Pack your bags for a ‘Great Expotition’

When did you last compose a thoughtful hum? It’s something you’ll find yourself doing if you head to Mottisfont this summer!

All this summer, the team at Mottisfont are inviting visitors to collect up their tails, gather their honey-pots and head off on a ‘Great Expotition’!

Their Winnie-the-Pooh themed adventure trail is full of exciting challenges to get families thinking, jumping and drawing outdoors.

In the house, there’s a special exhibition of 38 watercolour illustrations hand-painted by E. H. Shepard that, for generations of children, have helped bring A. A. Milne’s stories of a boy and his bear to life.

Go on a 'Great Expotition' at Mottisfont this summer! (c) National Trust

Go on a ‘Great Expotition’ at Mottisfont this summer! (c) National Trust

The ‘Great Expotition’ is the result of a partnership between Mottisfont, Disney, publishers Egmont UK and the E. H. Shepard Trust. It’s one of the quirkier ways that the National Trust is encouraging families to spend time outdoors this summer.

We spoke to Louise Govier, Visitor Experience Manager at Mottisfont, about Winnie-the-Pooh, goo that leaves your hands clean, and getting kids outdoors.

What is the Mottisfont Great Expotition?

Winnie-the-Pooh’s ‘Great Expotition’ at Mottisfont is an outdoor quest trail for families, all themed around and starting from the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh.

There are 40 activity points on the trail and families go off with a beautifully designed, printed A2 trail map. As they go around they find different activity signs, asking them to do particular things. They fall into categories: from silly things like bend, touch your toes and sing tralala like Winnie-the-Pooh, to mental challenges like solving an anagram of the longest word that Pooh knows. There are creative things, too, which range from sitting in a thoughtful spot and making up an outdoor hum, to designing a heffalump trap and more physical outdoor tasks like building a house for Eeyore out of sticks.

The final part of the trail is in the house, where you end up in the exhibition of the beautiful E. H. Shepard illustrations.

All the staff and volunteers at Mottisfont have got involved. With the help of our craft volunteers, the house team have decorated the house’s dining room with a little picnic table with knitted sandwiches and tea – taken from the picture of a picnic outside Piglet’s house. One chair – the Christopher Robin chair – is free, so children can have their picture taken sitting at the table. But what we’re finding is that lots of adults are sitting and having their picture taken too. Even one of our partners from Disney sat down with a Tigger hat on to have her picture taken!

Why Winnie-the-Pooh?

We were looking through some archive boxes at the publisher’s, Egmont, selecting E. H. Shepard illustrations for Wind in the Willows (our theme for last summer) when we found these lovely Winnie-the-Pooh illustrations. Some had never been shown before, and none had been exhibited in the UK. Looking at them, it became very apparent that they are illustrations of a 50 things childhood: a perfect outdoor childhood, where you get muddy, go exploring, climb trees, and play pooh sticks.

It’s the essence of the Winnie-the-Pooh drawings that we’re trying to get across with the trail: the stories, the adventure, simply having fun outside.

What are children’s favourite things to do on the trail?

There’s a ‘Feely Box’, which is getting an absolute hammering – always a sure sign that something’s popular! It’s a bee-hive shaped composter, that’s been adapted. You’re meant to be feeling for some honey, so inside we put this weird slimy stuff that actually leaves your hands clean!

But the single best thing – or the thing that you hear all the squeals of pleasure about – is the element of discovery. It’s the calls of ‘I’ve FOUND it!’ and the conversations you overhear as families work out what to do together.

Children on the bridge (c) National Trust

Children on the bridge (c) National Trust

Does the fact that there’s a Winnie-the-Pooh theme attract in kids that otherwise wouldn’t engage with these activities?

Very definitely. There are certainly families that are maybe a bit less intrepid, but find that they’ve actually walked quite a long way going round the trail, and done all sorts of outdoor activities. These families might not respond to the ‘Great Expotition’ if it was just presented as an outdoor adventure, but will walk quite a way to do something about Winnie-the-Pooh and have had a lovely time.

Why is it important that we get families outdoors?

I’m probably not quite as campaigning as some of my colleagues. Part of me thinks people don’t have to engage with the natural world if they don’t want to. It’s their choice!

However, it’s something that I love personally and I see the joy and pleasure that it gives people. I think there’s a bit of a mental barrier: if you can just coax people over it they’ll have a lovely time. I see it with my own daughter. If you say ‘we’re going to go and have an outdoorsy day’, she’ll be a bit pouty lipped about it. But if you actually get her out, she has a whale of a time.

I want our visitors to have a lovely time, and for me there is an enormous amount of pleasure to be had from going outside and doing something totally different from what you might usually do at home. It’s just about getting over that initial barrier.

  • The Winnie-the-Pooh ‘Great Expotition’ exhibition and quest trail will run until 15th September.
  • If you’re heading to Mottisfont to tackle the trail, why not enter the Winnie-the-Pooh ‘Great Expotition’ competition! All you’ve got to do is create an expotition passport and plan out your adventures! It’s open to all children under-16 – but be quick, as entries close on 31st August! Good luck!
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