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Into the Vale of the White Horse

Sometimes the news about crooks - big businessmen and politicians - is so annoying you want to rush into the countryside and pull a tree over your head. That's what I did.

Here in the Vale of the White Horse, reached by book rather than by foot, I found that Winston Churchill's birthplace in a cloakroom in Blenheim Palace lay only twenty miles north of Alfred the Great's birthplace in Wantage. And Wantage lay perhaps eight miles east of the White Horse.

The gentle water-meadows of the infant River Thames form the boundary between Oxfordshire and Berkshire. South of the river lie the rich, flat farmlands of the Vale of the White Horse, named after the great chalk figure cut in ancient times into the bold escarpment of the Berkshire Downs which border the Vale to the South.

Much of the river bank can be walked; there is good fishing in the waters, which are popular too for small boat sailing. . .This is an area rich in associations. William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Alexander Pope and Matthew Arnold all lived here. . .

Very little remains of the time of Alfred at Wantage, but a statue of Alfred holding a scroll and a battle axe, still stands.

Just to the south of Wantage runs the Ridge Way - an old Roman road and Celtic track - which will take you by foot to the White Horse at Uffington.


It's difficult to find a good picture of the White Horse cut into the chalk of White Horse Hill.

Uffington, a village in the Heart of the Vale, has good views. Exactly when the White Horse was first cut and whether it celebrated a victory by Alfred over invaders or is rather more reminiscent of the semi-abstract style of the Iron Age Celts, has been debated. What amazes me is that the White Horse is still galloping over the Downs.

Uffington Castle, which crowns White Horse Hill and stands on the line of the ancient Ridge Way, is an Iron Age camp. Wayland's Smithy, one and one-half miles southwest, is a famous long barrow with graves.


To the north and west lies Kelmscott Manor, where William Morris led his party of travellers.


On the banks of the Thames at Abingdon, where my reveries ended.

Thanks to the Automobile Association's Illustrated Guide to Britain for the inspiration.

Comments (1)


I grew up in Abingdon, that is an exceptional picture of the river.

I just felt compelled to mention it (not sure why).


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