The Rufus Stone
The Rufus Stone has to be one of the strongest reminders of the origins of the New Forest. The iron-clad stone marks the (alleged) spot where King William II was fatally wounded with an arrow, during a royal hunting outing in the Forest, in the year 1100AD.
The king was nicknamed Rufus, apparently because of his ruddy complexion and red hair, and was of course the son of King William I who was responsible for designating the area as the royal hunting ground that we know today as the New Forest.
William Rufus was, by all accounts, an absolute barbarian and showed no mercy to the local inhabitants of the Forest, as well as being a fairly unpopular Monarch in general.
It was on August 2nd in the year 1100 when King William Rufus and his team of noblemen were out hunting deer and wild boar in the New Forest.
The story goes that an arrow was shot, supposedly at a stag, by the Frenchman Sir Walter Tyrrell who was the King's best archer, but the arrow struck an oak tree and ricocheted off it straight into the chest of the king, puncturing his lung and killing him there and then (depicted in the 1895 lithograph shown right, © expired).
Sir Walter hot-footed it back to Normandy in fear of being charged with the King's murder, the tale says that he stopped at a blacksmith on the way and had his horse re-shod with backwards facing horseshoes, so as to confuse the chasers!
As it happened, there were no chasers because no-one was particularly upset about the King's death.
Indeed, there wasn't even an effort to recover the king's body by the Crown; a local charcoal burner named Purkis loaded the corpse onto his cart and carried it to Winchester Cathedral, where a somewhat low-key burial was performed.
Following William Rufus' death, it took just 3 days for his brother Henry to become the new King.
There is still great mystery over whether or not the death was just a very unfortunate accident or whether Sir Walter ever intended to shoot the deer at all. Norman political ambition and the general desire to see Rufus removed from the throne are common theories about the incident.
In recent years, there's been fresh doubt cast over the location of the incident - historians now believe that it took place in the Beaulieu area, but locals of Canterton, where the stone stands, will always be proud of the dubious claim to fame.
Although the original oak tree in question has long been gone, a mature oak does stand next to the stone - quite possibly a direct descendant of the original tree.
A visit to the Rufus Stone is brief; two of the three sides of the metre tall monument are inscribed with the gory details of the incident, which take just a few minutes to read. The third side details the monument itself.
The inscriptions read:
"Here stood the oak tree, on which an arrow shot by Sir Walter Tyrrell at a stag, glanced and struck King William the Second, surnamed Rufus, on the breast, of which he instantly died, on the second day of August, anno 1100."
"King William the Second, surnamed Rufus being slain, as before related, was laid in a cart, belonging to one Purkis, and drawn from hence, to Winchester, and buried in the Cathedral Church of that city."
"That the spot where an event so memorable might not hereafter be forgotten, the enclosed stone was set up by John Lord Delaware who had seen the tree growing in this place. This stone having been much mutilated, and the inscriptions on each of its three sides defaced. This more durable memorial with the original inscriptions was erected in the year 1841, by WM Sturges Bourne, Warden."
Although time spent at the stone will be brief, there are several paths leading into the immediate Forest, and the popular Sir Walter Tyrrell pub is just a stonesthrow, or arrowshot, away - the guilty one's name having been immortalised into one of the area's most popular hostelries.
Getting to the Rufus Stone
The Rufus Stone is accessible from the north and the south, with the latter being the easiest and quickest way.
You need to be on the eastbound carriageway of the A31, the turning down to Rufus Stone is on the left, approximately half way between the Stoney Cross and Cadnam exits.
Coming from the north, take the small road that rises uphill directly opposite the Bell Inn at Brook. After about a mile, the Stone is immediately after the Sir Walter Tyrrell pub, on the right.
A third option is to reach the stone (and pub!) by foot or on bike, coming down through Longbeech campsite on Stoney Cross. This is a very pleasant stroll but parts can get boggy after heavy rain, and there's a stream to negotiate at the bottom!
GPS / SatNav information:
Lat/long: 50.911,-1.617. OS grid ref: SU270125