Wiltshire Walk: White Horse, Pubs, Views!
A Horse and a Smithy – 3-5 miles/4-8 km – 1-2 hours – OS Explorer 170 – Vale of White Horse
Uffington’s famous White Horse needs little introduction – some 3000 years old, its minimalist design is instantly recognisable and unlike any other chalk figure in the world. Indeed, it’s so stylised, there are some who say it’s not a horse at all, but a dragon…
The Horse and surrounding features are now owned by the National Trust, who also maintain a carpark just to the west on Woolstone Hill, accessible from the B4507 Wantage Road. Park here, and walk east across the meadow towards the Manger, the steep-sided valley where the Horse reputedly comes to graze by full moon.
As you walk, the Horse will gradually unfold into view, although to get a really clear perspective you need to head across the Vale towards Faringdon. It’s a fair drop down to the Manger, and nearly as far up the other side to the top of Dragon Hill so, alternatively, you can skirt round the top of the Manger on the tarmac road.
Dragon Hill is a natural hillock whose summit was, at some point in prehistory, artificially flattened off. It’s not hard to imagine it must have been some kind of ritual location, or you might like to believe it’s where St George slew the dragon whose outline can now be seen on the hillside above – after all, that patch where no grass grows is clearly where the dragon’s blood soaked into the chalk!
On top of White Horse Hill is Uffington Castle, built by Celts and later occupied by Romans – a fine example of the hill-forts which dot the Downs and line the Ridgeway. After you’ve admired the views, take the Ridgeway west from the southern side of the Castle. A mile or so along the wide and straight track (watch out for the occasional motor vehicle), you will come to Wayland’s Smithy long barrow. Set in its own patch of woodland, it’s even more evocative and picturesque than its larger neighbour at West Kennett. Legend says that if you leave your horse hitched to one of the standing stones with a silver coin and go for a walk, on your return Wayland the Smith-God himself will have reshod your steed. Give it a go.
If you’re all done for the day, head back to the car park and an ice cream. Or carry on to the Rose & Crown at Ashbury via the Darcy Dalton Way (which can take you from the Smithy all the way round Oxfordshire to Wormleighton on the Oxford Canal!) It’s best not to walk along the Wantage Road, which is narrow, twisty and full of distracted drivers. But there are plenty of paths along the foot of the hillside via Compton Beauchamp and Woolstone, where the White Horse Inn is a fitting place to end.