January 2013 - Hike #11
Troop hike #11. Ashdown Forest
(6 miles)

7 Scouts, 2 Cubs and 4 adults jumped in the minibus for today's 6 mile 'expotition' out to Ashdown Forest and the home of Winnie the Pooh. The forest consists of heath land - peaty soil covered in Gorse, Ling and Heather, or small clumps of woodland and is a very different type of habitat to the South Downs, where the Scouts have hiked up until now.

The old medieval meaning of the word forest was 'a place for hunting', so they created open spaces where they chased the deer and they left some of the woods intact for the animals to raise their young. The land is prevented from returning to its preferred state of dense woodland by periodic burning and of course grazing by cattle. The result of this landscape management is a very special and very rare environment enjoyed by many specialist types of wildlife. It is also a very beautiful place with great views across Sussex.

This might seem a short walk but the ground here is very boggy at the best of times and today it was also covered in ice and a new layer of snow. This makes the walking very hard work and 6 miles can feel more like 10.

On stepping out of the bus we immediately saw the tracks of many deer in the snow, which was no surprise as this place is renowned for the amount of deer living here. We plodded off from car park at 9.35 and set off north through the snow and down to Gill's Lap (Galleon's Lap in the books). Here we found an elderly lady whose car had got stuck on the ice in the car park. She was halfway up a small bank and couldn't move at all. The Scouts all got together and pushed her back out onto the main road. She was really grateful for our good deed of the day.

Nearby is a memorial to AA Milne and also Roo's Sandy Place - a bowl-shaped scoop out of the ground lined with a sandy soil and reeds.
Many snowballs, a couple of blister plasters and a footpath diversion later we got to our lunch spot and the famous 'Pooh Bridge'. By now everyone needed some grub inside them, as well as a hot drink, so we all dived head-first into our packed lunches and flasks.

One bad point in the day was when we found a hurt Roe Deer fawn near a place called Chuck Hatch. It appeared to have a broken leg and possibly some spinal damage, most likely due to being hit by a car. We tried to contact some assistance to no avail but luckily some local people said they would continue to phone around to find some help for it. We all knew that the young thing would probably not survive. Very sad.

As we'd spent most of the morning going downhill, the law of hiking physics says that there must come a time of equal uphill. This didn't go down too well with some folk who were starting to flag a little bit, and others who had maybe got their feet a bit wet in the big puddles, but lots of encouragement and regular stops got everyone safely back to the bus by 4.15 for a brew up on our lightweight gas stoves and an attack on the chocolate biscuit stash.

It appears that most Scouts still have problems doing up their laces and using the lacing eyelets properly, which in turn leads to uncomfortable feet. We shall be going through this again on hut nights as this is very important but in the meantime everyone (including the Cubs) should practice a bit at home. If your feet still move around when the boot is laced up properly you can either put; a thicker sock on; another thick sock on, or a thick, padded insole in the bottom of the boot.
We shall also be looking at the proper use of gaiters, as some people were a bit confused by them too.

We were by now an hour or so behind schedule, so it was decided that we would not continue around the nature reserve as everyone was a bit cold and tired already and it was starting to get colder and a bit darker. This is despite it having been warm and sunny with clear blue skies all day long. We amazingly managed to fit our hike into a 12 hour window in the weather and even had it decorated with a last fall of snow for us too.

There was concern that we might get stuck in our icy car park too as we left but we managed to reverse straight out the way we had come in with just a few minor slips. Phew!

We got back to the hut at 5.15pm with a nearly full moon watching on as everyone helped put all of the gear away, do the washing up and clean out the minibus. A day of really good teamwork - well done everyone and thank you for a great day out!

Wash and clean your boots ready for next time and if possible give them a spray with some Nikwax Tx Direct. You can use this stuff on your boots, gloves, bag, coat, hat and waterproofs to help the water just run off of them. One bottle goes a very long way.