Arguably the most haunted part of Britain (for sheer quantity of sightings), the New Forest is filled with more ghostly happenings and undead apparitions than we could hope to cover here. I offer below my personal top five.
Rufus the Red
Most famous of all the Forests’ supernatural lore, William Rufus (the Red King) was killed by an arrow shot by Sir Walter Tirel while hunting in the Forest in 1100AD. Some call it an accident, some an assassination, but others say it was a curse laid on the Conqueror (or William the Bastard, as locally known) by the Forest, for taking land by force and demolishing churches and settlements. Rufus had an older brother and a nephew who also died in the forest, both killed by the curse, and legend states his ghost can still be seen today, doomed to walk the path the body was dragged to Winchester for all eternity. Every year Ocknell Pond (where Tirel washed his hands of the blood) turns red, and a great black dog called Tirel’s Hound appears in the forest as an omen of death.
The Duc de Stacpoole
The first Duc de Stacpoole was an extravagant and eccentric English aristocrat. He held a French title and gained Papal ones for rebuilding much of the Vatican. In later life the Duc moved to a mansion house in Lyndhurst called Glasshayes, which he spent a small fortune enlarging and from which he ran a local smuggling operation with his yacht “The Gypsy Queen”. He died at Glasshayes in 1848, and nowadays it’s better known as the Lyndhurst Park Hotel. Around 1900 the mansion became a hotel, and it was then that builders first reported seeing his ghost. Supposedly his face can be seen staring through the windows of the house, and during extensions in the 1970’s workmen reported him appearing to them and screaming at the changes they were making. When his house is disturbed he makes himself known, and on the night of his death (July 7th) music can be heard in parts of the building from the annual ball he holds for the dead.
The Bisterne Dragon
In the 1400s the village of Bisterne was terrorised by a dragon from Burley Beacon, so the lord of the manor, Sir Maurice de Berkeley, was called on to slay it. This he did, eventually, with advice from a strange, ram-horned old man and the aid of his two dogs. The battle raged throughout the forest, but finally Sir Maurice killed the dragon near the village of Lyndhurst, and his corpse became a hill known today as Boltons Bench. Maurice was a broken man after the encounter, he stopped sleeping, he stopped eating. Eventually he took himself to the hill, half mad, laid down and died. Today yew trees grow where he and his hounds fell, and their ghostly figures can still be seen around Boltons Bench.
The Stratford Lyon
In North Baddesley, around the same, a man named Stratford was walking through his land when he stumbled on a pair of huge red antlers sticking out the ground. Pulling at them, they gradually uprooted to reveal a lions head, and soon he’d pulled from the ground a giant, antlered, blood red lion. As it started bucking and kicking Stratford held tight to its antlers. Though it took him three times around the Forest, eventually he tamed the monster and it pledged its services to him and his kin. The Stratford Lyon can still be seen haunting parts of the forest, and some say they can see the spirit of Stratford on his back, clinging onto the antlers tight.
Mary Dore and Witchy White
In life Mary Dore was a witch, living and operating in 18th century Beaulieu. Old John, Duke of Montagu, was quite enamoured with her, however she was known for transformations into animals (a cat, a hare, a bird), usually to get away with stealing wood. She was briefly jailed at Winchester by witchfinders, and on her return (angry at finding her cottage demolished) she shoved some sticks into the earth where it stood and grew herself a new one. Witchy White was another Beaulieu witch, living about a hundred years later, who specialised in love magic, and bringing couples together against the odds. Both wise women are said to wander Beaulieu and its outskirts to this day, and are often invoked by modern day witches at a nearby bronze age barrow.
Hopefully the above selection, which accounts for barely a fraction of what’s out there, will inspire you to set out searching for your own New Forest experiences. Whether you find your ghosts in libraries or in woodland, there’s more than enough in Rufus’ hunting ground to keep you busy, both before the grave and beyond it!