Uffington Castle

Near Wantage


England, United Kingdom. (OS Ref: Landranger 174 - OS Ref: SU299863)

Situated next to the 5,000-year-old, 250-mile-long Ridgeway Uffington Castle squats upon the summit of White Horse Hill, the highest point in all of the county of Oxfordshire. The fort sits upon the northern face of the Berkshire Downs, like its neighbour to the east, Segsbury Camp, it affords clear and extensive views of the surrounding horizon.


Uffington Castle is defined by a V-shaped defensive ditch with a small box rampart in front and a larger one behind it. Timber posts stood on the ramparts. Later the ditch was deepened and the extra material dumped on top of the ramparts to increase their size. The ditch would have been about three metres deeper than is seen today and rather than being lined with grass would have been left exposing the bare, naked bone white chalk surface, an imposing site for travellers along the Ridgeway. A parapet wall of sarsen stones lined the top of the innermost rampart. It covers about 32,000 square metres and is surrounded by two earth banks separated by a ditch with an entrance in the eastern end. A second entrance in the western end was apparently blocked up a few centuries after it was built.

Excavations have indicated that it was probably built during the Bronze Age in the 7th or 8th century BC and continued to be occupied throughout the Iron Age. Isolated postholes were found inside the fort but no evidence of buildings. Pottery, loom weights and animal bone finds suggest some form of occupation however. This scarcity of occupation has led to conclusions that Uffington Castle served a ceremonial function perhaps closely related to the White Horse and Dragon Hill! The most activity appears to have been during the Roman period as the artefacts recovered from the upper fills of the ditch attest. The ramparts were remodelled to provide more entrances and a shrine seems to have been built in the early fourth century AD. More recently the enclosed area of the fort was used for celebrations held every seven years - on the occasion that the nearby White Horse was cleaned and scoured. This festival could last up to three days and consisted of fun and games, wrestling, sack racing and backsword play. Cheese rolling was held below the forts earthen ramparts on the steep sided valley below known as The Manger. It was a happy coincidence that my visit coincided with the 'Uffington White Horse Show' taking place on the distant meadows, its position revealed by white topped marquees and extensive car park. Although unable to attend the show with its backsword play I was able to witness from The Ridgeway a dramatic flypast of Avro Vulcan XH558 as it flew low over Uffington Castle - two tremendous feats of engineering, quite breathtaking.

A cold and brief rainstorm prevented much time spent exploring the enigmatic low mounds that lay between the fort and the White Horse. According to L V Grinsell in his book White Horse Hill and Surrounding Country: "Between Uffington Castle and the White Horse is an oblong mound which was opened in 1857 by Mr E Martin ATkins, when forty-six skeletons were found in forty-two graves nearly all of which were placed east/west. Five of the skeletons had small bronze coins placed in their mouths, and these were evidently Roman or Romano-British burials, the coins being placed in the mouths of the deceased, after the well known Roman custom, for the purpose of paying the Charon for ferrying them across the River Styx to the next world. The ages of the people represented by the skeletons varied between 1 and 70 or more, and they were of both sexes. Four of the skeletons were headless. One of them was accompanied by a vase of red ware, probably Roman, which is now in the Roman Room at the British Museum. In the centre of this mound there was a coarse urn with two handle like bosses, filled with burnt bones and arched over with sarsens. This find rather suggests the possibility that the mound may originally have been a round barrow which was later altered in shape to contain the forty-six Roman or Romano-British Skeletons." The site was re-excavated in 1993 and from the findings it was concluded to be orignally a Neolithic burial site.