Windsor Great Park
There are many stories attached to this ancient royal park woodland, which was once a royal hunting ground and before that virgin forest. The stories all seem to suggest that the Park is haunted by an ancient supernatural being who represents lordship over animals and the masculine side of nature. He appears as a great man with stag antlers crowning his head, sometimes leading a pack of spectral hounds. He may be a folk memory of a god who was worshiped in the park in ancient times.
The figure is identified as Herne the Hunter, who was a royal huntsman who stepped between a charging stag and the king to save him from being gored. As Herne lay dying a wizard appeared and said to the king that Herne could be saved if the antlers of the stag were tied to his head.
Herne fully recovered and became the special favourite of the king. Jealous of such attention the other huntsmen banded together and managed to get him dismissed. Herne who found himself without work and out of favour committed suicide by hanging himself from an ancient oak in Windsor Park.
The oak no longer exists but was called Herne’s Oak after the event and was associated with the haunting. It is more likely that this story is set to explain a much more raw presence perhaps some form of Cernunnos the horned Celtic god of nature.
A recent folktale was collected by Ruth Tongue in her ‘Forgotten Folk-tales of the English Counties.’The story describes how in the 1950’s a group of boys were in the great park vandalising the trees when one of them found a horn lying on the grass.
Two of the boys from the area begged the other not to touch it, but he blew it any way and the call was answered by a great cry and the baying of hounds. All three ran in terror for the shelter of a nearby church but the boy who had blown the horn fell behind.
The sound of the hounds grew closer and as they reached the church they heard the twang from a loosed arrow, and the boy who blew the horn fell down dead. He had no arrow through him and there was no sign of the spectral hunt party. The origins of the tale are obscure but it shows how folktales develop with each passing generation.
‘Haunted England‘ by Christina Hole published 1940, mentions the tree being gone, but says whenever disaster threatens the Royal Family or the nation itself, the ghost of Herne and the tree appear. She says they were seen in 1931 before the economic crisis.