The Rufus Stone is one of those things you travel to see, look at, think "that's interesting", and then go away feeling vaguely unsatisfied.
From a distance it looks like a trig. point and it is only when you get close to it that you realise that it is not a stone at all.
It is made out of cast iron, and the three sides read as follows:
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.
The third side goes on to state: 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
This leaves a lot of questions unanswered.
- Did Lord Delaware get the right tree? After all, when he erected the stone in 1745 it was almost 650 years after the event.
- What sort of stone was it that had been so defaced and mutilated that it needed replacing in less than 100 years? Presumably not granite.
- Is the stone still in there? There is no way of telling from the outside.
Not to mention the theory, for which there is increasing evidence, that William Rufus was shot not here, but miles away on the Beaulieu Estate at Througham.
What we do know is that William Rufus was killed whilst out hunting in the New Forest and that Sir Walter Tyrrel was responsible. Where and whether it was murder or a tragic accident, as Tyrrel claimed, we will never know.
On hearing of the King's death his youngest brother, Henry, immediately rode to Winchester, seized the treasury and had himself proclaimed king by the barons. Thus forestalling the claims of his eldest brother, Robert of Normandy. Had he not done so, we would have had a King Robert - a great loss to my way of thinking.
What are believed to be Rufus's bones now reside in a mortuary chest above the choir area in Winchester Cathedral along with those of King Canute, Canute's wife, Queen Emma and other early royalty.
The Purkis family, decendants of the owner of the cart, continue to live in the Forest, and have long been associated with the charcoal burning trade. More information on them and the stone can be found on the Rufus Stone web site.
On the opposite side of the road, past the car park are some fine old beech woods offering some pleasant walking, provided you close your ears to the drone of traffic on the A31.
Apparently, if you walk from The Sir Walter Tyrrel pub, which is just down the road, towards Brook/Bramshaw and, after passing Canterton Manor Farm, turn right down the narrow track by the letter box, as you progress you will feel chilled and spooky.
Some say this is where Sir Walter Tyrrel fled before his arrest after King William was slain, and that this is where they caught him.