steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

A Ridgeway Encounter

Yesterday I went with Ayako to White Horse Hill, to see the cluster of prehistoric sites that are gathered within convenient walking distance there: the Uffington White Horse, Dragon Hill, Uffington Castle, the Ridgeway and Wayland's Smithy. I'd been there only once before, I remembered, and after a bit of casting around I realised it must have been in the summer of 2004, when I was driving from Bristol to Oxford to consult back issues of Cherwell as part of the research for Four British Fantasists. Little did I know on that occasion that I would be spending the night in one of the filthiest B&Bs in England, but that's another story. It must have been around mid-August, because I remember seeing the Boscastle floods being reported on the news that night.

Anyway, it was quite a long time ago, and I realised that I'd filed White Horse Hill away in my mind under the heading "a long drive," because at the time I had far less driving experience altogether. In fact, however, it's only just over an hour from my house, as I realised yesterday with some embarrassment.

The weather was a bit cloudy, but that at least meant we had Wayland's Smithy to ourselves - us and the weird grove that guards it.


The horse of course is hard to see as a whole from close up. The best I could do was from the top of Dragon Hill, the weird chalk outcrop with a flattened top that sits like a giant pimple on the lower slopes of White Horse Hill.


This is the landscape, I'm pretty sure, that gave rise to the Ridgeway Hills in DWJ's The Merlin Conspiracy, and to be sure it's easy to see these ridges, going down to what I presume was once a marsh or lake, as so many ribs of the White Dragon of England.


At one point, walking back along the Ridgeway from Wayland's Smithy, I was caught short, so I told Ayako to go on ahead while I found some convenient bushes. I looked up and down the white chalk path that is the Ridgeway at that point, saw that it was clear in both directions for a good 100 yards, unbuckled my jeans, and squatted down, as travellers have been doing on that same stretch of path for over 5,000 years.

Hardly had I begun to bestow my urinary blessing on the grateful earth when I heard the distinct sound of approaching footsteps. Not particularly fast, but purposeful, and definitely coming my way. Alarmed and surprised, I stemmed the acrid spring as best I could, and squatted a bit lower. Though I was behind some bushes, the cover really wasn't very good, and I could easily be seen from the path.

Shortly a bearded, middle-aged man came into view. He was jogging in the direction of Wayland's Smithy, albeit at a very slow pace, with a backpack on his back. Surely he couldn't fail to see me? I kept very still, relying on the frailty of human peripheral vision. Luckily he must have been in the zone, because he passed by in apparent obliviousness. His back receded, and with it his footsteps, and at last there was no sound on that chalky crest of Oxfordshire but the full-throated gargling of the nesting skylarks and the residual tinkle of an amber fountain.
Tags: real life

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