Wednesday, May 13, 2015

An ancient white horse

The Manger, with Dragon Hill to the right. 

I recently visited the White Horse at Uffington, a particularly historic landscape located in the picturesque Oxfordshire countryside, and not somewhere I'd been for a while, despite it being only about 30 minutes away. It was high time for another visit, and on such a beautiful day, it would have been rude not to.

The internationally-renowned Bronze-Age Uffington White Horse can be seen for miles away leaping across the head of a dramatic dry valley in the Ridgeway escarpment. The Uffington horse is by far the oldest of the white horse figures in Britain, and is of an entirely different design from the others white horses that dot the country. 

Looking at the head of the horse and the vale beyond.

It is some 374 feet in length, and is thought to date back as far as 1000BC in the late Bronze Age. Because of where the horse is placed on the hill, it can only be seen in all it's glory from above, which goes some way to suggest that it was created by the local population for the edification of the Bronze Age Gods. You can see the complete horse here.

A view of the Oxfordshire countryside from the hill.

The horse is only part of the unique complex of ancient remains that are found at White Horse Hill and beyond, spreading out across the high chalk downland.

The Manger, a dramatic dry valley has steep rippled sides left from the retreating permafrost during the last Ice Age. These ripples are known as the Giant's Steps. It is also the place where the horse is said to feed on moonlit nights.

To the east of the Manger lies Dragon Hill, a small roundish hill with a flattened top. It is said to be the site where St. George, England's patron saint, slew the dragon. The blood poisoned the ground and left a white chalk scar for all to see. It has been suggested that the horse is actually a dragon, and represents the same beast George slayed.

Another view of the landscape stretching away, at this time of year filled with numerous rape fields.

Crowning White Horse Hill is an Iron Age hillfort known as Uffington Castle. A simple design of one rampart and ditch, the castle at 860 feet (262m) above sea level forms the highest point in Oxfordshire, with views for miles around over six counties.

A few images of the surrounding fields from the top of Uffington Castle.

The White Horse of Uffington is one of the most impressive sites close to the ancient Ridgeway path, which traverses the steep chalk downs brooding over the Vale of the White Horse. The area has been the subject of legend and folklore for over a thousand years, and it's well worth a visit.

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