Today (after the nation's collective bad weekend) I had the opportunity to walk up White Horse Hill at Uffington. Probably my favourite place, the place that represents home to me. The moment my feet start to walk up, peace descends and the turmoil of our current political situation fades, not into insignificance but certainly into proportion. This is my England, ancient and symbolic. A profusion of orchids and wild thyme growing on the banks of the hillfort. Sat on a wooden bench up there to have a snack, listening to the skylarks, watching red kite soar up from below and rise high into the thermals, in the distance the London train speeds by - looking almost toy-like from this height . The white horse is currently being re-chalked but paid my usual respects anyway. Then for a walk along the Ridgeway, more wild orchids. Didn't go as far as Wayland's Smithy today, just wanted to see, touch and hear my little bit of old England again. Feeling a better for it - for now anyway.
Walked up the hill after visiting Wayland's Smithy. Karen decided to give it a miss and went back to the car with Dafydd as it was so hot. It took a lot longer to walk up the hill than I had expected but once on top the view was well worth it. The defence ditches are still well defined and there were sooo many people about enjoying the summer sunshine. It was nice to view the horse from above!
We visited the castle yesterday Saturday 30th October 2004. The landscape here is so dramatic and exciting to view. The views are truly inspirational from any point you choose on top of the castle. Over Dragon Hill and way into the distance. As the afternoon went on the sun began to lower in the sky and the silhouettes of people walking over the other side with a full red sun setting behind them was a beautiful sight.
When I had visited once before I couldn't appreciate its size and views because I could hardly see in front of my face with thick mist. Today I could, and walked around, up and over part of it. What a great place to live this would have been. Howling gale, or no howling gale, this was still great.
No-one seems to have done the obvious yet....(car centric) directions. A large (and free) National Trust car park exists just off the B4507, up the hill, opposite to the road to Woolstone. From the car park it's a 600-700m walk to the Horse / Castle. I think a separate car park for people with disabilities exists closer to the Horse / Castle and is approached via the narrow road that starts opposite to the road to Uffington village and cuts Dragon Hill from The White Horse (hhmmmm!). This is all well signposted. Note - The B4507 lives up to it's ranking in the B roads stakes. It's a twisty, potholed, slightly narrow thing.
Sitting at the roof of Oxfordshire, just looking at the land below, the curvature of the earth, and the pattern of the fields became very centering. Time slowed instantly. The warm wind rustled gently through the long grasses. Its whispering was a panacea to my twisted, mangled, exhausted emotions [after the sudden death of my sister's boyfriend]. Goddess knew how my sister felt; I wished I could pass on some of this spiritual salve.
This is a great spot, and I've had some memorable times here. Watching the Leonids meteor shower on a freezing cold night in November at 01:00 in the morning; lying on the ramparts star gazing at midnight on a warm summer night; and stepping across the ditch in thick milky fog that truly felt like the veil between the worlds, where anything was cosmically possible.
Today, a chap in a tractor dragged the grass up in the inner circle, filling the air with fabulous smells. The exquisite Cheryl and I walked the green and sunny northern edge, pondering on life in general, as all of Oxfordshire lay before us and the skylarks chased each other over the downland. Bloody lovely.
The univallate Iron Age hillfort known as Uffington Castle. It is D-shaped, enclosing 3 hectares, with a rampart and ditch, counterscarp bank, and a single western entrance. Limited excavation in 1853-8 and in 1922, indicated that the inner bank appeared to be sarsen faced, and two rows of postholes suggest either a timber palisade or posts were incorporated in the facing. Excavations in 1989-90 identified two phases of rampart construction, the earliest, early Iron Age in date, comprising box rampart with a backing ditch. A blocked entrance was identified in the eastern rampart, and dated to the 8th to 7th centuries BC. It would have had a gatehouse, and the large post pits belonging to this structure were identified. This phase was succeeded, on almost the same alignment and after a period of abandonment, by a dump rampart with a large V-shaped ditch. A parapet wall was also present. Breaches in the ramparts on the northeast and southeast sides appear to be Roman in date.
