Uffington is the oldest and best known white horse. 374 feet (110m) from end to end. The location is the highest point in Oxfordshire and you have excellent views.
Except for 2 aerial photographs =
The best views of the horse without an aircraft are from 3 or 4 miles away, some suggest obtained from directly across the Vale, particularly around the villages of Great Coxwell, Longcot and Fernham, but these are too great a distance to photograph well. It can be seen in good weather for around 25 miles.
It was constructed by in-filling with chalk a series of trenches cut to shape into the hillside, so having a depth, where others are surface scrapes. This has meant that its shape now is the same as it was when first developed, while with most others the shape drifts or is altered over time. It is also far bigger than others, 374 foot long compared to the largest Wiltshire one at Westbury which is 170ft.
It is around 3,000 years old, developed in the late Bronze age. Its unusual shape has been featured on coins as long ago as the Iron age.
The original purpose of this horse is unknown. It may have been the emblem of a local tribe, and have been cut as a totem or badge marking their land. Some think it had a religious purpose or significance.
The most likely explanation would appear to be connected with the horse-goddess Epona who was worshipped by the Celts in Gaul and throughout the Celtic world. Her cult would later spread to Britannia (Britain). The Romans adopted the Gallic goddess as the patron-goddess of cavalrymen, and was the only Celtic deity to be worshipped in Rome; annual festival in Epona's honour on December 18. She can be found in arts in both Celtic and Roman world.
The goddess Epona, had a role of protecting horses, as well as to represent fertility, healing and death. Similar horses feature in Celtic jewellery and there is also evidence for horse worship in the Iron Age.
Epona was also called Bubona. She had a counterpart in Britain, mostly in Wales as Rhiannon, and the Irish goddess Macha. Rhiannon was also associated with a Romano-Celtic goddess Rigantona ("Great Goddess"). So the Uffington white horse may have been cut by adherents of a cult of the horse-goddess, or as one of a number of special places for pilgrimages, which fits into some theories connected with Avebury and Stonehenge, all linked by the Ridgeway, but none visible directly from the Ridgeway.
Epona is not completely forgotten in our time, she is still represented by the horses that feature in the Beltane celebrations, as the hobby horses in May Day 'Obby Oss Festival' in Padstow, Cornwall, and similar event in Minehead Somerset. The 'Osses sometimes capture young women beneath the skirt of the hobby horse; often they emerge smeared with black. In both cases The Horses' visits are (and were) believed to bring good luck (or fertility). 'Obby 'Oss traditions also exist in Barnstaple and Coombe Martin. There is documentary evidence of an 'Oss' at Penzance in the late 19th century, made with a caped stick and skull, similar to the Mari Lwyd in Wales. There are some similarities between this festival and the Lajkonik hobby-horse festival in Kraków, Poland. In particular the idea that young women my be captured or struck with a stick in order to bring them "luck" or fertility suggests a pagan, or at least medieval origin. Lajkonik is 700 years old. Rather more recent is the Banbury Hobby-Horse festival, which started in 2000. You also regularly still find hobby horses with Morris Dancers.
The scouring of the horse is believed to have been a religious festival in later times, giving more creditability to the figure being of religious origin.
Extract from Celtic Myth and Legend by Mike-Dixon-Kennedy
As there is often a link in Celtic tales and similar between the natural forces, serpents and dragons, and this perhaps is the basis that developed into the story of slaying of dragons, being a modification from a feminine controlling it to the Roman Christianisation of Celtic beliefs having to have a male to kill the dragon.
Another theory about the horse derives from its strange 'beak'. Some Celtic coins show horses and birds with a similar beak. In Taliesin's medieval poems the horses of Ceridwen are sometimes referred to as 'hen-headed steeds'. Ceridwen is said to have assumed the form of a white mare, and was also known as the 'high crested hen'. Some suggest the Uffington horse could be a representation of Ceridwen. Although to Wiccans this theory may appeal, I have difficulty with it as these legends involve individuals or events later than the date the horse was created.
