne and the Making of Winnie-the-Pooh on 21st September.

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