Winnie-the-Pooh: Poohsticks

Winnie the Pooh’s delightful tales of friendship and childhood, written by English author Alan Alexander Milne, are as relevant today as they were in the 1920s – “Willy, nilly, silly old bear!”

Best known by his pen-name AA Milne, the author created Winnie the Pooh for his son, Christopher Robin Milne – the inspiration for the little boy who was Winnie’s friend in the books. The author wrote the stories about his son’s teddy bear, Winnie, basing the other characters (Eeyore, Piglet, Tigger, Kanga and Roo) on the boy’s other cuddly toys.

Pooh Sticks

©James Boardman / Alamy Stock Photo

 

Story origins

The child had named his toy teddy Winnie the Pooh after a famous black bear called Winnie, who was resident at London Zoo, and a swan called Pooh that he had met while on holiday.

The real Winnie was an orphaned wild baby bear, rescued by Canadian Lieutenant Harry Colebourn. When the soldier was on his way to England during WWI, he bought her from a hunter in White River, Ontario. He named the bear Winnie after his hometown of Winnipeg, in Manitoba.

After bringing Winnie to England, Colebourn found her a home at London Zoo when he had to go to France with his unit. She became a massive attraction and was much-loved by children and adults alike for the rest of her life.It was here that the young Christopher Milne found the inspiration for his toy teddy bear’s name and subsequently the subject of his father’s best-selling series of children’s books.

The first in the series of books called Winnie the Pooh was published in 1926, although the author had already featured him in a poem, published in the children’s book of verse, When We Were Very Young, in 1924.

 

Poohsticks

Winnie and his friends are always enjoying adventures outdoors and are considered to be great role models for kids. Not only do they emphasise the value of friendship, they also take part in many outdoor pursuits – you’ll never find Winnie the Pooh sitting in front of a video gaming console all day!

Everyone loves Winnie the Pooh because he’s such a good-natured and innocent soul, who enjoys simple pleasures, such as eating honey and playing games with his friends. One of his favourite games is Poohsticks – invented by the author and so easy that anyone can play.

In its simplest form, the game involves each player throwing a stick into a stream or river from the upstream side of a bridge. The winner is the competitor whose stick emerges first, after passing under the bridge.

First mentioned in the 1928 novel, The House at Pooh Corner, the game is designed for at least two competitors, although any number can play. Each person must drop a stick into the water – and of course, the sticks must be individually marked in some way, if there are a lot of contestants, so they can be easily identified.

After dropping the sticks in the water, the participants must run down the bank and see which stick emerges first from under the bridge. The rules are simple too – all the players must drop their sticks simultaneously after the referee shouts a keyword, including “drop” or sometimes “twitch”.

 

Variations

There is another variation of the game whereby the contestants decide upon a starting and finishing point on the river. The sticks are dropped in at the start and then watched along the course, until the first past the finishing line is the winner. Sticks can only be dropped and not thrown – any stick deemed to have been thrown will be disqualified.

The sticks should be made of an organic material, such as willow. Sticks made of artificial materials aren’t permitted.

Poohsticks has become a game that both children and adults play today. Some people say the outcome is down to chance, while others believe there’s a strategy and claim the way that the stick is dropped or finding the fastest-flowing route of the river, will influence the outcome.

 

World Poohsticks Championships

Poohsticks has popped up in adverts, TV series and the movies. There’s even an annual World Poohsticks Championship.

The game has appeared in the BBC sitcom, To The Manor Born, and also in the 1998 film, Into My Heart. It was even the subject of a question on the TV quiz show, University Challenge!

The world championship originally took place along the River Thames and then moved to a stretch of water on Langel Common in Witney, using a bridge near Cogges Manor Farm Museum, on the River Windrush. Competitors come from as far afield as the United States, Kenya, Japan and Australia, and there’s a large following in England. The game is taken very seriously and there’s an individual event, as well as a team event.

Initially launched by Lynn David in 1984, at Little Wittenham Bridge, it is a fund-raiser for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. Going from strength to strength, it is now an annual competition with a worldwide faithful following. The British tourist board mentions Poohsticks in its list of Quirky British Events. Over the years, the championship has raised £30,000 for the RNLI.

 

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