Friday, October 22, 2010

Growing history... Rufus oaks.

In September last year we spent a few days camping in the New Forest. I'd never been there before, so seeing assorted pigs, ponies and donkeys meandering down busy highstreets of the pretty bustling towns was somewhat of a shock.

The whole area is weird - but in a good way. The locals seem to know the importance of keeping hold of their idiosyncratic traditions - and watching a line of traffic grind to a halt as a couple of donkeys ever-so-slowly crossed a busy road at the height of the rush hour seemed to confirm this...

The landscapes were fantastic, but there were two places I really did want to visit - and both concerned people who had slipped from the mortal coil. The first was to see the grave of an English legend - a man so mystical a huge folklore industry grew around him in life and especially after he had passed on. His name was Harry 'Brusher' Mills (1840 - 1905) - and he was a New Forest snake catcher.

Brusher caught snakes - mostly Adders and boiled them down to make snake lotions and tinctures - cure-alls for many a Victorian ailment. A true man of the forest, for many years he lived in an old shack deep in the woods - a place he called home. Unfortunately, in 1905, some vandals smashed up the shack and trashed his few possesions - Brusher never recovered from the shock and a few days later he died in a room at the back of his local pub, The Railway.

He was buried in St Nicholas' graveyard at Brockenhurst - the locals thought so much of him they held a collection and paid for this magnificent marble headstone.

The second port of call was to visit the spot where William II - Rufus, son of the bastard Conqueror was slain via an arrow loosed by Sir Walter Tyrell in 1100 AD. It's a really atmospheric place. Lincoln Greenery, broadleaves, dappled shadows, the gentle hum of the wind streaming through the gnarled branches of ancient oaks. The trees of England standing sentinel-like around a royal crime scene .... And there it is, the commemorative stone erected by the Georgians then added to by the early Victorians on the site of the battered oak stump - the tree from which the arrow supposedly deflected into the corpulent bulk of the ruddy red Norman king. 'Here stood the oak tree on which an arrow shot by Sir Walter Tyrell at a stag, glanced and struck William the Second, surnamed Rufus on the breast of which he instantly died on the second day of August anno 1100'...

Behind the stone is a big old oak tree. Tradition has it that it sprang from an acorn dropped from the original Rufus oak - and as it was September, the floor was littered with the year's crop of oak fruits. There before me was a direct link to the past and a monumental event in English history. It seemed too good an opportunity to miss. I gathered a handful of acorns and stuffed them into my pocket.

When we got home, I chucked some leaf mould and a bit of soil into some pots and planted them. This is the result. Two have germinated - and I am now the proud owner of a brace of my very own Rufus oaks..... Eat your heart out Alan Titchmarsh...

2 comments:

Red_Fred said...

Hey Alf
I've been there, where Rufus was done in - what a neat idea, growing some oaks from that spot

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