Friday, December 05, 2014

The Oldest White Horse on the Hill

The Oldest White Horse on the Hill

Joanna here, talking about a British hill figure, the White Horse of Uffington.
Uffington horse attrib davepriceThis is Nicola’s neighborhood, as you see here.  I will nonetheless forge on bravely into her bailiwick.
Okay. Let’s say you’re a Regency miss visiting friends in Oxfordshire in the parish of Uffington.  Even though the White Horse can be seen twenty miles away, your carriage arrived in the Vale of the White Horse at night. You had to pull yourself out of bed at dawn to creep out in the garden and finally see it.
A skimped, hurried breakfast and you’re off.  This is Midsummer’s Day. You drive through throngs in the morning to get to the White Horse. You’re not surprised there’s a fair and foodstalls, jugs of beer, and sports. Midsummer’s Day is always  a big event. You have a village fair back home in Yorkshire. But this is huge. Beyond Cerne_Abbas_Giant_Renovation_(10) There must be thousands of people here.
You’re in time to see the festivities start. The young men gather in a troop, up spade, shovel, mattocks, and hoe, and head up hill for the “scouring of the White Horse.”  All the nearby towns, you’ll be told, claim a role in the scouring and restoration of the White Horse by ancient custom.
Now I will break into your Regency scene here and say that I have been to the White Horse of Uffington myself.  It’s impressive. There it is, carved into the endless green, 374 feet long, 227 feet high.  Designed to be in proportion when viewed from below. It’s . . . big.
The figure is on the side of that sloping hill, just a lazy walk from the road below. It was clear and quiet when I was there.  The figure feels very old. The artistic convention of it is sophisticated, but alien.  And it’s beautiful.
There’s a superstition that if you stand in the ‘eye’ of the horse and make a wish, it’ll come true.  So I did that. And it pretty much did.
Back to the Regency, where I spend much of my time. Your giggly friend twirls her umbrella and admires the manly form of the local squire’s son who’s joined the village lads scraping away at the encroaching vegetation.
What it looks like near the eye
You climb the hill with the others to get a close look. The White Horse is made simply enough.  You can walk over and see how the shape of it is cut into the ground. This chalky ground underfoot has fascinated you from the first. The paths bordering the garden at your friend’s house are all perfectly, dazzlingly white. The stones in the fields are white. Under a layer of grass and dirt, you find chalk.  The White Horse was created when people scraped away the grass, set the edges, and filled in level with more chalk. But in every generation since then, these people have kept the figure alive. You’re lucky enough to see it happen when you arrive at the one-year-in-seven festival when the White Horse is ‘scoured’.
Come for the dancing, singing and drinking, stay for the legends.

Read the rest at Word Wenches.

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