The mysterious prehistoric figure of the Uffington White Horse carved into the chalk on the edge of the Manger, a dramatic dry valley, next to The Ridgeway has intrigued and enchanted visitors for years. Created in the Bronze Age, some 3,000 years ago, the horse is surrounded by other fascinating ancient sites - an Iron Age fort with its deep ditch immediately behind, Dragon Hill just below where St George allegedly slew the beast with its blood poisoning the ground forever so no grass grows there, and Wayland’s Smithy, a rare Stone Age long barrow, a mile further west. All around is wonderful walking country with open rolling downland to the south, dramatic steep scarp slopes to the north and large skies above. Below, in the Vale, are several pretty villages together with the small market towns of Wantage and Faringdon providing welcoming pubs and accommodation.
White Horse Hill
After exploring the hill and its immediate monuments, follow the White Horse Hill circular walk which descends steeply from the hill into the Vale to the small village of Woolstone from where, properly fortified at the appropriately named White Horse Inn, you’ll have the energy for the climb back.
Distance: 4¼ miles/2 hours plus time to explore the monuments and for refreshments.
Wayland’s Smithy and Ashdown House
A little to the west is the village of Ashbury nestling at the foot of the downs and the location for the Ashbury circular walk. There’s a choice of three walks here, with the two longer ones taking in both the 5,000-year old Wayland’s Smithy long barrow and fantastic views of 17th-century Ashdown House. If you’re passing the house on a summer afternoon when it’s open you’re likely to be able to take part in a guided tour.
Distance: 7¾ miles/4 hours or 6 miles/3hours
Devil’s Punchbowl & Segsbury Camp
A few miles east near to Wantage is another scenic dry valley, the Devil’s Punchbowl, sculpted by the flow of water long ago. It’s now valuable unimproved chalk grassland, rich in wild flowers, so much so that much of it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The circular walk here includes another Iron Age fort, Segsbury Camp, sitting alongside The Ridgeway above the village of Letcombe Regis.
Distance: 7½ miles/3½ hours
While visiting the area
Take time to visit Wantage, the birth place of King Alfred in 849AD when it was an important Saxon settlement. The town has literary connections to the Poet Laureate John Betjeman who lived here for many years and is Alfredston in Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. The Vale and Downland Museum is a great place to learn more about the town and surrounding area.
Another pleasant town in the Vale is Faringdon with its Folly, the last major one to be built in England, and the stunning 13th century Tithe Barn in nearby Great Coxwell.
Uffington, close to White Horse Hill, has its own small museum open at weekends in the summer in the 395-year old schoolroom that Thomas Hughes wrote about in Tom Brown’s School Days.