“and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer”
The white horse of uffington dates back some 3,000 years. Studies have dated the hill drawing to somewhere between 1400 and 600 BC. Numerous other prominent prehistoric sites are located nearby, notably Wayland’s Smithy, a long barrow less than two kilometres to the west. The Uffington is by far the oldest of the white horse figures in Britain, and is of an entirely different design than any other in the country. 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. Monks, somewhere between 1072 and 1084, refers to “mons albi equi” at Uffington (“the White Horse Hill”).
On a warm yet hazy Sunday, just before midday she appeared, galloping open mouthed across the Oxfordshire downs high above me. The winding uneven roads, pounded the axels and exhaust of my own trusty old mechanical steed as I jaunted round bends, over humps and up hills, trying not to be distracted by the beautiful and awe inspiring sight of the glowing white chalk cut into the emerald green downs forming her sacred image. My body and soul hummed and vibrated in silent recognition of the power held within the 3000 year old, Bronze age idol.
I drove the old banger into the designated ‘Uffington Castle’ Car park and set off on foot along the Ridgeway. An 87 mile long trackway which starts on the west of the River Thames at Ivinghoe Beacon and traverses the Chilterns and North Wessex downs to Overton hill just east of Avebury. Walking this ancient trackway, used for centuries by tradesmen, you cant help but be struck by an overwhelming sense of humility and insignificance….these hills which have been standing since the creation of this great land are barely even scarred by the hundreds of years and thousands of footsteps of both man and beast and in that moment I realise that this land which we call our home is unceasing in its hospitality, and a constant and reassuring presence in all our lives (if only we all took the time to appreciate it).
In the air, Autumn was encroaching, hinting at a change. The breeze became more of a steady gust as I wander on past a steep glacial cut in the downs which has become known as the ‘Feeding Trough’, each gust is gently fragranced with the scent of hay and fodder as the cattle below continuously chew and ruminate on the pasture provided by the same unrelenting land beneath my feet.
After a good 300 or so yards, past the easily miss able Uffington Castle, Dragon Hill appears, its almost perfectly round mound appears as I make a slight descent and its perfectly flattened peak hints at long forgotten ceremonies.
Then, as if I had almost forgotten the reason for my visit I was surprised to suddenly found myself standing just above her head. It seems smaller, less impressive up close and Her single eye seems barely any bigger than a dinner plate.
The view here is truly breathtaking, the whole of England seems to spread out beneath me like a great patchwork quilt, and insignificance is taken over by pride and a sudden realisation why this image was tattooed so reverently upon these hills so many thousands of years ago.
I pondered this more as I sat down upon the well groomed dry grass just above Her eye. As I close my own eyes all I can see is her single unfaltering eye looking down on the land of which She is Queen. The gentle humming I felt within became a constant throb, a heartbeat, a pulse, drums beat as torches burn on dragon hill slightly to my right. An empty throne stands between the flames upon which a blood stained crown sits awaiting the head of a new king and lying before it she lies, dressed in white, mane like hair draped beneath her like a mattress as she lay waiting for him who will make oath to her, the great Mare, and to bind himself in servitude to the people who dwell upon her land as she takes him as lover, and consort. After a frenzied fever pitch of drumming and dancing from the crowd behind me and with covenant made, the new king is seated and the white queen places Her crown upon his head. The people cheer and as her eyes meet his a sadness takes over as they both know what destiny awaits him for he will one day be called upon to repay his queen, his land and its people and the price is blood.
As the last tear of the people fell, a light shower quenches the grass and washes away the vision of the covenant, and the memory of Oaths taken here perhaps for generations.
On the journey home I felt a sense of sadness, wondering what became of Her the once constant White Queen, the great Mare of the Land who had given life and dealt death to King upon King and who was once so revered that people carved her icon into the very Hills upon which Kings were made and seated.
When I wasn’t too far from home, having just turned off the M25 I passed a small sign saying “Welcome to Kent” my stoical contemplative expression became a knowing grin as over those comforting words was she, The Great White Mare, The symbol for the County of Kent, my home, my land…and Long may she reign upon it!