Last night (Saturday)I checked the weather forecast and it said that today was going to be relatively dry and quite warm - although cloudy and windy. Perfect weather for getting up early and grabbing a Sunday morning stroll. So, before going to bed I set my alarm in preparation for an early start. Not so much because I was going to travel far, but rather to enjoy my next location in peace and solitude.
I awoke this morning to the sound of the buzzer on my alarm, jumped out of bed and took a hot shower, before pulling on my jeans and jumper and setting off for another adventure.
Today's location is the magical and mystical Uffington White Horse and Castle (ancient hill fort) in Oxfordshire. I am fortunate that this wonderful historical site is only about 15 minutes from my house. I jumped in the car (no need for Sat Nav this time...lol). And no sooner had the car warmed up, I was driving through the picturesque winding country lanes of Oxfordshire (a county bordering Wiltshire).
I pulled into the Uffington car park and clambered out of the car, opened the old rickety gate and rambled through the fields towards the White Horse. Being so high up, the wind was blowing a gale and chilling me to the bone. But as soon as my eyes set upon the White Horse, any thoughts of being cold were soon banished from my mind.
A little of the history surrounding the Uffington White Horse
"Uffington White Horse, one of only four that face to the right, is high on an escarpment of the Berkshire Downs below Whitehorse Hill, a mile and a half south of the village of Uffington, and it looks out over the Vale of the White Horse. Though on the Berkshire Downs, it has been in Oxfordshire since county boundary alterations in the 1970s. It is cut, not on the steepest slope of the hill, but on the much shallower slope near the top, and can only really be viewed well from afar or from above.
This is by far the oldest of all the white horses, and is of an entirely different design to the others. Unlike the solid and more or less naturalistic figures of the other horses, the Uffington white horse is formed from stylized curving lines some ten feet or less wide, and its length of around 365 feet makes it over twice as long as the longest of the Wiltshire horses. Whether it is indeed intended to represent a horse, or some other creature instead, has been debated, but it has certainly been called a horse since at least medieval times. A cartulary of the Abbey of Abingdon from between 1072 and 1084 refers to "the place commonly known as the White Horse Hill" ("locum qui vulgo mons albi equi nuncupatur").
Until 1995 the Uffington white horse was thought to date from the Iron Age. However, in the nineteen-nineties, a new dating technique was developed. This technique, optical stimulated luminescence dating (OSL), can show how long soil has been hidden from sunlight. The lines of the horse consist of trenches dug in the hillside, then filled with chalk. OSL testing of soil from between the lower layers of that chalk shows that it has been buried since between 1400 BC and 600 BC, and probably between 1200 BC and 800 BC, and thus the horse is of Bronze Age origin.
The original purpose of this horse is unknown. It may have been the emblem of a local tribe, and have been cut as a totem or badge marking their land, or it may have had a religious purpose or significance. The horse-goddess Epona was worshipped by the Celts in Gaul, and she had a counterpart in Britain, Rhiannon, so the Uffington white horse may have been cut by adherents of a cult of the horse-goddess.
Alternatively, the horse could have been cut by worshippers of the sun god Belinos or Belenus, who was associated with horses. He was sometimes depicted on horseback, and Bronze and Iron Age sun chariots were shown as being drawn by horses. Conceivably, if this suggestion is correct, the horse could have been cut on the shallower slope at the top of the hill in order to be seen from above by the god himself. "
I clambered my way to the top of the hill and made my way over to the head of the horse. Folk Lore says that if you stand on the eye of the horse and make a wish, the wish will come true.
So the first thing I did was to do exactly that. I also promised a friend that I would place a pebble on the eye for them, as they live to far away to visit it. I can proudly say that I kept my word.
With so much history surrounding the Uffington White Horse, it is impossible not to feel emotional when stood by the horse on your own, with nobody else around for miles. I stood there for a few minutes, just looking at the scenery, the rolling hills, the chalk carving, the farmers fields, the streaming clouds, the birds in the sky. Everywhere I turned was a gift to the senses. Taking a deep breath to fill my lungs with fresh air, clearing my mind of all my stresses and frustrations.... The perfect way to enjoy a Sunday morning.
As I stood at the head of the horse, I could look down the hill and see "Dragon Hill". Dragon hill is an artificial mound with a flat top, to which clings the legend that it was on this summit that St.George slew the dragon. A bare patch of chalk upon which no grass will grow, is purpoted to be where the dragon's blood spilled. However scientific studies tell that this is either the site of ancient ritual activity or the site of an early Christian religious building.
I could have stayed there all day, but it was time to wander further up the hill to Uffington Castle. Occasionally stopping to take another glance at the horse.
"Uffington Castle sits on the very top of Uffingtion Hill. Despite its obvious categorisation as an 'Iron Age Hillfort' recent excavations have shown that, like the horse, it was originally constructed in the late Bronze Age, probably 800 BC - 700 BC. The fort at thos time, consisted of early ramparts and massive timber gates and an associated linear ditch. "
"The Uffington Castle we recognise today is an eight-acre double walled hillfort which once had timber box-ramparts that were revetted with sarsen stones at a later period. There is a north-west facing entrance, protected by the curving outwards of the bank along both sides and around the ditch."
"The site was occupied throughout the early to middle Iron Age period, probably at a level similar to most other excavated hillforts. Post-holes indicate not fully recognised structures and an unusal clay-lined gully may show evidence of water management. Excavated pits have shown much evidence of weaving, spinning, the keeping of animals and other activities. Coins of the Dobunni tribe have also been found in the vicinity. However, the Vale of the White Horse seems to have been an uninhabited divide between the tribes of the Dobunni and the Atrebates and Uffington Castle, with its White Horse, falls within territory of the latter, to the south of the River Ock. Permanent occupation seems to have ceased around the third to second century bc."
Walking around Uffington Castle is equally as breathtaking as the White Horse. As I wandered over the ditches and through the centre of the fort, I was trying to picture what it must have been like when it was in use. It was a weird feeling knowing that where I was stepping, people had been living thousands of years ago. A real piece of history.
I walked around the perimeter of the outer circle before making my way into the centre. As I stood in the middle of the fort, the clouds darkened, leaving only beams of light shining through - giving a really eerie feeling.
As I made my way back to the edge of the fort, the sheep came wandering in. It probably sounds weird, but it felt I was intruding. Some of the expressions on the sheep faces were very inquisitive. As I walked through them, they didn't run away - they just stood there. Some of them turned to each other and bleated. Almost like they were talking to each other. So strange, so surreal......
I began my journey back down the hill towards my car. Passing a few more inquisitive sheep on the way.
My head and my heart spinning with enjoyment and excitement from the walk over the hills of Uffington White Horse and Uffington Castle. My lungs full of fresh air. And of course my camera memory card full of photographs...lol!!!
So there ended my Sunday morning stroll around the magical and mystical ancient hill of Uffington White Horse and Uffington Castle. England certainly has a green and pleasant land!
I hope you enjoyed your whistle stop tour of Uffington. And for anybody who is planning a tour of England, I hope you are able to enjoy this wonderful place for yourself.
Cheerio for now
Click Here to view the full set of photographs from my stroll around Uffington White Horse Hill and Uffington Castle.