To go along with my post on Friday on the preservation efforts of the White Horse, I thought I might mention other sites along the way in the Berkshire Downs.
First and foremost, one must address the road that traverses the area. Known as “the Ridgeway,” it is considered the oldest road in England. The Ridgeway covers some 87 miles (140 km beginning at the circle at Avebury to Ivinghoe Beacon in the Chilterns. The Ridgeway was likely first traveled by foot some 4000 years ago. In recent years, “crop circles” have been discovered along the Ridgeway.
Uffington Castle is an Iron Act hillfort on the summit of Whitehorse Hill. It measures about 220 metres by 160 metres and has a white chalk-stone bank/inner rampart, which measures 12 metres wide and about 2.5 metres high. It covers 8 acres (3.2 ha) At one time, it had been lined with sandstone stones, known as “sarsen.” It is one of a chain of hill forts along the Ridgeway. “It is a univalate hillfort, ie of single ditch, single rampart design, with an interior area of approximately 8 acres. Originally there were two entrances, the western (remaining) one and an eastern one filled in during the Roman period. NE and SE entrances are probably Roman.
“Built approximately around 500 BC, it had ramparts topped with a wooden palisade, replaced by a sarsen stone wall around 300 BC. The ditch , originally 10 ft deeper than at present, has been partly filled with stones from the wall which was pushed down during the Roman period. The fort was only used temporarily or seasonally, and probably a meeting place, animal corral, ritual centre, or Ridgeway travellers’ stop. Artefacts discovered during archaeological digs in the 1990s suggest that usage increased during the Roman period. There is no water on the hill, although it is possible that clay lined ponds were constructed, but have all been ploughed out.
“The white 4ft obelisk on the eastern outer bank of the fort is a trig point, which marks the highest point in Oxfordshire, – 858 ft. It is one of 25,000 used before the advent of satellite surveying, to map the country. This trig point is one of a small number still in use by the Ordnance Survey, and is a known trig point from which GPS can be tracked. The distance between this trig point and the one at Liddington Castle formed the standard distance from which imperial Ordnance Survey maps were scaled.” [Places to Visit in Faringdon
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.
The mysterious Dragon Hill sits above The Manger and directly below Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire (transferred from Berkshire in 1974). It is a small flat-topped hill sporting a bare patch, where no grass will grow. It is a natural chalk hill that was flattened by man instead of being so naturally. What makes this hill so special, you may ask? According to the local legend, Dragon Hill is so named for this was the spot where St George killed the fire-breathing dragon plaguing the land. Where the dragon’s blood fell is the spot where no grass will grow. Is that not a wonderful tale???
Dragon Hill was also mentioned in the Arthurian Tales and is even thought to have been the inspiration for Weathertop in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
Some people go so far as to say the White Horse (See Friday’s post) is not a horse, at all. Rather it represents the dragon killed by St George.
Wayland’s Smithy is west of Uffington Castle. It is a neolithic burial chamber surrounded by beech trees. It is a chambered long barrow and can be found near the village of Ashbury in Oxfordshire. It was likely built in the 36th Century B.C. It has been partially reconstructed over the years.
Believed to have been built by one or more pastoralist communities in early Britain, Wayland Smithy is unique in that it differs from the long barrow building common in Neolithic Europe. It has a more localized version of the barrows, generally found in southwest Britain, now known as the Severn-Cotswold Group. It is a prime example of this structures.
It is some 185 feet (56 m) in length and 43 feet (13 m) wide. Restoration efforts have assisted in establishing how it must have looked. An oval barrow timber-chamber is estimated to have been built around 3590 to 3550 B.C. Later, a stone-chambered long barrow was added, likely between 3460 and 3400 B.C. [“Archaeological history and research”. English Heritage.]
The Middle Ages saw the site being associated with the Saxon god of smiths, Wayland. Wayland is said to be able to forge armor with the magical abilities of give the wearer wings like an eagle. He was also known to create invincible swords. In fact, it was Wayland the Smith who supposed forged Excalibur for King Arthur.