By David Miles
Published by Thames & Hudson
The White Horse at Uffington is one of England’s most instantly recognised symbols. It is an impressive 395 feet long, cut into the chalk at the top of an escarpment in the Berkshire Downs.
On a more personal note, the first time I saw an image of the White Horse was on the band XTC’s classic ‘English Settlement’ album, and again, they picked that image to complement that title for good reason.
For centuries people have wondered about the age of the White Horse; they have wondered who created it, and what it symbolises.
Some think it was a symbol of Boudicca’s Iceni tribe and their heroic battle against Roman tyranny. Some think it is Saxon and that it celebrates the victory of the Christian Saxon King Alfred the Great over the Danes. There are as many ideas as there are minds to dream them. Is it even a horse? Is it a dragon? Is it a tribal banner?
In this engrossing and important book David Miles answers many questions about the White Horse. In 1989 he led the first archaeological investigation of the White Horse. He discovered that rather than removing the turf to expose white bedrock, a three-foot deep trench had been dug in a horse’s shape. This was then filled in with chalk from quarries and pounded down in layers.
These strata enabled the White Horse to be dated, revealing that it was originally created between 1380 BC and 550BC, a good millennia before the Anglo-Saxons.
What the White Horse represents is harder to answer. Miles has done a great deal of research into European sun-cults, and Miles believes the White Horse had cosmological significance.
I feel the most important aspect of this book is that it makes the reader realise what an incredible achievement the White Horse is. It would have to be seen from a distance to be appreciated. In our time the best view is from the air.
This book doesn’t answer all the questions about the White Horse (how could it?). But it is a very thought-provoking book, one that leads the reader into a different time and place. The visual magic of the White Horse still casts a spell into the 21st century and who is to say that its very timelessness wasn’t one of the intentions of it’s creators. A kind of once-and future image for the ages.