Poohsticks is a game first mentioned in The House at Pooh Corner, a Winnie-the-Pooh book by A. A. Milne. It is a simple game which may be played on any bridge over running water; each player drops a stick on the upstream side of a bridge and the one whose stick first appears on the downstream side is the winner. The annual World Poohsticks Championships have been held at Day's Lock on the River Thames in the UK since 1984.
Poohsticks was invented by English author A. A. Milne for his son Christopher Robin Milne. The game first came to prominence when it was described in the author's book The House at Pooh Corner as well as in the Disney animated featurette Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore. Winnie-the-Pooh, the protagonist of the book, accidentally drops a pine cone into a river from a bridge and, after observing how it appeared on the other side of the bridge, devises the rules for Poohsticks. Pooh continues to play the game with the other characters, Christopher Robin, Tigger and Eeyore.
The game was first played at a bridge located in Ashdown Forest, close to the village of Upper Hartfield, East Sussex, England. Built in 1907 and originally called Posingford Bridge, it is considered to be the bridge on which Milne and his son first played the game. However, it is uncertain whether the game was first played at the bridge and then written into the story, or vice versa. The bridge maintained the public's interest and a campaign to rebuild it in the late seventies was considered important enough to feature on the BBC Nine O'Clock News. The bridge was subsequently reopened by Christopher Robin Milne and officially renamed as Poohsticks Bridge.
The site was so popular that in 1999 the East Sussex county council made an appeal to Disney as the old wooden bridge had been worn down by an overwhelming number of visitors. The company provided a substantial donation towards the estimated £30,000 needed to replace the bridge. Partly rebuilt in 1979, the donations from Disney, building firms and members of the public funded its complete reconstruction. The newly built and modernised bridge retained its precursor's original style. A plaque was also placed to commemorate the occasion and thank those who financially contributed to the project. The game can still be played in Ashdown Forest to this day and the site regularly attracts tourists from as far afield as the United States and Japan. However, visitors are now advised to bring their own sticks, as previous visitors have caused damage to the trees in the vicinity.
Rules and strategy
A game for two players or more, in the traditional version of poohsticks the participants must drop a stick simultaneously on the upstream side of a bridge and run to the other side. The winner is the player whose stick first appears on the other side of the bridge. Alternatively, players may decide upon a starting point on a river and a finish line farther downstream. The winner is the player whose stick first passes the finishing point.
It is generally agreed that the stick must be made of organic materials, preferably willow, and not of any artificial materials. All participants must drop their sticks at the same time, usually after a referee shouts "drop", "twitch" or any other agreed keyword. Additionally, no advantage may be gained through either dismantling the bridge or the use of any self-propelling stick devices. The stick must be dropped, not thrown, into the water and any player who is deemed to have thrown their stick is disqualified.
Poohsticks is considered to be a game of chance yet some players claim skill is involved. Some strategies involve the way in which the stick is held before it is dropped and trying to find the fastest route in the river. Author Ben Schott outlined a throwing method as a winning strategy in his third book, Schott’s Sporting, Gaming and Idling Miscellany, but his method was dismissed as cheating by competition organisers. In any event, the turbulence around the bridge supports make the path of the stick very difficult to predict and may vary according to the season.
The traditional game has inspired filmmakers and screenwriters and has been portrayed in the 1998 film Into My Heart with Rob Morrow and Claire Forlani, BBC sitcom To the Manor Born and also in a Marks & Spencer clothes advert where models, including Twiggy and Myleene Klass, played the game. The popularity of the game was underlined when it featured as a question on long-running British quiz series University Challenge.
World Poohsticks Championships
Following the closure of the short-lived Oxford University Poohsticks Society, Poohsticks was brought to a larger audience by the annual World Poohsticks Championships. Originally these took place at Day's Lock on the River Thames near Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. but were later moved to Langel Common in Witney, also in Oxfordshire, and have attracted over 1,500 visitors, including many from overseas. The championships features an individual event and a four-person team event. Players come from a wide variety of countries including the United States, Japan, Kenya, Australia and England. Before its move to Witney, the event took place from Little Wittenham Bridge but now uses a bridge over the River Windrush near Cogges Manor Farm.
