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Back in March 2020, the UK went into lockdown, and for us, our travel plans were cancelled as we were effective ‘grounded’ – with much disappointment we had to cancel both our trip to Europe planned for April and our camping trip to Wales in May.

As a family that likes to travel and explore, the lockdown has been hard, but we are so grateful that we live in Derbyshire and so whilst we haven’t been able to travel far, we have spent our weekends exploring the beautiful Derbyshire countryside and the girl’s ability to walk/ramble has increased massively – there are some benefits to lockdown!

During the lockdown, we started to read the Winnie-the-Pooh stories as a family and the girls were really interested in finding out more about the settings for the stories, so we talked lots about where Christopher Robin grew up and how the stories were set in the woodland of Ashdown Forest. Sophie Bee asked if we could go and we of course said yes!

Preparing for Adventure

It was announced that in July restrictions would be lifted and we would again be able to travel and stay away from home overnight, so we booked a hotel near the forest for the weekend the girls finished school for their year.

Now booking a hotel isn’t actually as easy as you would think! Our first hotel was canceled less than two weeks before we were due to go away as they weren’t able to make the hotel ‘COVID-safe’, so we searched again and found an alternative – Holiday Inn Express at Crawley.

Booking was simple and done online, but we were unsure about whether or not there would be any breakfast provided as the communication from the hotel on this wasn’t clear. Therefore we packed loads of food to ensure that no one went hungry and even took our electric coolbox so that we could make packed lunches as we were unsure of whether or not cafes would be open in the area.

Setting off and checking in

We set off around 4pm on Friday evening – expecting a long drive as previous trips this way had resulted in long delays on the motorway on a Friday evening. We stopped on route for a McDonalds picnic (as you can’t eat in there yet) and still managed to arrive at our hotel before 8pm (over an hour earlier than we had expected).

Check-in was straight forward and for those concerned about safety there was hand sanitiser available for those who wished to use and screens at reception. If you didn’t want to speak to reception at all during your stay, there was an option to scan a QR code or WhatsApp the staff to ask any questions or get anything required for your room.

Our room had a ‘cleaned’ sticker on the door so we could be assured it was clean and there were further hand sanitising stations around the hotel.

At check-in we were informed there was a grab and go breakfast option the next morning consisting of bacon or vegetarian sausage cobs – everyone was pleased that we would great a hot breakfast!

Photograph of two beds in hotel room

A day in Ashdown Forest

Waking on Saturday morning, Dave went off to check out the breakfast options and see if there was a queue, much to our surprise we discovered that it wasn’t just hot cobs, you could also get hot drinks and a bag full of goodies – each bag contained apple juice, a banana, a croissant, a muffin and a cereal bar – more than enough to feed us both for breakfast and later in the day! Of course not so good if you have allergies.

After a filling breakfast, we made up some lunch and headed out on the 30-minute drive to ‘Piglet’ car park – we had downloaded a map from the Ashdown Forest Visitor Website that had two routes taking in the main Pooh sites. It was a lovely sunny day and we headed off to find the memorial to A.A.Milne and E.H.Shepherd, before exploring ‘Roos sandy pit’, going on an ‘expotition’ to the North Pole – with a spot of den building on route and then walking around ‘Eeyore sad and gloomy place’ where we had our picnic amongst the ferns and thistles.

Following this we headed to Hartfield village – home of Pooh Corner – a shop, tearoom, and tribute to Winnie The Pooh – sadly it hasn’t reopened following lockdown so we were only able to drive past but if you do go to the area this is worth a visit. We found a shop for an ice cream break and then headed slightly out of the village to walk to Pooh Bridge.

We had lots of fun playing ‘Poohsticks’ although the water level was low, and then sat down to read/play in the woods for a while.

Finding refreshments

Given how large the forest is, we had expected to find lots of places to get refreshments, but it seems that many places are independent and yet to reopen post-COVID, so we decided we would head back to the hotel and have dinner at the Harvester restaurant onsite. Please note that you are required to book as Harvester won’t accept walk-ins! Other than not being able to select our own salad – a team member selects this for you whilst you tell them what you want, we found that whole experience ‘normal’ and really enjoyed our first meal in a pub.

Heading home and meeting friends

Our drive home was via Runnymead and the Magna Carta monument where we met friends who lived in the area and we hadn’t seen since last year. It seemed quite poignant to end our first weekend of freedom reading about the history of the Magna Carta and the liberties it provided.

Overall, getting away was a great experience and we would highly recommend both the hotel we stayed in and the Harvester as we felt they were run well and set up to reassure those who may be nervous about going away at this time.