AMID all the glorious sunshine, it’s hard to believe that the New Forest has a darker side, but tales of murder, mysterious deaths, spectral visitors and strange happenings have been documented in a new book called Haunted Hampshire.

Established author of the supernatural, Rupert Matthews, took a brave tour of the county after delving into those stories we all like to tell on dark nights, speaking to as many eyewitnesses as possible along the way.

One of the area’s most famous ghosts is that of Florence Nightingale, who grew up in East Wellow on the edge of the Forest and who is buried in the village.

Her spirit has been seen on many occasions, either sitting in a pew at the Church of St Margaret or walking slowly around the churchyard.

Spectral monks also walk the churchyard at Breamore near Fordingbridge. At dusk, two figures sometimes appear near a yew tree under which three stone coffins lie. The hooded forms then drift off slowly towards the mysterious mizmaze that lies in a clump of trees not far away. Once there they slowly dissipate and vanish.

Breamore House itself is haunted by two generations of Dodington ladies who lived there in the 1600s. A portrait of the elder hangs in the house to this day, as on her death bed she threatened to put a curse on anyone who dared move it.

One man cleaning the house in the 1950s did move it and had a fall later that day, breaking his leg. Nobody has touched it since.

The younger Mrs Doddington was murdered by her son in a deranged fit and now haunts the blue bedroom, where she died. Her ghost appears whenever there is a serious illness or death.

Another murder is linked to the Rufus Stone in the heart of the New Forest. On a summer’s evening don’t be surprised if you encounter a short stocky man with flame red hair, tunic and stout boots there. This is the ghost of King William II of England who was killed by his brother Henry.

Dastardly Henry put the blame on Sir Walter Tyrrell, a knight who was hunting deer in the area and whose arrow narrowly missed a stag. Thinking he had in fact killed the king, Tyrrell galloped away as fast as he could. He fled down what is now the aptly-named Tyrrell’s Lane in Burley and his ghost is said to haunt this track. Burley is a veritable hotbed of things that go bump in the night.

Well-known for its connections to witchcraft, it is only fitting that a shop called The Coven of Witches should be home to a ghostly cat, who delights in welcoming visitors.

Another ghost is reported to lurk in Burley Lawn, riding past the tree where he was hanged back in 1759. He sits astride a brown horse and wears a smart suit with bright metal buttons.

In the late 1800s, strange moanings were regularly heard beneath the bar of the Queen’s Head pub in the village. In the 1950s, renovation work revealed a long-hidden hatchway and tunnel where smugglers hid their goods from prying excise men. While no skeletons were found, the moaning instantly stopped.

But of course that’s not the only pub in the New Forest said to be haunted.

The Tudor Rose Inn, at Burgate, near Fordingbridge, dates back to the 14th century and is home to a phantom cavalier. His most annoying habit is to knock on a door before entering, then slamming it violently behind him. The landlady has now removed as many of the doors as possible.

At the White Hart in Ringwood a door also slams in the kitchen, no matter what is used to prop it open. Staff believe the building is haunted by the ghost of a chambermaid who has been seen on the stairs and is obsessed with keeping things tidy. She even puts tools back in boxes when workmen aren’t looking.

An exorcism was carried out in the 1960s and you can still see the cross carved in the wall by the stairs.

It’s a double tragedy that lies behind the haunting of the Wagon and Horses pub at Walhampton, across the estuary from Lymington. In 1893, the body of a farmer was found lying in a local field. He had been shot in the back from a single blast from his own shotgun, although he had no enemies nor motive for killing himself.

The Walhampton Gamekeeper Henry Card demonstrated how it would be easy for a person to accidentally shoot themselves if they were carrying the gun in such a way, then tripped and fell. Tragically, Card’s gun was loaded and he shot himself in exactly the same manner as the farmer. He died instantly and his ghost has since often been seen in the bar of the Wagon and Horses.

But perhaps the most haunted pub in the county is the Angel in Lymington which has no fewer than four ghosts: A coachman who peers in through the window; a little girl with fair hair who skips about the second floor; an unseen presence who plays the piano and a sailor in a reefer jacket with brass buttons.

So next time you are walking down a country lane or taking a drink in a New Forest pub, spare a thought for all the people who have walked here before. As some of them might still be walking...

Haunted Hampshire is published by The History Press.