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Uffington White Horse: Mysterious Places in Britain
Uffington White Horse is an awe inspiring site that can seen from miles away overlooking the head of a dry valley in Ridgeway Escarpment. It is the oldest of all of Britain's white horses by thousands of years and it is the oldest hill figure in Britain. Other chalk horses exist in Britain, but where these others were naturalistic figures, Uffington White Horse was formed from curving lines about 10 feet wide. This chalk horse has a length of 365 feet making it twice as long as the longest Wiltshire chalk horse. In good weather, this carving can be seen from up to 20 miles away. From the top of Dragon Hill, it can be seen up close but it is said that the best view is on top of Ridgeway Escarpment, three or four miles away from the carving. Whether or not the creators of this chalk carving intended it as a horse has been hotly debated but it has been known as such since medieval times. Manuscripts from the Abbey of Abington dated to around 1075, refers to the 'place known commonly as White Horse Hill' or 'locum qui vulgo mons albi equi nuncupator'.
Who Made the Uffington Chalk Horse?
Leucippotomy is an apparent ancient practice of carving horse figures into the chalk upland areas particularly as seen in Britain. At one time, due to Iron Age coins found near the site bearing an image of striking resemblance to the chalk horse, it was thought that the Uffington Chalk Horse was an Iron Age artefact built by an Anglo Saxon tribe. However:
- a new dating technique developed in the mid-1990s called optical stimulated luminescence dating (OSL) which can show how long soil has been hidden from the sunlight has shed new light on the actual age of this landmark.
- OSL testing of soil beneath the chalk has pinpointed the age of Uffington White Horse from between 1200 and 800 BC which makes its origin in the Bronze Age.
- It has been suggested that it was built by people living in Uffington Castle, a nearby fortress of Bronze Age origin.
- The image was cut into the upper slopes of White Horse Hill.
- Deep trenches were dug and filled in with white, crushed chalk in a manner probably very similar to that used by similar tribes to build the trenches of Stonehenge and Avebury.
- Avebury: Mysterious Places in Britain provides more detail on the methods and tools likely used by the prehistoric people in constructing this carving.
Why was Uffington White Horse Created?
There are many theories explaining the origin and mystery of Uffington White Horse. Horses were very important to the Bronze Age culture at the time as humans were first starting to ride them.
- It may have been a mark of territorial ownership.
- It may have been an emblem of a local tribe.
- It may have been made as a battle memorial or a cult symbol.
- Perhaps it was a horse traders' advertisement.
- It may have been used as a sign or homage to the ancient horse-goddesses since the Celts in Gaul worshipped the horse-goddess Epona and in Britain, her counterpart Rhiannon was worshipped possibly by the local Belgae tribe.
- It may also have been cut by the worshippers of the sun-god Belinos or Belenus who was also associated with horses.
Maintenance of the Uffington Chalk Horse
Over its 3000 year history, this horse has never been forgotten. The grass grows over it quickly and yet it still exists as a testament to the handiwork of our ancient ancestors.
- Every seven to ten years it requires scouring.
- This regular renovation work has been accomplished by the local population.
- In past eras, the site was ritually scoured under the jurisdiction of the local Lord who provided the funds.
- It became a three day festival of fun and games, which took place in the neighbouring Uffington Castle, along with the restoration of the chalk carving.
- This festival which likely had ancient origins only died out about 100 years ago and fortunately, the regular restoration has been taken over by members of the English Heritage Society.
- Although the regular scourings have altered the image somewhat, the fact that the skeleton of the image is a metre-deep chalk-filled trench has prevented it from drifting too far from its origins.
Read some fictional accounts of the Uffington White Horse
Folklore and Legends surrounding the Uffington White Horse
- The Uffington horse has been connected to King Alfred who is thought to have had it carved to commemorate his victory against the Danes in 871.
- It has also been told that Hengist, a 5th century Anglo Saxon leader had it carved.
- Legend suggests that the Uffington white horse is a mare and at night she and her invisible foal come down to graze on the lower slope known as the manger and to drink at Woolstone Well which it is said was formed by the mare's hoof print.
- One bit of folklore suggests that standing on the eye of the Uffington mare and turning around three times with closed eyes while making a wish will cause the wish to come true.
- Nearby Dragon Hill, legend states, is where St. George, the patron saint of England, killed the dragon. It is thought by some that the Uffington chalk carving is the legendary site where the dragon fell, spilling its blood and the carving itself is actually a representation of the dragon killed by St. George.
- Legend says that King Arthur is not dead but merely sleeping and when England is in grave peril, he will rise up and fight again for England. When Arthur wakens, the Uffington horse will also rise up and dance on Dragon Hill.
- Nearby Wayland Smithy is a prehistoric sight associated with Wayland or Wolund, a germanic smith god. Legend says that once every 100 years, the Uffington horse gallops across the sky to Wayland who reshods him in his smithy.