Days out:A walk to the Uffington White Horse

Galloping for 3,000 years ÿ and it's not worn out yet
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The Independent Travel

This eight-mile circular walk though the Vale of the White Horse, in the south-west corner of Oxfordshire, takes you back in time to prehistoric Britain.

The stylised galloping outline of the Uffington White Horse is believed to have been created more than 3,000 years ago, making it the oldest such carving in Britain. G K Chesterton emphasised its great age in his "Ballad of the White Horse": "Before the gods that made the gods / Had seen their sunrise pass, / The White Horse of the White Horse Vale / Was cut out of the grass."

From the National Trust car park (grid ref SU293866), follow the path across open fields towards Whitehorse Hill and the Uffington White Horse. The remarkable state of preservation of the chalk carving has been put down to the traditional "scouring fairs", when local people would gather to clean it. Further down is the small, flat-topped Dragon Hill, where St George is said to have killed the mythical beast.

Continue through the Iron Age earthworks of Uffington Castle to the top of Whitehorse Hill, described by local author Thomas Hughes, who wrote Tom Brown's Schooldays, as "a place you won't ever forget". To learn more about Hughes's life and work, call in at Tom Brown's School Museum in Uffington (01367 820259).

Leave the castle by the stile and cross diagonally right over the broad track to follow a signed bridleway over Uffington Down. This is part of the Lambourn Valley Way, a 22-mile route from the White Horse to Newbury. After one-and-a-half miles, at the junction of several paths, turn right down Whit Combe and straight on past Knighton Bushes plantation. Continue up the hill and bear right on the path over Weathercock Hill, then descend steeply through fields to a stile at the B4000.

Cross over and take the tarred lane straight ahead, passing Ashdown Farm. Follow the track through a couple of gates and along the right-hand side of the field. On the right is Ashdown House, built in the 1660s for Elizabeth of Bohemia, sister of Charles I, and described by the architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as the "perfect doll's house".

Continue along the field boundary, passing Alfred's Castle, a small Iron Age fort. Walk through the middle of the narrow field and follow the fence on the left to turn right along the Ridgeway. This National Trail follows ancient trackways across southern England, many of which have been in use for more than 5,000 years.

Stop off at Wayland's Smithy, a Neolithic long barrow or burial mound, dating from 3700 BC and named after a character in Norse mythology. A local legend, referred to in Sir Walter Scott's novel Kenilworth, said that Wayland would shoe your horse if a coin was left by the tomb.

Continue and, just before Whitehorse Hill, turn left down the track to the car park.

Steve Davison

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