I am very concerned about the new proposal to site a mobile mast at the White Horse Stone. As a voluntary guardian for nearby Coldrum Longbarrow I view this stone as a vital and integral part of the Medway Valley sacred landscape... continues...
On 19th August, Members of the Tonbridge and Malling Bourough Council rejected an application by telephone company Orange to install a 15 metre tower within yards of the White Horse Stone in Kent, England... continues...
I have posted a map to show a nice way of walking round the different monuments in this area, starting with the (Upper) White Horse Stone. It must have been awful to have been here when the Eurostar link was being built, but now, the dust has settled, and wild flowers have grown over the banks around the tunnel, from which the occasional train whizzes forth.
Over the hill we came, across the bridge over the railway line, and then up a wooded path between two fields, and to our left we saw the dark eyes and flaring nostrils of the great, oblong sarsen stone, that was nicknamed 'the Western Sphynx', but is probably the back-stone of a Neolithic burial chamber. Just near it are some other pieces of sarsen stone – other parts of this burial chamber, maybe.
Two lost monuments were nearby, both destroyed by 19th century farmers to make way for their ploughs: 'Smythe's Dolmen' was in the field that you see when you stand under the trees, looking at the White Horse Stone. The other lost stone(s), the Lower White Horse Stone or 'Kentish Standard Stone' was in the field behind you. Both may once have been burial chambers too: the former contained two human skeletons and the skull of a mole.
First time back at the Upper WHS for a good few years, there's some new-fangled train thing running past it now, quite a contrast between the old and the new.
Now it's a mess. A distressed, neglected, over-visited mess. The smell of rotting flesh [two recently-deposited chunks of unidentifiable raw meat, complete with plastic bag, covered in flies], the remains of several fires, cans and general shit everywhere. Stones moved here and there, some even having had fresh holes dug for them and stuck in, wobbly and half-done...
No matter how I look at it, it still doesn't look like part of a chamber. There is no mound as such, just what is left that hasn't been cut away to make pathways on either side. The downhill slope could feasibly have washed away over the years as happened at Warren Farm 200m to the north, but it is steeper than I have seen at any other LB, especially with alternative flat land accessible all around. But it didn't stand up on its own...
Kent ... the garden of England. The car park of England more like! This longbarrow which, despite it's name, survives with more than one stone, is sandwiched between the Channel tunnel rail link and a motorway. It even has it's own petrol station attached! OK, as tombs go this place isn't the greatest surviving monument in Britain, but surely it deserves better.
I visited the White Horse Stone this week - the first time for a VERY long time as I live in a different part of Kent these days. They have re-opened the pilgrims way now that the CTRL is finished, meaning that I didnt have to take the long walk through piles of old carpets, washing machines and building rubble that litters the pilgrims way from the bottom of Boxley hill.
The site seemed dreary and miserable to me ... once a place full of mysticism and excitement for me, now utterly grey - with the thunderous roar of the high-speed trains just increasing the feeling of melancholy.
The surrounding trees and scrub were littered with beer cans, empty cheap vodka bottles, fag ends and old plastic bags. I tidied up as much as I could fit into my pockets, set up my tripod and took one shot then left feeling utterly despondent.
This place once defined the spiritual revelations and explorations of the 20-something years for me and my friends ... now it seems to have died.
Standing broadside at the chalky escarpment, the stone screamed "Tomb!" to us, though there is no evidence of anything else to justify our assertion. It just felt 'tomby' on account of it being big and longer than it is tall.
I'd failed to find this site on a couple of previous occasions, and had been told it's tricky to find, but strangely went straight to the stone this time round with no problems whatsoever.
From the A229 southbound, take the slip road immediately after the Shell garage, and park. Walk back toward the garage, and follow the path round to the right. There is a bridge across the railway line, the stone is less than 100 yards up the footpath on the left.
This single stone known as the White Horse Stone or Western Sphynx, just off bluebell hill nr Maidstone, Kent, can now be only reached by taking the long walk from the bottom of Boxley hill (Nr Bredhurst) and following the path of the Pilgrims Way in the opposite direction of the steep hill of Boxley. It is a recumbent stone, probably the back stone of a long barrow similar to Kits Coty (the opposite side of Bluebell Hill) and Coldrum.
During the past 10 years or so, a group of friends and I have spent many a mellow evening at this site - with a small fire, bottle of wine and lots of good conversation. The stone is now overshadowed by the entrance to a huge tunnel as part of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (which has systematicaly raped the kentish countryside). With the current drone of plant machinery and the impending thunder of high speed trains, I fear there will never be another mellow evening to be had - well , there goes 6,000 years of peace!
It's still worth a visit though. In the pre- CTRL works archaeology digs, a Neolithic long house and undefined bronze age timber circle plus a late bronze/ early iron age settlement were found in the field opposite (now under the train tracks)
The White Horse Stone is important because it reminds us of the Neolithic presence here: whilst the railway cutting was being dug, a Neolithic long house was found, with 'and undefined bronze age timber circle plus a late bronze/early iron age settlement'. The stone is important, too, for the legends that have become attached to the stones, that now focus, inevitably, on this one, the only one that is left in this immediate spot. The Welsh historian Nennius (c. 800s AD) tells us that, in the mid-400s AD, after the withdrawal of the Roman legions from Britain (410 AD), the king who emerged in Kent (Ceint) was Guoyrancgonus (or Vorancgonus), of unknown origin, though more likely than not an elderly Roman military official who had stayed on, or the son of such a soldier. Guoyrancgonus's rule was cut short by the High King, Vortigern, who gave Kent to the Jutish mercenary leader Hengist, in return for Hengist's daughter Renwein.
