Uffington White Horse: 3,000 Year Old Prehistoric Hill Figure

The internationally-renowned Bronze-Age Uffington White Horse in Oxford can be seen from miles away.

Uffington White Horse

It is believed to be the oldest hill figure in Britain, dating back over 3,000 years to the late Bronze Age.

The figure is created by cutting trenches into the hillside and filling them with crushed white chalk, giving it a striking appearance against the green landscape.

It measures approximately 110 meters long and depicts a stylised representation of a horse, with its head turned and its legs extended.

Uffington White Horse

The origin and purpose of the Uffington White Horse remain uncertain, but it is often associated with various myths and legends.

Some theories suggest that it could have been created as a tribal symbol, a representation of a Celtic deity, or as a marker for ritual ceremonies.

Others believe it may have served as a boundary marker or a landmark for traveler’s.

The shape of the horse has changed over the centuries – the present outline may be only a part of the original: aerial photography shows that a larger, more conventional shape of a horse lies beneath.

The loss of shape has been caused by slippage of the top soil and by repeated recutting.

Uffington White Horse

The Uffington White Horse is managed by the National Trust and is a popular tourist attraction, drawing visitors from around the world who come to marvel at its ancient beauty and mysterious origins.

During the Second World War the figure, easily recognisable from the air, was covered over with turf and hedge trimmings so that Luftwaff pilots could not use it for navigation during bombing raids.

It was uncovered after the war by Welsh archaeology professor William Francis Grimes.

The ancient horse is part of the unique complex of ancient remains that are found at White Horse Hill and beyond, spreading out across the high chalk downland.

The Manger, a dramatic dry valley has steep rippled sides left from the retreating permafrost during the last Ice Age.

Uffington White Horse

These ripples are known as the Giant’s Steps.

To the east of the Manger lies Dragon Hill, a small roundish hill with a flattened top.

It is said to be the site where St. George, England’s patron saint, slew the dragon. The blood poisoned the ground and left a white chalk scar for all to see.

Crowning White Horse Hill is an Iron Age hillfort known as Uffington Castle.

Uffington Castle occupies the summit of Whitehorse Hill.

Uffington White Horse

It consists of a large enclosure, measuring about 220 metres by 160 metres, surrounded by a wide chalk-stone bank or inner rampart about 12 metres wide and 2.5 metres high, and formerly lined with sarsen (sandstone) stones.

Around this is a grass-covered ditch about 3 metres deep and a further, smaller bank forming an outer rampart.

A causeway, flanked by the out-turned ends of the inner rampart, provides an entrance to the site from the west. This would have been closed by a gate.

Postholes and pits revealed during archaeological excavations serve as evidence of structures built within the enclosure during the hillfort’s occupation, while pottery and coins have been found in burial chambers close by.

The Iron Age buildings are likely to have been large round huts, each housing an extended family group.

Uffington White Horse

In the Middle Ages the land within the enclosure was ploughed and earthworks mark the ridge and furrow pattern of cultivation.

Large Iron Age hillforts are rare. Most are located on the high chalklands of the southern counties of England, and Uffington Castle is regarded as an outstanding example.

Scouring of the White Horse

The White Horse has been carefully cleared of vegetation from time to time.

The figure has remained clear of turf throughout its long existence, except for being covered as a precaution during the Second Word War.

The cleaning process, known as the Scouring of the White Horse, was formerly made the occasion of a festival.


Sports of all kinds were held, and keen rivalry was maintained, not only between the inhabitants of the local villages, but between local champions and those from distant parts of England.

The first of such festivals known took place in 1755 and they died out only subsequently to 1857, after 30,000 people turned up for the event.

The Scouring of the White Horse, by Tom Hughes, was published in 1859 as a semi-fictionalised recounting of his visit to the 1857 event.

He recounts being told that the local towns had laid claim to a tradition of scouring the White Horse since Saxon times.

The tradition was revived in 2009 by the National Trust, with local volunteers replacing a layer of freshly quarried chalk on the Spring Bank Holiday weekend.


Frequent work is required for the figure to remain visible.

If regular cleaning is halted, the figure quickly becomes obscured; Periodic scouring continues, on chalking day volunteers with hammers, buckets of chalk, and kneepads kneel and “smash the chalk to a paste, whitening the paths cut in the grass inch by inch.”

Someone who recently visited the site said: “Fantastic views over Oxfordshire and beyond. White Horse and hill top fort very interesting and give a history fix.

”We did the National Trust 4 mile circular route that is well sign posted and takes 2 hours. However we are quite fit and parts of the route are steep both up and down so not for all.

”We also took in lunch at the White Horse pub in the village which was excellent both in food available and service.”

Uffington White Horse

If you’d like to visit, the address is: Whitehorse Hill, Oxfordshire.

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