The Uffington White Horse

Near Wantage


England, UK. (OS Ref: Landranger 174 - SU302866)



Before the gods that made the gods

Had seen their sunrise pass,

The White Horse of the White Horse Vale

Was cut out of the grass.


Ballad of the White Horse, Book I "The Vision of the King" - G.K. Chesterton


Its an outrageous thing, The Uffington White Horse, you can't get an angle on it! I'd expected it to be bigger, more massive but I can step across it, jump across it at its widest point! I can't see it; I can't get a grip on its slippery form as parts of it appear and disappear as I walk its length. What's it for? I'm told that you can get a good view of it from the train below, was it made to be seen by the Gods above, bronze age priests held aloft by kites and balloons or as a message to passing spacecraft! It's an outrageous thing.....


The Uffington White Horse is a highly stylised prehistoric hill figure, 374 feet (110 m) long, formed from deep trenches filled with crushed white chalk. Until the late 19th century the horse was scoured every seven years as part of a more general local fair held on the hill, in 1677 Thomas Baskerville recorded that: "Some that dwell hereabouts have an obligation upon their hands to repair and cleanse this Lande marke, or else in time it may turn green like the rest of the hill and be forgotten". During the Great War and shortly after the Uffington White Horse became somewhat neglected. In 1922, a newspaper article recorded that it could ‘scarce be seen’. During the Second World War the horse was deliberately covered up to prevent enemy aircraft using it as a navigation aid.

The figure has been shown to date back some 3,000 years, to the Bronze Age, by means of optically stimulated luminescence dating carried out following archaeological investigations in 1994. These studies produced three dates ranging between 1400 and 600 BC. Iron Age coins that bear a representation of the Uffington White Horse have been found, supporting the early dating of this artifact; suggestions that the figure was fashioned in the Anglo-Saxon period now seem untenable. Numerous other prominent prehistoric sites are located nearby, notably Wayland's Smithy, a long barrow less than two kilometres to the west.


It has long been debated whether the chalk figure was intended to represent a horse or some other animal. However, it has been called a horse since the eleventh century at least. An Abingdon cartulary, written by monks on vellum, between 1072 and 1084, refers to "mons albi equi" at Uffington ("the White Horse Hill").

Though ancient the Uffington White Horse holds within its curvilinear form an archetype. It may be representative of a tribal symbol perhaps connected with the builders of Uffington Castle. A totem horse, a hobby horse; a pantomime horse! It is an archetype of Epona, 'The Great Mare', the goddess of a horse cult who may be identified with the Irish édáin echraidhe or macha and the welsh Rhiannon, who rides a "pale-white" horse. Also considered to be a godess fertility and nourishment this image of Epona, the Uffington White Horse, has sired nearly every other 18th century chalk horse in the district! Epona is also associated with serpents and the White Horse is associated with Dragon's Hill below, like Silbury Hill nearby, it may be a pregnant belly or nourishing tit!

Gerald of Wales recorded a ceremony among the Irish: "There is in a northern and remote part of Ulster, among the Kenelcunil, a certain tribe which is wont to install a king over itself by an excessively savage and abominable ritual. In the presence of all the people of this land in one place, a white mare is brought into their midst. Thereupon he who is to be elevated, not to a prince but to a beast, not to a king but to an outlaw, steps forward in beastly fashion and exhibits his bestiality. Right thereafter the mare is killed and boiled piecemeal in water, and in the same water a bath is prepared for him. He gets into the bath and eats of the flesh that is brought to him, with his people standing around and sharing it with him. He also imbibes the broth in which he is bathed, not from any vessel, nor with his hand, but only with his mouth. When this is done right according to such unrighteous ritual, his rule and sovereignty are consecrated."

There is a strong aversion to eating horsemeat among the English! This scoured mare may be the white horse of Hengist and Horsa or of Alfred the Great who was born in the Vale of the White Horse in the nearby village of Wanating (Wantage). Tradition states that he had the horse cut to celebrate his victory over the Danes at the Battle of Ashdown. Tradition also tells that if you make a wish whilst standing upon the White Horses eye and turning around three times your wish will come true. In various mythical and magical guises the Uffington White Horse spans one age to the next, it may be found in Norse mythology where the gender-changing Loki having turned himself into a mare gave birth to the pale grey Sleipnir, "the greatest of all horses".


Of course the Uffington White Horse belongs to St. George, sometime it is representative of the white charger on which he rode and sometimes it is the dragon he slew, a victory of Christianity over a pagan past! In the Book of Revelation, Christ rides a white horse out of heaven at the head of the armies of heaven to judge and make war upon the earth. The early adoption of Christian myth and its ability to adapt to the local tradition possibly prevented the destruction and loss of this immense monument.

Royal Berkshire History - David Nash Ford: