Monday 7 October 2019

the White Horses of Wiltshire

This is my new map of Wiltshire's white horses (and of course Uffington, which is in Oxfordshire but I could hardly leave it out now, could I?). It's available from my Etsy shop in various sizes; here's the link to the big version (it comes in A3, A4 and postcard)

 I've taken some liberties with perspective, distance and orientation, because some of the slopes upon which the horses are found are north-facing, and some (well, the Devizes one at least) are so shallow that the horse is considerably foreshortened. Do you draw them as seen from below? From some distance away? From above? It all depends. So it goes. 

My friends made some useful and helpful suggestions for Things To Put On The Map. Without Deborah Harvey's compendious knowledge of West Country history, I'd never have known about the Salisbury Hob-Nob, a hobby horse with hobnails for teeth and a nasty bite. And although to my knowledge the RAF never dropped horses by parachute, only mules by glider, and then only in the Far East in the Burmese jungle, Richard Jones pointed out that one of the most useful gliders in that war was the Airspeed Horsa, many of which took off from Wiltshire airfields on D Day. Which is enough to get it onto the map; I do like drawing aeroplanes. Ditto the Westland Dragonfly up at the top there, suggested by Christine Beckett. There is an obscure horse reference there, and if you can identify it you will win a round of applause. 

There's a couple of artefacts from the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. I went there to find the Romano-British horse and rider brooch found at Cold Kitchen Hill ('thought possibly to have a religious significance', which an archaeologist friend says is what they say when they haven't a clue), but also found the Marlborough Bucket, which was worth the entry fee alone. It's decorated with heads and horses, and is reckoned to be Gaulish work. The Celts apparently used their buckets to binge from (they'd have fitted well into canal society, particularly the society of Sherry Jim, I reckon); and the decorative metalwork would have enclosed the wooden staves of the bucket, which was left as grave goods in a burial near Marlborough. Anyway, the representation of the horse is interesting to compare with that of Uffington, although Uffington predates the Marlborough Bucket by a considerable time. Probably.

There's Wayland the Smith, outside his smithy, which is a long barrow on top of the North Downs near Uffington. If you leave your horse there with some money, the elusive Wayland will shoe it for you. Best not get on the wrong side of him, though, he might make a drinking vessel out of your skull like he did with Niðhad's sons, though admittedly Niðhad had hamstrung Wayland. The story of Wayland was brought over by the Saxons, so I've given him yellow hair. He features in the Anglo Saxon poem Deor, by the way, each verse of which features someone having a truly horrid time, and then ends with the refrain Þæs ofereode,  þisses swa mæg - 'that came to an end, this may well do so too.' A bleak sort of comfort, but one that I've recited to myself fairly often in hard times. (If you want to recite it too, then þ is runic 'thorn' and pronounced 'th', and all letters are sounded; thus 'ofereode' is 'over-eh-odour')

Some horses had makeovers; so there's been a horse at Westbury for longer than the present one may suggest, with its Stubbs-ish appearance dating from 1778. And some are relocated; so the Devizes white horse is on a hill around the corner from the earlier one which had a far more imposing position on Roundway Hill, from where it would have been visible for miles across the vale of the Wiltshire Avon. The Alton Barnes horse was inspired by envy of that at Cherhill to the north, and its construction was complicated by the chap employed to do it scarpering with the money. 

Coincidentally, the white horse at Alton Barnes, which is less than five miles from where I'm moored right now, is in the news this morning after an Extinction Rebellion logo appeared on it. Apparently it's being removed even as I write. 

Anyway, there we go. I think I'm going to have to scan the picture again, there's a line across it where there's a dead spot on the scanner. This picture is five scans stitched together, and it's a damn nuisance when something slips through like that. And it's pouring down now, and to get the computer up and running I need to stick the generator out on the back deck, and then put a brolly over it. And that can wait till daylight, and as there's a neighbouring boat I can't run the genny before 8 o'clock anyway. 

And then I can send it off to the printers. And tidy up the damn boat. Honestly, it goes to pot when I'm working on a picture.


  1. Replies
    1. I had to look that up. Fancy that! Not the reason it's there but an extra reason to be sure, thank you!

  2. Lovely Paintings! I'd like to share your blog on our website (including the links to buy your pictures). Would that be okay? Thanks, Shelly at White Horse Boats