Another possibility is that the horse could have been cut by worshippers of the sun god Belinos or Belenus, who was associated with horses. He was sometimes shown on horseback, and Bronze and Iron Age sun chariots were shown as being drawn by horses. With no rider depicted I feel this is less likely. It also looks away from the sun for the majority of the day.
The horse has survived by being regularly cleaned (scoured) by local villagers. The Lord of the Manor was obliged to provide food and entertainment for 'scourers' and this developed into the 'Pastimes'. These were huge two day events with thousands of people attending, with food and drink stalls, sideshows, musicians all provided and games took place for which people would travel from neighbouring counties. A lot of the games took place within the castle (fort on top of the hill) and the cheese rolling down the steep hill in front of the horse. This took place every 7 years up to 1857. It may just be chance that they settled on 7 years but there was the belief that the body was renewed every 7 years, after two rentals (age 14) the male had the title master and three (21) Mr and became an adult. 7 years also appears twice as major features in the legend of the Celtic goddess Rhiannon.
Similar games seem to have occurred in other places, and we have images and poems connected with one taking place in the Cotswolds in 1636, under the title 'Olimpick', and was on the summit of the hill, a castle structure has guns firing to start events, and there are representations of the different activities - dancing, backswords, coursing, throwing the sledge hammer, spurning the barre, pike drill, tumbling and shin-kicking. This was a long time before the current 'commercial' Olympic Games was created, although in the bid for the London 2012, it was said that the 'Cotswold Olimpicks' was the direct descendent of what turned into the Olympic movement, and started in 1612, making it 400 years before the 2012. The Cotswold 'Olimpick' is an annual event and takes place on Dover's Hill, near Chipping Campden, the 2012 event is taking place on 1st June. About 40 years ago the Uffington White Horse Show started, lasting two days in August each year, this is a county show with many attractions.
Many of the older white horses have legends giving their reason for the first designs being a celebration of King Alfred's victory over the Danes in 871, but dating of material from the bottom of a trench put through a section of the horse showed it to be far older, making it around 3,000 years old.
The white horse, said to be a Mare and have an invisible foal that sits beside her, they go together to Woolstone wells at midnight to drink.
Below the white horse is Dragon Hill, a very unusual small roundish hill with a flattened top. This is said to be the site where St. George, England's patron saint, slew the dragon. The blood from the dying dragon so poisoned the ground beneath that grass never grows there leaving the chalk scar we see today. Some say that what we know as the white horse is a dragon.
You can image dragon hill as the base for a higher hill, perhaps like Silbury Hill near Avebury, and some suggest it may have been larger and collapsed and eroded away over time, with the debris wasted or blown away.
Some say as the horse can best be viewed from the air in a time before flight it was a sign to extraterrestrial visitors, and some say that dragon hill is the landing site. Similar stories exist about Silbury Hill being used for the same purpose.
Below the horse the ground slopes away sharply in folds, forming a bowl in the hill, called The Manger. On this spot in centuries past the villagers held Cheese Rolls, a wild race whereby a round of cheese was rolled down the hilll and participants chased after it. It is said that due to a combination of the steep terrain and probable consumption of large amounts of alcohol on such occasions, broken limbs were not uncommon! Cheese rolling takes place annually at several other nearby places. These events today are equally dangerous, but there are very few injuries and no broken limbs as far as I know.
The Manger, a valley that appears to have been man made but many say its natural, except for some platforms towards the bottom, also makes a very effective amphitheatre and sound is said to travel well through this from the slope.
What some others have written in the past
Exploring the Ridgeway by Alan Charles
The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 87, No. 1. (Jan. - Jun., 1957), pp. 105-114.
The scouring ceremony is first mentioned by Aubrey and the best early record dates from 1677 when Baskerville wrote;-
According to L V Grinsell in his book White Horse Hill and surrounding country:
The mound site was re-excavated in 1993 and from the findings it is accepted as originally a Neolithic burial site.
In another place I saw (but forgot to note the book):-
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