The White Horse of Uffington, Oxfordshire
Britain has many white horses and other figures carved into ancient hillsides. Some are of very recent date, others Victorian projects, but many date much further back into our history. Perhaps the oldest of all is the Uffington White Horse, now claimed by Oxfordshire though once in Berkshire before bureaucrats moved those counties’ boundaries.
Just how old the figure – created by cutting trenches in the hillside and filling them with chalk – truly it was debated on non-scientific evidence for years, with some experts arguing for it being of Celtic origin, others convinced it was from the Saxon era. Those in the former camp cited the figure’s stylistic similarity to figures seen on Celtic coins; those in the latter had the figure down as a memorial to King Alfred ’s victory over the Danes. Both were wrong, as scientific investigation in 1994 - 1995 proved beyond doubt: the figure was first cut sometime between 1400BC and 600BC, and thus was created during the Bronze Age.
This is an amazing link with our distant ancestors, given that to prevent the figure disappearing beneath grass and other plants it has to be ‘scoured’ every seven years to reveal the chalk at its dazzling white best. Once the scouring was the background to a festival of three days or more, the local Lord of the Manor funding some of the entertainments and refreshments surrounding the work: wrestling, cheese rolling, and this being England drinking.
At 374 feet long the horse is an awesome, and very beautiful, sight. Such an ancient object naturally has various legends surrounding it: one is that this is no horse, but a depiction of the dragon slain by St George – traditionally he did this on nearby Dragon Hill, but as St George was Turkish we can take that version with a pinch of salt. More interesting is the story that once every 100 years the horse quits the hillside to have its feet re-shod at another nearby sight of great antiquity, the barrow at Wayland’s Smithy .
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