The sporting event was started at Little Wittenham Bridge in 1984 by the lockkeeper, Lynn David, as a fund-raising event for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). He noticed that people occasionally snapped sticks from nearby hedges to play the game and he then came up with the idea of a competition to aid the charity. He put out a box of sticks and a collection box and it soon became an annual event. In this championship version of the game, a finish line is set up farther downstream and the winner is the first to pass this point. The competition originally took place every January, but it was moved to March due to icy weather in 1997.
The event proved popular with the local community and even attracted the attention of the foreign media. After Lynn David's retirement, the running of the event was taken over by the former Rotary Club of Sinodun, based in nearby Wallingford. Additionally, the funds raised were divided between the RNLI and charitable projects supported by the Rotary Club. Twenty years after its first edition, the event had grown in popularity, attracting visitors from across the globe, and had been broadcast on television in countries including Russia, Japan and Czech Republic. Additionally, VisitBritain, the official British tourist board, named it as a highlight in its collection of "Quirky British Events". Throughout its existence, it has raised around £30,000 for the RNLI.
The Championships were at risk of decline when in 2008 the Rotary Club declared that its members were simply too old to stage an annual event of its size. The Sinodun president, David Caswell, stated: "The trouble is there is a lot of heavy work staging the event. Some of our members are over 70, and it was just getting too much". However, the Rotary Club of Oxford Spires declared that its members would continue hosting the event, thus preserving the competition for future generations. The President of Oxford Spires for 2008–2009, Liz Williamson, stressed that it should continue as the event was popular locally and demonstrated quirky English nature to a worldwide audience.
The organisers announced in January 2015 that they had decided that the Little Wittenham site was no longer suitable, citing increasing logistical difficulties as the event had become more popular and the use of the land had changed. In June the World Championships were held at their new home, one of the cycle-track bridges over the River Windrush on Langel Common, near the Cogges Manor Farm Museum in Witney, Oxfordshire. The new location still retains a rural atmosphere but is a few minutes' walk from Witney town centre with its convenient public transport links to Oxford. Car parking is also much closer than at the original venue, a factor that influenced the choice of venue. For the first year at the new location, the organizers decided not to hold the 2015 team games, but team games were restored in 2016. The move to the new venue also allowed the event to move to June when the weather is likely to be better.
The winners of both the individual and team events receive a trophy, and the second- and third-placed individuals and teams also receive a smaller trophy. Despite claims that the game involves skill more than luck, no team or individual has ever won the competition more than once. The individual competition usually involves winning three rounds of matches before receiving an entry to the final.
|Year||Edition||Date||Individual event||Team event|
|1984||1st Annual Championships||?||?|
|1985||2nd Annual Championships||?||?|
|1986||3rd Annual Championships||?||?|
|1987||4th Annual Championships||?||?|
|1988||5th Annual Championships||?||?|
|1989||6th Annual Championships||?||?|
|1990||7th Annual Championships||?||?|
|1991||8th Annual Championships||?||?|
|1992||9th Annual Championships||Sue Rayner, Wootton||?|
|1993||10th Annual Championships||?||?|
|1994||11th Annual Championships||?||?|
|1995||12th Annual Championships||?||?|
|1996||13th Annual Championships||Théo Welch-King, a five-year-old from Abingdon||?|
|1997||14th Annual Championships||?||?|
|1998||15th Annual Championships||?||?|
|1999||16th Annual Championships||Daisy||?|
|2000||17th Annual Championships||Blair DeBart, 18, from Brixton||?|
|2001||18th Annual Championships||Cancelled|
|2002||19th Annual Championships||Rachel Banham (age 11) Wantage||?|
|2003||20th Annual Championships||Becky Aram (age 10) Wantage||Australia|
|2004||21st Annual Championships||Susan Young from Didcot, Oxfordshire||Czech Republic|
|2005||22nd Annual Championships||Callum Alexander (age 9)||Japan|
