Un­fath­omable White Horse Hill

Formed from deep trenches filled with crushed white chalk, the White Horse is a highly stylish pre­his­toric and one of the old­est hill fig­ure, which still car­ries the an­cient tra­di­tion

The Day After - - CONTENT - By SEEMA ANAND CHO­PRA

On a cold sunny De­cem­ber day dis­card­ing the com­fort of the heated room we headed for the mys­te­ri­ous un­fath­omable White Horse Hill– a marvel amongst Bri­tish des­ti­na­tions named so be­cause of a pre­his­toric chalk White Horse etched on the sheer slope of a hill, hu­manly unattain­able!! As­cend­ing the grad­ual slope of acres of lush green grass we caught panoramic un­end­ing vis­tas around us. It was thrilling to re­call that we ‘walked a well walked path’ since the Ne­olithic age through the Bronze Age to the Iron Age!

UFFINGTON CAS­TLE

Reach­ing the top of the hill we came upon a Blue board an­nounc­ing the once ex­is­tent Uffington Cas­tle– an Iron Age Hill fort. Spread over an area of 7acres Uffington Cas­tle is a sig­nif­i­cant fea­ture on the way to the White Horse Hill, with only its sin­gle Bank and Ditch in­tact. Many pho­to­graphs later we saun­tered ahead, clue­less to the di­rec­tion of the White Horse when we met a Lady walk­ing her dog who pointed to the hori­zon on our left where the hill met the deep blue sky!

Gath­er­ing fas­ci­nat­ing lo­cal folk­lore from her, re­gard­ing the horse, we pre­ceded down­wards the edge of the hill. I re­called that re­cent ev­i­dence by Ox­ford Univer­sity sug­gested the chalk White-Horse to be about 3000 years old whose art form is com­pa­ra­ble to that of the an­cient Celt tribe. Sim­i­lar Horses have been de­picted on the coins of the Celt tribe. Even if the tribes had cre­ated the White-Horse as their sta­tus sym­bol how could they have done it on the sheer slope of the hill as the White Horse is cut into the hill at least 3feet deep and filled with chalk, not just scratched with chalk or had they found the chalk be­low while dig­ging!!

LE­GENDS OF WHITE HORSE

A short walk later we ex­cit­edly spot­ted parts of the chalk out­line of the White-Horse and ap­proached it from its ‘face side’. The 374 feet long image of the horse could be seen only in frac­tions and pieces as it was on a slope and a com­plete image can be aerial or from a nearby vil­lage! The ec­stasy felt at the fore­most sight shall go down the mem­ory lane and linger cease­lessly in our minds for­ever- the White Horse lay in front of us with miles of lux­u­ri­ant green­ery slop­ing down to the val­ley far

be­low, en­gulfed in the hug of the pro­found blue sky! I seemed to go back in time to con­tem­plate the true leg­end at­tached to the White Horse. Leg­end has it that once a year the Horse leaves its po­si­tion and de­scends the val­ley be­low us­ing the Gi­ant Steps, to the Manger be­low! I won­dered if it was the graz­ing ground for the horses of their pro­tec­tor God­dess Epona from the Celt folk­lore was it a tribal sym­bol al­lied to the in­hab­i­tants of the Uffington Cas­tle, was it a Sabre and not a Horse?

A quick peek into our map, that we had printed ear­lier, showed the steep side val­ley be­low as the Manger where ac­cord­ing to mythol­ogy, horses grazed cen­turies back at night!

Then there were the nat­u­rally formed ‘Gi­ant Steps’ on the val­leys that are re­mains of the Early or Me­dieval Ter­race Farm­ing. No won­der White Horse Hill is a Site of Special Sci­en­tific in­ter­est.

One the­ory that par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested me was that of it be­ing a ‘So­lar Horse’ – the one at­tached to the mythol­ogy that Sun was car­ried across the sky on a Horse Char­iot, so sim­i­lar to the leg­end of Surya dev and his char­iot of horses linked to our cul­ture!! Ac­cord­ing to the the­ory the horse is aligned to the Sun in a way that the Sun ap­pears to be ahead of the Horse, es­pe­cially in the mid win­ters.

RE­CENT PAST

We had ear­lier be­ing in­formed by the Lady with the dog that the Horse out­line ap­pears so white as there is an age old tra­di­tion of scour­ing it by the nearby vil­lagers and now a Chalk­ing-day is fixed and they gather with buck­ets of chalk, ham­mers and kneepads to re­move the grass care­fully and break the pre­vi­ous hard­ened chalk to re­place with fresh white chalk; keep­ing it vis­i­ble for cen­turies to come. Dur­ing the World War II it was cov­ered with turf to es­cape be­ing bombed by en­emy air­crafts.

DRAGON HILL

Far­away in the dip­ping val­ley be­low us we spot­ted the fa­bled Dragon Hill- a small green cir­cu­lar 10me­ter high hill with a flat top that we had passed ear­lier while driv­ing to­wards the car-park. It is a nat­u­ral chalk hill as­so­ci­ated with the fa­ble of the pa­tron saint of Eng­land -Saint Ge­orge slay­ing the fire-breath­ing Dragon! The hillock has small steps cut into it to reach the top that holds a bare chalk patch where no grass ever grows as it is be­lieved to be the spot where the Dragon’s blood spilled when Saint Ge­orge killed it.

The other the­ory is that it could be a rit­ual site for the Iron Age peo­ple or Celts, as the top of the hill was ar­ti­fi­cially flat­tened by them to sit and per­form a rit­ual by fire- light­ing. Sci­en­tists the­o­ries that the Dragon’s Hill was formed by the melt­ing wa­ters of the Ice Age!

THORN TREE

Bid­ding farewell to the in­trigu­ing White Horse we walked on to­wards the dis­tant car park turn­ing back sev­eral times to catch the last few glimpses of the un­ex­plain­able White Horse. This was a dif­fer­ent route than the one we came by ear­lier. We soon reached the next des­ti­na­tion in­di­cated our map- the his­toric, sole Thorn tree with acres of only grass­land around. I could vi­su­al­ize the two mighty armies gath­ered around this sole Thorn tree in the end of the 800’s AD for the fierce Bat­tle of Ash­down- English monarch King Al­fred the Great against the in­vad­ing Danes who got pushed back!

MOUND OF THE DEAD

Walk­ing away from the Tree we tried to look at the White Horse again be­hind us and stepped on a Ne­olithic Burial Mound which had no sig­nage ex­cept be­ing marked on the map. It was fas­ci­nat­ing to discover a 6000 year old ceme­tery where ex­ca­va­tions have re­vealed skele­tons with coins in their mouth. The tra­di­tion was fol­lowed from a be­lief that the dead had to pay a coin to cross the ‘river to the next life.’ I thought that it was so sim­i­lar to In­dian be­lief of ‘cross­ing a river’ af­ter death!

WHITE HORSE IN ART WORLD

I re­called read­ing that the White Horse is be­ing used as an Em­blem by a Coun­cil, School and Col­lege be­sides oth­ers. It finds place in English nov­els since the year 1859, epic po­ems, BBC Tele­vi­sion se­ri­als mu­sic al­bums and songs as well.

We met no other vis­i­tors ex­cept those few peo­ple ex­er­cis­ing their dogs. Come sum­mer and the hills would be alive with vis­i­tors, chil­dren, kite- fly­ers, par glid­ers, birds watch­ers, trekkers- their num­ber touch­ing 200,000 per year, all in the hope of un­veil­ing the un­fath­omable White Horse Hill!

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