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UFFINGTON LEY, Wiltshire/Oxfordshire

Running a little E of N, this ley covers 9 3/4 miles from a tumulus some distance S of the M4 motorway to the village of Uffington in Oxfordshire, crossing the White Horse and Dragon hills on the way. The whole alignment takes the ley hunter through quiet rural scenery and the swell of the Downs.

The first ley point in the S is a tumulus at 29067390 E of Preston on the A419, with this end of the ley in Wiltshire. The round barrow is situated on a pleasant sward S of Ballard's Copse (not named on 1:25,000). The mound is now low.

The ley goes N over the M4 and into Berkshire, where it passes over linear earthworks, one on Farncombe Down, and another on Near Down at the exact point of a break in the structure of the earthwork.

The ley continues to the next point, which is a tumulus at 29618144 on Parkfarm Down. Unfortunately it is almost ploughed out - a vague hump in a field next to a copse. If a visit to the site is thought desirable, unspectacular though it is, ask permission at Park Farm.

The third ley point is the earthwork on top of White Horse Hill known as Uffington Castle (29958631), now in Oxfordshire. This is an undated Iron Age hill-fort covering 8 acres at the highest point of the Berkshire Downs. The magnificent views from here make the modern world seem far away in both space and time. A round, saucer-shaped UFO was reported hovering over this hill in 1969.

Walking down the ley over the N earthworks of the camp, the church at Uffington, the final ley point, is glimpsed. The course of the ley then takes the ley hunter down a little on the N face of the hill where a long barrow, the fourth ley marker, is encountered (30008654). This lies across the line of the ley with its E end just on the alignment. The barrow is rectangular, of Bronze Age origin, with numerous secondary burials dating from Roman and Dark age periods.

With Uffington Church still in sight, the bearing of the ley is followed a little lower down the hill until Dragon Hill comes into view (30708686), the fifth ley point. This is a natural hill with an artificially flattened top, on part of which grass never grows. Traditionally this is because the site is where St. George killed the dragon, and the spot where the creature's blood was shed is perpetually marked by the bare patch of earth. According to Underwood, there is a blind spring here. The ley passes over the W flank of the hill.

Before descending White Horse Hill to reach Dragon Hill, it is worth walking a few hundred yards off the ley to the E to visit the White Horse itself. No one knows when this figure was cut, but its archaic lines insist on a very early date. There is even some dispute as to whether it is a horse or a dragon. Most people feel it is pre-Roman, though the figure is associated with Alfred the Great in popular tradition. The truth is probably that so ancient and enigmatic an image has inevitably become connected with important people and major events in its vicinity. There are records going back centuries which tell of the recutting of the Horse by local people. Even then, the periodic redefinition of the figure was considered an ancient practice and was accompanied by a fair and general merrymaking within the ramparts of Uffington Castle. It is said to be lucky to stank on the eye of the White Horse and make a wish.

Back on the ley, the hill is descended and distant Uffington Church visually drops behind Dragon Hill as that feature is approached.

In Uffington we found a contradiction between our fieldwork and the line on the map. The map-ley goes through a meeting of ways (30218924) in the village, and precisely through the ancient corner building there known as Tom Brown's School, though Thomas Hughes, author of Tom Brown's Schooldays, never attended it. In the foundations of the old school, exactly on the map ley, is what appears to be a great stone. We could not, however, make our compass bearing agree with the map-ley; according to our readings the ley's course was further to the E, just catching the E end of the church. Whether this discrepancy was due to an uncharacteristic mishandling of the compass, a magnetic anomaly, or a map error, we are undecided.

At all events, St. Mary's (30238932) stands proudly at the N end of the ley. It is an almost entirely 13th century building. The octagonal tower was topped by a spire destroyed in a storm in the 18th century. A door in the S porch has elaborate hinges depicting serpent heads.


Archives

15.5km in length.

Bearing 4.4°/184.4°.

UffingtonLine