|2006||23rd Annual Championships||25–26 March 2006||Harry Norton Shaw, an eight-year-old from near Abingdon||Team Natural Colour Cotton from Milton Keynes|
|2007||24th Annual Championships||Bob Jones of Carterton||Bears for Life from United Kingdom|
|2008||25th Annual Championships||Lydia Leece, aged ten||Sticking to the Prize|
|2009||26th Annual Championships||Phil Davies||Cytoarchitechno (from Oxford)|
|2010||27th Annual Championships||Cancelled - the flow was too heavy|
|2011||28th Annual Championships||27 March 2011||Saffron Sollit, aged nine||Team Kelly|
|2012||29th Annual Championships||25 March 2012||Aidan Eltham||The Tiglets|
|2013||30th Annual Championships||13 October 2013 (after high river levels forced cancellation on 24 March)||Alex Marshall (aged 30) of Mornington, Australia||We don't spell love we feel it (from Oxford) |
|2014||31st Annual Championships||30 March 2014||Simon Critchley ||Blantz Family|
|2015||32nd Annual Championships||7 June 2015||James Smith ||No team games this year|
|2016||33rd Annual Championships||5 June 2016||Charlie Roman||Hundred Acre Edwards|
|2017||34th Annual Championships||4 June 2017||Daniel Gooding (age 6) from Oxford||Kanga Roo Pooh from East Hanney |
|2018||35rd Annual Championships||3 June 2018||Innes Turnbull||Kids 4 Us|
Notable Poohsticks societies
Rotary Club of Oxford Spires
Although not a Poohsticks Society as such, the Rotary Club of Oxford Spires is responsible for the World Pooh Sticks Championships held annually since 1983 at Days Lock on the River Thames then in Witney since 2015. The Championships were voted 'Britain's Favourite Quirky Event' by Countryfile magazine readers in 2012 and are carried out with the aim of raising money for a variety of charities.
Magdalen College Pooh Sticks Society
Revival of the Oxford University Pooh Sticks Society has begun thanks to students in Magdalen College, Oxford, with the creation of the Magdalen College Pooh Sticks Society (MCPSS) founded in April 2013 which mixes classic Pooh Sticks games with commentary and rules in the style of radio programme I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. Of late the club has become increasingly well known inside the University and is no longer restricted solely to members of Magdalen College.
Pembroke College Winnie the Pooh Society
Founded in 1993, students of Pembroke College, Cambridge, pay homage to the works of A. A. Milne in a variety of ways, including playing games of Poohsticks alongside events such as visits to the 'real-life' Hundred Acre Wood. The Society has gained significant fame at the University of Cambridge and claims Her Majesty the Queen as an honorary member.
Elsewhere in popular culture
Terry Pratchett mentioned the game in Thud! (2005) as a popular children's game played in the gutters during Sam Vimes' childhood in Ankh-Morpork, originally called "turd races" before renaming it "poohsticks" to take the game upmarket.
In Season 14, Episode 2 (2010) of Midsomer Murders a group of children play Poohsticks, as DCI John Barnaby and DS Ben Jones drive by. Jones instructs children not to play on the road, Barnaby explains the game to Jones and recommends him to hang on to childhood poetry. The still-playing children later find a dead body floating in the stream.
In Season 5, Episode 7 (2014) of Downton Abbey, Tom Branson and young Sybil play a game of Poohsticks, without referencing the game by name, while he is telling her of his idea to leave Downton and move them to Boston.
The partly fictitious 1980s Swansea power pop band The Pooh Sticks was named as both a homage to the game, and as a description of the factual or habitual sticky qualities of lowercase pooh.
- "23rd world Pooh-sticks race held". BBC. 2006-03-27. Retrieved 2008-11-03.
- "Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and You". BBC. 1998-03-13. Retrieved 2017-05-29.
- A. A. Milne. (1928) The House at Pooh Corner, London: Methuen. ISBN 0-7497-0116-1.
- "New 'pooh-sticks' World Champion". BBC. 2003-03-16. Retrieved 2008-11-03.
- Davies, Caroline (2008-11-02). "Poohsticks fans club together to save the game". London: The Observer. Retrieved 2008-11-03.
- "Disney to save Pooh Bridge". BBC. 1999-09-11. Retrieved 2008-11-03.
- "A Short History of Pooh and Winnie". PoohCorner. Retrieved 2008-11-03.
- "Appeal to save Winnie the Pooh's bridge". BBC. 1999-08-10. Retrieved 2008-11-03.
- Halstead, Robin (2008-03-21). "Great escapes: Days out with a difference". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2008-11-03.
