Select Page

The White Horse

It seems like an age ago now that I visited the Uffington White Horse; a lot happens in Weird Wiltshire in seven months! On one of my little trips out, on a stunning September Sunday afternoon, I ventured north, actually ending up in the county of Oxfordshire, just over the Wiltshire border.

My pals Emma from Ghost Catcher Isles and her dear husband Ed invited me to join them on a foraging trip to the area surrounding the White Horse and to visit Wayland’s Smithy. It was a lovely afternoon of mystery, history and the gathering of sloes, rosehips and crab apples. Ed is a genius at making foody gifts from hedgerow offerings.

Whilst Emma has already covered our trip here on her fantastic blog, I wanted to write one for you myself, concentrating on the Uffington White Horse and Dragon Hill and the folklore and legends surrounding it.

Credit: Flickr – Alan Denney

There are only 16 white horse figures, known as geolyphs, left in the UK and eight of them are in Wiltshire. We’ll come back to them at a later date. Today, I will tell you about the oldest one at Uffington. This large Bronze Age design was created on the ground using chalk, one of the elements of the landscape.

There are a few old folk stories and legends associated with The White Horse and Dragon Hill, which sits below the chalk geoglyph. Whilst no one really knows the purpose of the Uffington White Horse, its strategic position up on the Ridgeway, Britain’s oldest road, may have meant it was some sort of symbol for the ancient tribes of that land.

Perhaps there was some sort of religious purpose? Was it a Celtic shrine, connected to the worship of Epona, the horse goddess?

The road running below the White Horse is called Icknield Way, possibly derived from the Celtic word Eachanaidh, meaning the ‘people of the horse’. Erchofont, now written Urchfont, could have been the font or spring of the horses. This quiet corner of Pewsey Vale may have been where the Horse Folk lived, breeding fine horses for chariots. Could the White Horse be in honour of these people?

Legend has it that the Uffington White Horse is a mare and that her foal was also etched into a nearby hill, which has now been lost to nature. It is said that at night, the horse and foal come down to feed at the slope below known as The Manger. The mare and foal also drink at the nearby Woolstone Wells, which are said to be formed from a hoofprint from the mythical horse. The pub in Woolstone is named The White Horse, for obvious reasons!

If you need to make a wish, another local superstition describes how, if you stand on the eye of the Uffington White Horse and turn around three times clockwise, eyes closed, that wish will come true. Obviously, people are discouraged from such activities now because of the erosion it would cause to this ancient chalk symbol.

Westbury White Horse

There is another white horse not too many miles away, just outside of Westbury. In some stories, he is known as the Moon Stallion. The legend tells of this powerful horse leaving the hillside on a moonlit night, taking on a gigantic spectral form. It gallops across the downs, through the magical landscape of Avebury and heads along the Ridgeway. The Moon Stallion then spends the night with the Uffington White Horse before retracing its steps (or hoofprints) to Bratton, only to be found back on the hillside in the morning.

Given the Uffington Horse may well be a mare and you have a foal a little down the hill, perhaps they were a little family of chalky white horses?

Dragon Hill

Stand up on the hillside near the White Horse and look down; you will see a large mound with a flattened top. This is known as Dragon Hill. For many centuries, people believed the White Horse was not actually a horse but a dragon. It was cut into the hillside in memory of the dragon slain by St George on top of the mound (one of only two locations in England that can claim this honour). The dragon’s blood was poisonous, and when the creature was slain, its blood seeped into the hill, contaminating the soil forevermore, which is why nothing ever grows there. Other 18th-century storytellers say the dragon is buried under the hill.

An old shepherd, Job Cork, who died in 1807 and worked in the area. He told Tom Hughes, the author of The Scouring of the White Horse, a few verses about Dragon Hill.

If it is true as I heard say

King Gaarge did here the dragon slay

And down below on yonder hill

They buried him, as I heard tell…

There are also associations with King Arthur. Whilst we all know he is not dead, but instead lays sleeping, one day he will awaken when England is in grave danger. And, when he does (and I hope it is soon, given the state of the nation) the Uffington horse will arise. He will come to dance, in celebration of the return of the king, atop Dragon Hill, or Pendragon Hill as it used to be called.


Don’t forget, I’m always on the lookout for spooky and weird stories from Wiltshire and beyond. If you have a tale you would like to share I’d love to hear from you. Contact me via Twitter (or X as we are supposed to call it now) or here.

I’m also now to be found on Bluesky. Hurrah! If you enjoy my weird tales from Wiltshire and beyond and can spare a few pennies, please head over to Ko-fi and buy me a cuppa. Every bit is used to help bring you more stories. I sure would appreciate it.






Research and Credits

Subscribe to Weird Wiltshire

Join the mailing list to receive my latest spooky blogs and strange news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!