For this and other outrages, Vortigern was deposed and his sons Vortimer and Catigern fashioned an army of the sons of the Romano-British, dusting off old, discarded standards and brushing rust off kit left behind by the Imperial legions, and set out to drive out the Jutes. History does not recall whether Guoyrancgonus was of their number, but I would like to think he was.
The North Downs are broken by a series of river valleys that flow south-north into the Thames, including the Darenth Valley and then, the next to the east, the Medway. The Romano-British brothers' first battle was in the Darenth Valley and, against the odds, they were victorious. The Jutes fell back to the next river, the mighty Medway, making their stand at Aylesford, that the Jutes called Episford and the British, Nennius tells us, called Set Thirgabail. Here, the British princes made their second attack, their motley legion and cavalry routing the Jutes at the ford itself and driving the enemy back up the slope of the downs, if the legend is correct, to here, where the White Horse Stone stands. The date assigned to the battle by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is 455 AD.
Here, Geoffrey of Monmouth relates, Horsa, the brother of Hengist, came face-to-face with Catigern: Germanic battle-axe clashed with Roman sword: each met its bloody mark, and both princes were slain. Horsa's white horse standard came clattering down onto the now lost Kentish Standard Stone. A folk tale of a ghostly flaming horse and rider, said to be seen here sometimes, may recall the burning of the bodies after the battle. But Vortimer bore his slain brother Catigern up onto the crest of the downs and buried him in the Neolithic longbarrow that now bears his name – Kit's Coty . Already some 2,000 years or more old, the longbarrow was 180 feet long, and contained, perhaps, several internal burial chambers of upright sarsens supporting capstones. It is all gone now, victim to rain and plough, all except one of set of three uprights, and a capstone. This stands alone, encircled by railings to keep the curious at bay, and looks out west (as the barrow itself did once) over the Medway Valley.
Having buried Catigern, Vortimer pressed east, trouncing Hengist's army twice more, once, perhaps, at Stone near Faversham, and finally in the marshy desolation of Thanet, where the Jutes took refuge in their longboats and skulked away back to Jutland. The story ends tragically, however, for Renwein later poisoned Vortimer, her husband Vortigern regained the throne, and allowed Hengist and his following of Jutes, Angles and Saxons to return – this time, for all Aurelius Ambrosius and Arthur tried to emulate Vortimer – never to leave.
That is the story of the White Horse Stone, and Kit's Coty, and the fall of Britain.
Between Maidstone and Blue Bell Hill the 'Pilgrim's Way' crosses the Chatham-Maidstone road, and in the north-west angle there once stood upright another huge sarsen called variously 'The Kentish Standard Stone' or 'The White Horse Stone'; but this was broken up about the beginning of the nineteenth century, but another stone, still existing, but standing in the opposite north-east angle of the crossing, has inherited the name, and is today marked on the Ordnance Survey maps as 'The White Horse Stone'. It is a huge monolith standing upright and very similar to the great rectangular wall stones of Kits Coty House and Coldrum, having at one end the crude outline of a face caused by the natural configuration of the rock.
..... in 1834 we are told the legend of the (original) White Horse Stone. Upon this stone, it was written, fell the White Horse banner of Horsa when the Teutons were routed, hence its name of 'The Kentish Standard Stone'. This stone was soon afterwards destroyed, and the present 'White Horse Stone' inherited the legend.
...Since the names of Hengest and Horsa mean 'gelding and mare' it has been suggested that they refer to the war standards or war effigies of the invaders, and not to actual persons. It would be interesting to trace the origin of the story that Horsa bore a White Horse emblem, for it fits in remarkably well with the other implications of the legend. We cannot digress here into the subject of the Horse-Cult, but readers will doubtless be aware of the ancient sanctity of the animal; alike among Kelts and Teutons, white horses were considered sacred, and only a priest among the pagan Saxons could ride a white mare. Carvings of horse-heads on the gables of roofs in Denmark are still called Hengest and Horsa, and represent the guardian deities. Thus the fall of a White Horse banner at Aylesford would represent the death of Horsa. It should be emphasized that we are dealing here with legend, for history has yet to be satisfied as to the acutality of the Jutish invasion of Kent.
From 'Notes on the Folklore and Legends Associated with the Kentish Megaliths' by John H. Evans, in Folklore, Vol. 57, No. 1. (Mar., 1946), pp. 36-43.
Mr. Fletcher [in 'Antiquity'] says that Gildas' mention of a monument erected in Kent to Horsa and bearing his name should be treated with scepticism. Was not the White Horse Stone near Aylesford supposed to be this " monument" ? An erratic boulder, probably ; but Gildas as quoted does not say that a monument was set up, only that one bore Horsa's name after he was slain in battle and buried in Kent.
That the locality of the White Horse Stone used to be haunted by a white horse and its rider (who was buried thereabouts), both of them wrapped in flame, might be thought to have perpetuated a memory of cremation, if such a theory were not so shockingly unscientific.
At any rate, Aylesford seems to have been a horsy neighbourhood long before it saw any Saxons. Excavations there have unearthed, decorative steeds that were lying buried when Caesar came—strange-looking creatures fit to have sired the Ufnngton effigy.
James Dyer (in 'Southern England: an archaeological guide') suggests the stone resembles a horse. Methinks he has a good imagination, but perhaps I'm missing the point.
He says that not only are there fragments of stone in the vicinity, which suggest the stone was part of a tomb, but (drawing on 'South East England' by R Jessup) that another burial chamber used to be nearby too.
It was "similar to the Chestnuts and Coldrum, and was discovered by a ploughman at the other end of the same field in 1823. It seems to have consisted of a tomb 2.1m long, with three wall stones, and to have contained human bones and pottery. Known as Smythe's megalith, after the antiquary who best recorded it, it has since been destroyed."