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Poohsticks facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
For the band, see The Pooh Sticks.

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.

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.

World Poohsticks Championships

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Little Wittenham Bridge with the lock keeper's house beyond

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.

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Day's Lock from Wittenham Clumps (or Sinodun Hills) in summer

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.

Winners

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 35th 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.

MCPSSLogo
The logo of the MCPSS, circa 2013

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.

Cambridge University Pooh Sticks Club

Membership is open to all students of the University of Cambridge. The club mainly consists of "Feasts" organised at a variety of colleges once a term, usually during a formal. Members attend with a suitable stick, and have ample choice to drop their sticks together over Mathematical Bridge, Queens' College (1902), King's College Bridge (1819), Clare College Bridge (1640), Garret Hostel Bridge (1960), Trinity College Bridge (1764), Kitchen Bridge, St John's College (1709–11), Bridge of Sighs, St John's College (1831), and Magdalene Bridge (1823). Alongside this, trips are organised to other rivers within a reasonable travelling distance from Cambridge. This could be in Grantchester, the River Thet or perhaps the little River Ouse.

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