The Uffington White Horse, Oxfordshire

Thousands of years ago, ancient Britons created a vast and spectacular stylised portrayal of a horse in the hills of the North Wessex Downs. Surely they could scarcely have dreamed that The Uffington White Horse would still be intriguing visitors to this day.

Chalk horses, scoured into the sides of downland, are peculiar to southern England. This is the oldest and could have been created 3,000 years ago; the lines took the form of 3ft trenches, which were then filled with chalk.

This 110m-long horse forms part of an ancient landscape, with the prehistoric path known as the Ridgeway running along the crest of the downs and a Saxon hill fort nearby. With its flowing, yet staccato lines reduced to the bare minimum, the White Horse is halfway between a Picasso and a hieroglyph.

Visitors can come right up to the lines of the horse — and you can even volunteer to be part of the team to preserve this ancient masterpiece.

Like the real horses around Lambourn a few miles away, it is shown as a racing Thoroughbred, although, originally, it may not have been quite so svelte — genuine Bronze Age horses were essentially stocky ponies.

The author G.K. Chesterton took inspiration from the Uffington White Horse, which gave him the title of his 1911 poem The Ballad of the White Horse. It’s a work which could scarcely be more different to his better-known Father Brown detective stories. The 2,684-line Ballad is a true rarity: an epic poem in English.

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Sunset at White Horse Hill.

How to visit the Uffington White Horse

White Horse Hill is a couple of miles south of the village of Uffington, which is in the North Wessex Downs close to the Oxfordshire/Wiltshire border in roughly half-way between Swindon and Didcot, and within easy reach of Oxford and Reading. There are no facilities at the site, but nor are there fences, gates or a gift shop. There is a National Trust car park and some information boards nearby, and it’s dog-friendly; the National Trust website has more information.

The White Horse is also on The Ridgeway, an 87-mile trail from Avebury to Ivinghoe Beacon which is probably Britain’s oldest ‘road’ having been used since pre-historic times.

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