A Closed Mouth Gathers No Foot !

March 21, 2014

When it comes to tourism and legends it is not too clever to mix facts with their happy ancient fiction. So when the natives feed tourists with a right load of old bull shit, it is never a good idea to contradict them or ask silly and or embarrassing questions.

However such is the power of alcohol, a roaring log fire and a hearty lunch following a long hard trek over gale swept hills to look at an ancient monument carved in the hillside.

The monuments in question are an image of a horse carved out of the hillside and backfilled with white chalk stone and an ancient hill fort on top of the hill.

The basic facts that this site is truly ancient and remarkable is beyond question and as an archaeologically is was as important to our ancestors as Stonehenge and other ancient sites relatively close.

White horse

The White Horse carving has been dated as Bronze Age ( Circa 3,000 – 1,000 BC). However the site obviously had special spiritual significance much earlier than that with many ancient burial mounts traced back to the Neolithic period. This could be because what is known as White Horse Hill is, at 860 feet is the highest point in what is now the county of Oxfordshire with a commanding view over six neighbouring counties.

castle hill

That commanding view and its rugged shape made it an obvious candidate for the Iron Age Hill Fort on the top.

All of this is well documented and archaeologically sound information and needless to say if such things interest you, the site is well worth a visit. If not, and you know which way to look as you drive Northish out of Swindon on your way to Oxford you can see the White Horse from miles away without the hike.

So you may well ask where is the opportunity for yours truly to put his big foot in his mouth ?
Now you would think that being the guardians of such interesting and provably ancient monuments of great historical value there would be no logical reason to embellish the region with silly legends but…

Some way below the carved horse there lies a small roundish hill, to me it looks man-made with even sides and a flat top and has the look of small fort or castle, like a Ring and Bailey or a Mott and Bailey, although I am no expert, that’s what it looks like.

Uffington Dragon Hill

However, the natives call this site ‘Dragon Hill.’ It is said to be the site where St. George, England’s patron Saint, slew the dragon. The blood poisoned the ground and left a white chalk scar for all to see.

On the top of the hill there is a largish white tear shaped scar, where nothing will grow where the dragon’s life’s blood drained away.

Now given the simple fact that there are no such things as dragons you could imagine that normal people would take this wondrous tale with a hefty dollop of salt, but OMG not this lot.

They were even less impressed when I pointed out that dear old Saint George was not only not British and it was highly likely that he never actually set foot in Britain, even as a tourist.

Anybody want a job lot of Post Cards of good old Saint George slaying the Dragon, or Bronze statuettes of him doing the same thing….?

Just goes to show you that even when you are bored you shouldn’t go on bus trips for tourist when you know more about the destination and historical subject than the native guide !

6 Responses to “A Closed Mouth Gathers No Foot !”

  1. laurie27wsmith Says:

    Anything to make a quid Merlin. I think Old Georgy boy was a Turk.

  2. merlinfraser Says:

    Records indicate Greek parents, father serving in Palestine as a Roman officer, a position George himself took up. He got in the shit for not joining in with the local Roman past time of chucking Christians to the lions. His opposition to the sport eventually got him killed.

    I’m assuming that as they didn’t have medals back then they made him a saint instead !

  3. Raani York Says:

    Who says there weren’t Dragons? *grin*
    But you see, I enjoyed your post very much. I love history and some historical places are nearly magical. Nicely done. I’ll spread word about this post!! 🙂

  4. merlinfraser Says:

    Me and my logical brain….forever in trouble, like my namesake I have used the odd dragon in my stories, however what I took exception to was the mixing of historical and fictitious legend to bolster tourism.

    As a prehistoric site it obviously had special spiritual significance to the Pagans who created it.

    Whose to say there be no such thing as dragons…. not me. What I pointed out was that dear old St. George was never here in England. Plus the dragon he allegedly slew was actually a very large Nile crocodile that had taken up residence around the native water source and was in no hurry to leave, was in a far distant land.

    The story arrived back in England via returning Crusaders, and the slaughtered beast became bigger and more dangerous with every telling. At what point it grew wings, could fly and breathe fire is unclear.

  5. Jaye Says:

    Hi, Merlin – I enjoyed your tale of “helping” the tour guide by pointing out historical truths. It’s so much fun to vicariously enjoy the places in England about which you write so well.

    I noticed the horse carved into the limestone because I read a book by Charles Todd which has the horse on the book cover. The story is one of his series about a former WWI vet and, I believe, the setting is Swindon. At least, that seems familar. It’s been a while since I read it.

    I hope all is well with you. Did you ever do anything with the series of children’s stories about the dust bunnies? I thought the stories had great potential.

    I’m reading, writing (both fiction and non-fiction) and editing, as well as taking care of my little dog that went blind and is being tested for Cushing’s Disease. It’s like having another child in my old age, but I love her dearly.

    Take care,

  6. merlinfraser Says:

    Hi Jaye, The site of this White Horse is a place called Uffington, which is reasonably close to Swindon, it is visible as you drive from Swindon heading towards Oxford. You could easily drive from Swindon to Uffington in 20 – 30 minutes.

    The whole area is made up of these chalky downs and there are many hillside carvings, other chalk horses are more horse like but the Uffington carving is reckoned to be the oldest.

    As for the Dust Bunnies I have carried on writing their adventures but have had no success finding a publisher willing to take them on.

    Because the stories need serious illustrations it would be impossible for me to fund independently and to self publish such a book would make for an unrealistic cover price.

    However, I have other ideas, someone mentioned audio books, again independently very expensive, but I am will to work in collaboration with a suitable reader.

    Another idea was for a video/audio style with some key illustrations as background… but again some form of team is required.

    As you can see the project has outgrown my ability to bring it to market but in field tests with lots of readers I have received a lot of positive feedback on the stories and the characters.

    What I need is someone powerful enough or smart enough to get me to the next level.

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