- Marsh, Stephanie (2004-10-19). "Want to win at Pooh Sticks? It's all in the throw". London: The Times. Retrieved 2008-11-04.
- Barritt, Owen (21 March 2003). "The Official Poohsticks Rules Of The Pembroke College Winnie-The-Pooh Society". The Pembroke College Winnie-The-Pooh Society 2000-2007. Archived from the original on 25 July 2008. Retrieved 4 November 2008.
- "It's Pooh Sticks Time!". BBC. 2007-12-23. Retrieved 2008-11-03.
- "Czech team takes Pooh-sticks gold". BBC. 2004-03-29. Retrieved 2008-11-03.
- "Thaw to bring wave of misery". The Independent. 1997-01-04. Retrieved 2013-05-10.
- "Pooh's Pastime Noted In a Village on Thames". The New York Times. 1987-01-06. Retrieved 2008-11-03.
- Townsend, Ian (2008-10-27). "Oxford rotary club steps in to save Pooh Sticks championship previously run by a Wallingford rotary club". Herald Series. Retrieved 2008-11-03.
- "Quirky British Events For 2008" (PDF). VisitBritain. 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-03.
- "Pooh sticks championships return". thisisoxfordshire. 1 March 2002. Archived from the original on 4 November 2008. Retrieved 3 November 2008.
- name=Rotary Club of Oxford Spires
- Ellery, Ben (28 March 2010). "Health and safety fears scupper Pooh sticks race". Oxford Mail. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
- "Successful return for Pooh Sticks". United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. 2007-03-29. Archived from the original on 14 June 2009. Retrieved 2008-11-03.
- 2008 World Pooh Sticks Championships Results Archived 27 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.. The Rotary Club of Sinodun. Retrieved on 2009-03-30.
- Crowds enjoy pooh sticks championships[permanent dead link]. Scotland on Sunday (2009-03-29). Retrieved on 2009-03-30.
- Ellery, Ben (27 March 2010). "Pooh sticks event cancelled". Oxford Mail. Oxford: Newsquest Media Group. Retrieved 27 March 2010.
- "Girl wins Oxfordshire World Pooh Sticks Championships". BBC Online. 2011-03-27. Retrieved 27 March 2011.
- "Pooh Sticks World Championships 2013". Rotary Club of Oxford Spires. Archived from the original on 2014-04-29. Retrieved 2014-04-28.
- "World Pooh Sticks Championship hit by high river levels". BBC Online. 2013-03-22. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
- "Australian Alex Marshall is World Pooh Sticks Champion". BBC Online. 2013-10-14. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
- "Pooh Sticks contest braves the downpour". Oxford Mail. 2013-10-14. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
- "Local heroes claim honours at Pooh Sticks competition". Oxford Mail. 2014-03-31. Retrieved 2014-04-12.
- "Fan\'s visit to \'land of Winnie the Pooh\' dream come true". Oxford Mail. 2015-06-08.
- "Ready, steady, go! Pooh Sticks World Championships 2017 at Witney's Langel Common". Oxford Times. 2017-06-04. Retrieved 2017-06-05.
- "PIC GALLERY: Hundreds compete in World Poohsticks Championships". Oxford Mail. Retrieved 2018-06-04.
- "The Oxford Spires Rotary Club". Rotary Club of Oxford Spires. Retrieved 2014-04-12.
- "CountryFile Awards at Poohsticks.com". Rotary Club of Oxford Spires. Archived from the original on 2014-04-07. Retrieved 2014-04-12.
- "All you need to know for 2014 at Poohsticks.com". Rotary Club of Oxford Spires. Archived from the original on 2014-04-07. Retrieved 2014-04-12.
- "Pooh Sticks Society a Winnie-er". The Oxford Student. 2014-02-13. Retrieved 2014-04-12.
- "The Poohsticks Cam Bridge Crawl". Pembroke College Winnie the Pooh Society. Archived from the original on 2014-04-07. Retrieved 2014-04-12.
- "Happy 90th birthday, Winnie the Pooh: The bear of very little brain (but VERY big bank balance)". The Daily Mail. 2012-06-11. Retrieved 2014-04-12.
- World Pooh Sticks Championships Home Page
- The Rotary Club of Sinodun
- The Rotary Club of Oxford Spires
- Map and aerial photo sources for grid reference: