Grab a picnic and be prepared to tread in the footsteps of 3,000 years of history with a dog-friendly day out at Uffington, Oxfordshire.
White Horse Hill is actually a collection of three prehistoric sites owned by English Heritage and managed by The National Trust: Uffington ‘Castle’, Dragon Hill, and White Horse Hill. It lies by the Ridgeway, the ancient route that ran from Dorset to the Wash and still crosses the chalk ridges of the Berkshire Downs. The impressive views and wide open grassy space, make this the perfect place for a day out with your dog.
Dogs are more than welcome in all parts of White Horse Hill, Dragon Hill, and the adjoining Ridgeway. At the weekend be prepared for the hill to be busy with families and walkers, so there is always the chance to make new dog friends. While there are no strict rules regarding leads here, do be aware that there were some grazing sheep in a nearby field. I chose to keep Buddy on the extendable lead so I could be confident of where he was (which made for a precarious journey down the hill!), but there were plenty of dogs running freely. Just remember to be the responsible dog owners that I know we all are and clear up after your dog and keep them within your control.
White Horse Hill
This chalk-cut hill figure is thought to be the oldest example is Britain, potentially over 3,000 years old. Its shape has changed quite a bit over that time as the ground on the hill has moved. What is now a rather abstract image of a horse (to put it lightly) was once a larger, more realistic figure.
Fun facts about White Horse Hill
- The Horse is 111 metres from the tip of its tail to its ear.
- It may have been a territorial marker or a fertility symbol – its function is not clear.
- From around 1677 until the late 18th century, the horse was scoured each year as part of a local festival.
- During the Second World War the horse was covered over with turf and hedge trimmings so that Luftwaffe pilots could not use the easily recognisable figure for navigation.
The smaller of the two hills is called Dragon Hill. It’s a steep, but thankfully short, climb up steps to the top of Dragon Hill. The peculiar hill is a flat mound – around 10 metres high – and is likely to have been formed by glacial erosion. Local legend associates this area with St George and the Dragon (hence the name).
(I can attest that a ball rolls really fast down the steep sides of Dragon Hill.)
It’s not particularly sure footing here – so take care as you make your way up the steepslop! At the top you will be rewarded will the most magnificent views of the Oxfordshire countryside.
From here, you can sit and enjoy the views, share a picnic on the open grassy spaces, or head over to the remains of Uffington Castle – a rare and outstanding example of a large Iron Age hillfort. The remains consist of a large enclosure surrounded by a wide chalk-stone bank. Around this is a grass covered ditch and a further smaller bank that would have been the outer rampart. I recommend walking along the ramparts for stunning panoramic views.
How to get to White Horse Hill
There is a National Trust car park at the site (postcode SN7 7QJ ). This incurs a small cost (£2 up to two hours, £4 all day), or is free for National Trust members. The car park is at the end of a single track road over a cattle grid. You may feel like you are driving past the site, as the road travels past Dragon Hill – but don’t worry, you are on track!
On our trip we decided to park at the side of the road by Dragon Hill instead of the car park.. Not only does it save a bit of a drive and you don’t have to pay, but it was also the best option for Buddy. Parking here avoided walking through a field of sheep, which – for a livestock-reactive dog like him – allowed our day to be much calmer.
But no matter where you park, it’s a short walk to the incredible views and ancient history of this place.