Geophysical surveys of the interior indicated the site was probably not densely occupied or long-lived. Possible posthole structures were located in the southwest corner of the hillfort but remain unexcavated. Other magnetic responses are thought to originate from the remains of post-medieval fairs. Excavations of further interior features (pits, gullies, and postholes) in 1994-5, identified late Bronze Age activity (8th century BC), but in the main the features were of early Iron Age date (7th century BC), with some middle Iron Age activity (4th century BC). Roman features included an oven or corn drier. During the Anglo-Saxon period the hillfort acted as a boundary marker for the Uffington and Woolstone estates. Some more ephemeral features in the interior may have been lost due to medieval and later ploughing, evidenced by ridge and furrow earthworks. It was cultivated as recently as 1956 until the Ministry of Works re-established grassland. The site is in the care of English Heritage.
[Centred SU 29968633] Uffington Castle [T.I.] HILL FORT [G.T.]. (1)
Uffington Castle, on White Horse Hill, is a univallate, Iron Age A hill-fort of circa 8 acres, with a counterscarp bank. There is a single entrance facing northwest [on O.S. 6" it faces due west] with the inner-rampart turning outwards to flank the causeway, and apparently then turning back round the ditch-ends to join the counterscarp bank.
Limited excavation by E.Martin-Atkins about 1850 showed that the inner bank appeared to be sarsen faced, and two rows of post-holes discovered suggest either a timber palisade or posts incorporated in the sarsen facing. (2-5)
Uffington Castle is as described with the only original entrance facing west. Surveyed at 1/2500. (6)
SU 300863: An area of rampart which had been breached was investigated in 1989-90. Documentary evidence shows that the breach, together with one on the SE side was present in the ninth century AD. Roman pottery was recovered from layers above the breach. The rampart was a box rampart with a backing bank. This was succeeded by a dump rampart with a large V-shaped ditch. A parapet wall was also present. An early Iron Age date for the initial construction of the hillfort has been indicated. A geophysical survey of the interior also took place, the results indicated the site was not densely occupied, and probably not long-lived. (7-8)
SU 299 863. Uffington Castle. Listed in gazetteer as a univallate hillfort covering 3.4ha. (9)
Uffington Castle. Description with plan. Woolston Castle mentioned as former alternative name. (10)
Sherd of early Iron Age `A' ware from Uffington Castle presented by Patrick Grary to Ashmolean Museum. (11)
Inward curve of defences at Eastern end, together with heightening of counterscarp bank in this area, suggestive of the presence of a former eastern entrance, later blocked. (12)
Counterscarp bank on West side of main entrance much better developed than that to East of it. No mention of possible eastern entrance. (13)
Excavation and documentary research have shown that breaches in the ramparts on NE and SE sides are at least Roman in date. (14)
Recently surveyed topographically in detail, with geophysical investigation by Ancient Monuments Laboratory, but final results still awaited. (15)
Record card. (16)
The earthwork remains of the Iron Age hill-fort described by the previous authorities was mapped from aerial photographs as part of the Lambourn Downs NMP Project. Within the ramparts of the castle are the faint earthwork remains of cultivation marks of unknown date. (17)
British Archaeology news article. Excavations near the Uffington White Horse, led by Oxford University archaeologists Gary Lock and Chris Gosden, have shown that different hillforts were put to different uses, despite their similar appearance. Uffington Castle was built on a site with ancient sacred associations. Iron Age use of the hillfort was intermittent, but there was a concentrated re-use of the site in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries AD. Coins, pottery, animal bones, and a small oven were found inside the fort; an enclosure with burials was built outside the entrance, and the long barrow was re-used for burial. The impression, according to Dr Lock, is of 'a temple or shrine', where eating, drinking and ceremonial activities took place. (18)
It is D-shaped, enclosing 3 hectares, with a rampart and ditch, counterscarp bank, and a single western entrance. A blocked entrance was identified in the eastern rampart, and dated to the 8th to 7th centuries BC. It would have had a gatehouse, and the large post pits belonging to this structure were identified. This phase was succeeded, on almost the same alignment and after a period of abandonment, by a dump rampart with a large V-shaped ditch.
