Of Winnie-the-Pooh, Anne Boleyn, and Sodden Shoes: A Tale of a Weekend in the Countryside

Memorial Day Weekend in the States is also a bank holiday weekend here in England, so we had planned a getaway to the English countryside, from Friday to Monday. One of M’s business associates had recommended the Griffin Inn to him as a family- and dog-friendly place to stay. He told us to ask for the room over the pub, so the baby monitor reaches down there. Good tip!

We absolutely loved the Griffin Inn. We can’t wait to go back, and would recommend it to anyone, whether you are bringing kids with you or not. I think it would be a really cosy place to stay in the winter, too, but that time of year there wouldn’t be much for kids to do. Summertime is ideal to bring the kids, as there is a huge pub garden for them to play around, and a nice grassy hill they love to roll down. Ah, the simple joys of childhood.

It’s a classic English pub and inn in the tiny village of Fletching, in Sussex, and it’s been there for over 400 years! There isn’t much else in the village (some cottages, a village hall, and a Norman church with a picturesque steeple and lovely ringing bells), but it’s fine, because the food was fantastic, so we really didn’t need any other restaurant options.

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Our city girl saw the church steeple from a distance and thought it was the Shard

M brought his bike and enjoyed going cycling each morning. It’s only about 40 miles from London, but it takes nearly two hours to drive there, between London traffic and tiny winding lanes through tunnels of trees wide enough for one car.

The first half of the car ride was fine, as the girls both slept in the backseat, while we discussed important things such as what we would name our English pub if we owned one (we decided on “The Wren and Rose”; or, for a baby-friendly pub, “The Chubby Arms”; or, for a cyclist pub, “The Padded Rears”); but then they woke up and were pretty vocal about wanting to get out of the car.

“I LOVE THE PEACE OF THE COUNTRYSIDE!” I yelled over the din of baby screaming and older child whining.

Fortunately, the Griffin has lots of drinks on offer.

We spent a lot of time in the Griffin’s pub garden. It’s 2 acres, with lots of picnic tables, a beautiful view of the countryside, and we could have the dog and the kids there without a worry.

On Friday night, after the kids were asleep, we took the baby monitor and snuck downstairs to the pub, where a pianist was playing some jaunty tunes, which gave the place an old-timey saloon-type feel. We enjoyed a delicious sticky toffee pudding, and Wren enjoyed the life of a pub dog, begging at all the other tables for their scraps.

“Sir, you seem to have left some fish and chips on your table over there.”

On Saturday, after a fantastic breakfast (best fresh, homemade pain au chocolat I’ve had outside of France), we just hung around the inn and garden a bit, and checked out the nearby playground.

The Griffin has a big built-in barbecue and wood oven outside, and were doing a big barbecue menu there for lunch over the weekend.

This area is right on the edge of the Ashdown Forest, which is where A.A. Milne set the Hundred Acre Wood for Winnie-the-Pooh. So after our barbecue lunch, we decided to head into the forest and do a bit of exploring.

We stopped at the Ashdown Forest Centre and picked up the map for the Pooh Walks and directions to Pooh Bridge, where the characters play their games of Pooh Sticks. (And they had some Pooh colouring sheets for E.)

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We found Eeyore’s house!

Amusingly, there is quite a lot of poo to step around on the Pooh Walk. (Left by horses, not fictional honey-loving bears.)

E loved picking up sticks along the walk to then throw off the bridge for several rounds of Pooh Sticks. We counted to three, tossed our sticks into the creek below, and then went to the other side of the bridge and waited to see whose came out first.

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We found Pooh’s house!

Then we invented our own version of the game, wherein Mom asks E to sit on Pooh Bridge with her feet hanging off the edge in order to get a picture, and E’s shoe immediately falls off and into the creek below, and we rush to the other side of the bridge to watch for it to float by, while Dad throws Mom murderous looks because this is clearly her fault for suggesting the child hang her feet off the bridge. Then Mom scrambles over the fence and down the muddy bank and searches for the biggest Pooh Stick she can find, and, getting her own shoe wet in the process, at last triumphantly fishes out the footloose footwear. There are no winners in this version of the game.

Look at the sweet picture I eventually got, though! Worth it?

The biggest non-winner was Dad, who had to carry the barefoot child all the way back to the car park on his shoulders, which was alllllll uphill. Once again, the Griffin Inn has lots of drinks on offer.

On Sunday, we got in the rental car and drove to Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn.

We stopped at a Waitrose on the way and picked up food for a picnic, which we ate on the banks of the lovely lake on the castle grounds.

We only paid for entry to the gardens and not the castle itself, and that was plenty. The castle grounds have lots of things for kids to do, and it makes for a great family outing on a nice day. There’s a yew maze, an adventure playground (E loved the zipline after she worked up the courage), fun shaped topiaries to look at, pedal boats you can rent for the lake, costumed reenactors, and “have a go” archery lessons, which, surprisingly, you can do from age 2 1/2. They were also doing Edwardian games on a lawn and butterfly walks, and you can buy a bag of koi and duck food for 50p to feed the inhabitants of the moat. There are cafes and ice cream stands and a big gift shop with lots of toys. E and Wren weren’t fans of the hourly cannon demonstrations, however, especially poor Wren.

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The Tudor chess set topiary garden

The most fun thing there for kids is the water maze. You have to try to make it to the middle without getting wet. When you step on certain stones, jets of water shoot up, so you have to turn around and find another route. It’s really fun, and when it’s warm out kids turn up in their swimming costumes and play away. E was nervous at first, but eventually got really into it, and we even eventually solved the maze and found the one right route to the centre!

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Like most things I plan for my children that are intended to be fun and make magical memories, it all ended in tears and a wet shoe.

She was happily running around the maze, and then suddenly slipped and her leg went into the space between stones, scraping her badly up her thigh, and submerging her foot and lower leg in pond muck. Oh, the crying.

A castle employee was there with first aid and some fresh water to rinse her off, but E wailed dramatically all the way back to the car.

The next day she was dragging her injured leg around like a peg-legged pirate, which was a bit comical. “Argh, it’s an old castle water maze injury,” I imagined her telling the other pirates.

Wet shoe incidents aside, we had a wonderful weekend in the countryside and may go back again next May bank holiday weekend!

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