Pooh Country and the High Weald

Spring Morning

“Where am I going? I don’t quite know.

Down to the stream where the king-cups grow –

Up to the hill where the pine-trees blow –

Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.”

from When We Were Young by A.A.Milne

Childhood books Pooh © Deirdre Huston

The High Weald Area of Natural Beauty is rich in history, literary connections and ecological habitats. For Day Walks on the High Weald, I’ve been researching a trail through ‘Pooh Country’, close to where A.A.Milne once lived, but if you can’t wait , Walk 4 in Sussex Walks  crosses ‘Pooh Bridge’, visits Hartfield and meanders along the edge of ‘Five Hundred Acre Wood’ . The wider landscape of the Ashdown Forest and High Weald helped inspire the much-loved collaborative works of A.A.Milne and E.H.Shepard, and, I’m interested in how we are undoubtedly influenced by our store of cultural references when we walk through the landscape.

E.H.Shepard, who was also responsible for illustrating the anthropomorphic figures in The Wind in the Willows, was a prolific painter and, like Milne, sometimes resented the fact that he was so well known for his children’s works but I wonder if they realised the extent to which their words and pictures would shape future generation’s perception of the natural landscape?

Look around the ‘enchanted places’ of the Ashdown Forest.  A wooden bridge over a Wealden stream? Think of Pooh Sticks. An oak tree? Does it have a door? Who might live there? And can Tigger bounce high enough to reach the lowest branch of a Scott’s Pine tree? If we are thinking about the stories,  we might consciously ask ourselves such questions, but Milne gave us much more. To my mind, the stories embody the landscape with a feeling of freedom, encourage us to question the world we live in and suggest we rise to challenges. They underline the importance of community because whether it is an interconnected ecosystem or a group of friends, without support, isolation is bleak. Winnie the Pooh was also one of the first to highlight the importance of honey and the ‘plight’ of the bumble bee!

In landscape photography, sometimes people feel a ‘good’ image is judged by the number of likes and key types of image are popular in online trends: pastel sunsets, blocks of ice on an Icelandic beach, long exposure seascapes and impressionistic ICM images all tend to meet with positive reactions but if we’re not careful, we’ll end up with a narrow view of the landscape. Why not look inside yourself to see what representations of the world you have squirreled away in that cultural store?   How about taking an image of a clump of trees or trying to capture the simplicity of a Wealden stream? The line between the ordinary and the extraordinary is a thin one.

An ordinary stream © Deirdre Huston




Why the High Weald – and a new guidebook – beckons.

I am delighted to have been commissioned to research, write and photograph a new book: Day Walks in the High Weald. This is not my first guidebook. It is, in fact, my fifth but like children, each book is no less special and involves a journey. The interesting stuff that goes on behind the scenes in the making of a guidebook happens off the page and this is the journey that I want to share.

Join me in my exploration of Sussex and Kent as I capture images and experiment with photography, as I encounter places and people, and enjoy new experiences with friends and family. Join me too as I learn about the literature of the outdoors. The landscape of the High Weald is ours and awaits discovery.

I write fiction too and have recently graduated from the MA Creative Writing at Bath Spa. The MA has rekindled my desire to learn – about myself and about my place in the outdoors, about how literature and landscape interact and to share my love of the natural world with others in a way which goes beyond the strict confines and word count of the guidebook.

I may have some preliminary knowledge of an area or go out to investigate unfamiliar parts of the High Weald beforehand but my plan is too research each route by myself, write up the directions and capture shots of the landscape. I look forward to some peace and quiet but more than that, to the experience of being alone in the landscape. It is a feeling which is hard to match and which brings home our relationship to this earth.

One of my motivations for wanting to do this guidebook is physical. I love my yoga, Nia dance, cycle loops and daily dog walks but I’m far too comfortable writing at my desk, easily distracted by the lure of the screen and the hum of the fridge. I am also conscious of a hunger to seize the moment. Recent years have forced me to come to terms with the aging of my parents and the inevitable reach of mortality until I now appreciate how my own time here on earth is limited. What better way to banish such shadows than to walk 200 miles, explore new territory and see what adventures I can find?

My ever-faithful assistant and cocker spaniel, Saffie, will be at my side. She sees her role as threefold: she guards the camera bag, chases rabbits in circles and proves to all doubters that there is no such thing as an old dog but will she be a help or a hindrance?

Let’s hope this guidebook will bring much enjoyment but remember, life is often found in the small details and the ordinary, the gaps between the words and the elements beyond the picture. Let us see what we can find.