Possible posthole structures were located in the southwest corner of the hillfort but remain unexcavated. Other magnetic responses are thought to originate from the remains of post-medieval fairs. Excavations of further interior features (pits, gullies, and postholes) in 1994-5, identified late Bronze Age activity (8th century BC), but in the main the features were of early Iron Age date (7th century BC), with some middle Iron Age activity (4th century BC). Roman features included an oven or corn drier. During the Anglo-Saxon period the hillfort acted as a boundary marker for the Uffington and Woolstone estates. Some more ephemeral features in the interior may have been lost due to medieval and later ploughing, evidenced by ridge and furrow earthworks. It was cultivated as recently as 1956 until the Ministry of Works re-established grassland. (19)
A brief history and description. It consists of a large enclosure measuring about 220 metres by 160 metres, surrounded by a chalk-stone bank or inner rampart, about 12 metres in width and 2.5 metres in height. Around this is a grass covered ditch about 3 metres deep, and a further smaller bank forming an outer rampart. (20)
( 1) Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date) OS 6" 1960
( 2) Berkshire Archaeological Society The Berkshire archaeological journal (Mrs. M. Cotton) 60, 1962 Page(s)48
( 3) Antiquity Publications Limited Antiquity (Hawkes) 5, 1931 Page(s)71-2
( 4) Nicholas Thomas 1960 A guide to prehistoric England (N. Thomas) Page(s)43
( 5) Aerial photograph St.Joseph A.Ps., AO/19, N/27, AO/18
( 6) Field Investigators Comments F1 JP 10-FEB-64
( 7) Council for British Archaeology Group 9: South Midlands archaeology newsletter (S Palmer) 20, 1990 Page(s)78-80
( 8) Council for British Archaeology Group 9: South Midlands archaeology newsletter (S Palmer) 21, 1991 Page(s)96-97
( 9) by A H A Hogg 1979 British hillforts : an index BAR British series1 (1974) - 62 Page(s)209
(10) edited by P H Ditchfield and William Page 1906 The Victoria history of Berkshire, volume one The Victoria history of the counties of England Page(s)262
(11) Externally held archive reference Ashmolean Museum Report, 1960 Page(s)20
(12) Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society Oxoniensia (O'Connor, Starstin) 40, 1975 Page(s)325
(13) by J L Forde-Johnston 1976 Hillforts of the Iron Age in England and Wales : a survey of the surface evidence Page(s)234
(14) Oxfordshire Archaeological Unit : newsletter 1990 Page(s)20
(15) Oxfordshire Archaeological Unit : newsletter 17, 1989 Page(s)1-3
(16) SU 28 NE 6 (Uffington Castle) (1964)
(17) Vertical aerial photograph reference number RAF 540/958/4295 01-DEC-1952
(18) World Wide Web page Council for British Archaeology. Issue no 31, February 1998. 'News' http://www.britarch.ac.uk/ba/ba31/Ba31news.html [Accessed 19-JAN-2011]
(19) D Miles, S Palmer, G Lock, C Gosden, and AM Cromarty 2003 Uffington White Horse and its landscape 'Chapter 6: The Hillfort', by G Lock, D Miles, S Palmer, and A M Cromarty, Thames Valley Landscapes Monograph No. 18 Page(s)79-126
(20) English Heritage 2005 Heritage Unlocked: London and the South East Page(s)110
Oh yes we used to make our own entertainment in those days. None of these computer games and ipod things. We knew how to have a good time. If you were wondering what 'backsword play' was, mentioned in Hughes' poem here http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/post/31182
"In backsword play, two men fought with short cudgels, the winner being he who first drew blood from his opponent's head. In this game the men of the Berkshire-Wiltshire border used to fight the men of Somerset, and it was a complaint of the Berkshiremen that the Somerset heads were hard to draw blood from, since 'there's no 'cumulation of blood belongs to thay cider-drinking chaps, as there does to we as drinks beer. Besides, they drinks vinegar allus for a week afore playin', which dries up most o' the blood as they has got; so it takes a 'mazing sight of cloutin' to break their heads as should be."
From Hughes's 'The Scouring of the White Horse' (1859) p132. The 'pastimes' were usually held inside Uffington Castle.