The Ridgeway

Here are some touristy photos of the Ridgeway, Uffington White Horse, Uffington Castle, and Wayland's Smithy.

The Ridgeway is one of Britain's most ancient roads. As its name suggests, it differs from most modern roads in that it runs along a ridge of hills. Originally it would probably have been used for driving sheep, and so on; above the surrounding land for much of the way, it avoided the dangerous forests below. The Ridgeway has been in continuous use for as long as anyone knows. You can walk along it and indeed camp on it -- as I did when I was a teenager.

On or near the Ridgeway are numerous prehistoric sites. The highest concentration is around Uffington, with Uffington White Horse, Uffington Castle, and Wayland's Smithy.

I provide some archaeological information below.

First, here's the White Horse as I didn't see it and as you won't either: the way it appears from above.

I'm grateful to Dr Mark Hows for his permission to use this image from his excellent page on Uffington White Horse (which has since disappeared, it seems).

[horse as seen from a helicopter]

My own pictures (below) are pretty feeble. Blame me for unimaginativeness, poor composition, deviations from the level, etc. But "the bad workman always blames his tools": the awful camera I used for most of these photos (in summer '98) gave me very little control over exposure and none over focus. (And neither did its successor.)

Approaching Uffington White Horse from the car park. The horse is at the horizon in the photo on the left; we can see its two rear legs and the underside of its torso:

[horse from afar] [sheep] [sheep]

Next, the horse from close to its head. We see much of its head, including one whisker and its eye, and at least part of three of its legs. (As for the sloping horizon, I'd like either to say it was deliberate or to blame it on the camera -- but neither would be true.)

[horse foreshortened] [horse

A front hoof and its leg, and an enigmatic bit of the White Horse:

[leg shot] [anatomy test]

There's an attractive scallop of land ("the Manger") just in front of and below the horse. Here are two pictures of it. The one on the right is underexposed simply because the sky fooled the exposure meter (and I forgot to provide the compensation that the camera allows). This is one of several photographs here that I've digitally doctored somewhat -- it looked even more ominous before. (The reddish blur on the right is not a mystical aura or UFO but just a lens reflection.)

[the Manger] [the Manger, dark]

Uffington Castle is an earthwork close to the White Horse. The castle is surrounded by a wall that's surrounded by a ditch. In the first photo we're looking inward from the outside. Note again the reddish blur in the foreground -- a lens hood would have helped. The second photo shows Uffington Castle, from outside the ditch.

[outside looking in] [Uffington Castle]

The Ridgeway, on the way to Wayland's Smithy:

[the Ridgeway] [the Ridgeway] [the Ridgeway] [the Ridgeway]

These five show the front of Wayland's Smithy:

[Wayland's Smithy] [Wayland's Smithy] [Wayland's Smithy] [Wayland's Smithy] [Wayland's Smithy]

Other views of Wayland's Smithy, from the back, one side viewed from the rear, the other side viewed from the front:

[Wayland's Smithy] [Wayland's Smithy] [Wayland's Smithy]

Up toward Uffington Castle from the Ridgeway, and along the Ridgeway on the way back to White Horse hill:

[up toward Uffington Castle from the Ridgeway] [the Ridgeway]

White Horse hill from below:

[White Horse hill from below]

[White Horse hill from below]

One year later (late August '99), I returned. The camera was a better model this time around, and I was in excellent company -- but unfortunately it was late in a very overcast day. . . .

[Uffington White Horse] [Uffington White Horse] [the Manger] [Dragon Hill]

You see the horse's whiskers, three of the horse's legs, the Manger, and Dragon Hill.

Uffington White Horse is about three thousand years old, making it by far the oldest of Britain's chalk hill figures as well as the most beautiful and -- since it can only be viewed properly from a helicopter -- mysterious.

The other chalk horses are mostly about two hundred years old and some are a lot newer. Of the older hill figures, the Cerne Giant is particularly remarkable. (Sensitive young ladies should not take that link.)

The horse was made by digging trenches and filling these with chalk. Older photographs show the horse with slightly narrower or fatter lines, but the positions of these lines have not been changed.

The horse needs and gets regular maintenance. If you visit it, please don't walk on it or closer to it than the fences permit.

The Manger was made by glacier erosion during the last ice age. However, the terrace on one side is the result of intensive plowing during medieval times (before the Black Death). Its name derives from the belief that the White Horse comes here to feed at night.

Dragon Hill, so improbably symmetrical as to suggest some rich Englishman attempted a folly re-creation of Mt Fuji, is thought to be a natural chalk outcrop shaped by man. St George is said to have slain the dragon on top, and the seepage of the dragon's blood poisoned the earth and presented grass from growing at the top.

Uffington Castle hill fort (about three hectares) is around 2700 years old. It is an earthwork, surrounded by a wall, then a ditch, and then a lower wall. It originally had wooden fortifications; these were later replaced by stones (which also are long gone). In historical times the Castle has been used for fairs, sometimes in connection with the White Horse.

Wayland's Smithy is over a kilometre west of Uffington White Horse. The original mound dates back five thousand years, but in neolithic times the mound was enlarged and sarsen stones were placed in front. According to local legend, a horse left there overnight would be shod by Wayland.

I derived most of the information here from the excellent notice -- dating from 1993 or later -- that stands next to the White Horse. My thanks to the anonymous writer(s).

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Look at these pages, too:

Other snaps


First created: 2 October 1998. Last fiddled with: 6 April 2001.

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