Ashdown Forest is open heathland on the highest sandy ridge (most over 600 feet) of Sussex’s high weald. It was once a royal hunting ground, therefore the name “forest”, in spite of the fact that there are only some areas of woodland. To keep the trees from taking over, grazing is now encouraged.
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The forest was created by the king around 900 years ago specifically for hunting deer. It once contained 13,000 acres. Today its size is 6500 acres. The king allowed commoners to graze livestock and cut wood for fuel. In 1272 the forest and other land was awarded to John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and became known as the Great Park of Lancaster. Henry IV took over on his death. Over the ensuing years and centuries the land changed hands many times.
The heathland plants consist of heather, Ling, gorse, and silver birch, perfect for the sandy soil. Visitors in early spring will find drifts of bluebells in the woods followed in April and May by yellow gorse flowers. In summer the heath and Ling bloom.
Fallow deer herds are in evidence in autumn, while the cool weather brings to life many species of fungi poking out everywhere. Winter can bring snow. Other wildlife include the silver studded blue butterfly, the Dartford warbler, stonechat, meadow pipit, yellowhammer, cuckoo, woodlark, nightchat, tawy owl, sparrowhawk and many others.
Ashdown Forest became famous due to the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. The author, A.A. Milne lived in the village of Hartfield on the edge of the forest which he used in his stories. Near Gills Lap is a memorial to him. Other literary connections include writers Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Vita Sackville-West, and hymn writer John M. Neale. He wrote Good King Wenceslas when he lived in Sackville College in East Grinstead.
There are walks in the forest with 50 car parks available. In the forest and nearby villages and towns there are a number of outdoor activities and sports, including equestrian centres, outdoor centres, rock climbing and other activities. There are special events held in the forest throughout the year. A walk to Pooh Bridge to play Pooh sticks is a must for adults and children alike.
Ashdown Forest Information Centre
Coleman’s Hatch Rd
Wych Cross, Sussex
Tel. 0 1342 823 583; forest ranger emergency tel: 0 1342 822 846
Open: April-end Sep, weekdays, 2-5pm; weekends and BH, 11am-5pm; Oct-March, closed weekdays, on weekends open 11am-4pm
Web: Ashdown Forest Official website
Map of the forest showing parking, walks, villages, attractions, etc available at the Information Centre
Also on the web: Ashdown Forest Bird group
Photo of Pooh Bridge sign © by Barbara Ballard
Other photos courtesy Geograph Britain and Ireland as follows:
Heath and woodland and forest byway by Nigel Chadwick; Forest centre at Wych Cross and Milne memorial by Ben Gamble; old lodge near Friends Clump by David Brooker; Pooh sticks bridge by David Brooker