Guest writer: Elizabeth Copp

A big welcome to my very first guest writer, Elizabeth Copp. This is a wonderfully evocative piece about a visit to one of England’s white horses.

Layers
by Elizabeth Copp

Uffington Castle is an Iron Age hillfort which forms the highest point in Oxfordshire.  This is where I’m sitting now, gazing over fields, hedges and trees.  I can see for miles across the flat plain which lies below me.  The hillfort stands near the Ridgeway, an ancient road used by travellers for over 5,000 years and still used by walkers today.  Life now may be easier for those walking this path yet, as we walk along it, hidden footprints link us with our ancestors when times were more troubled. 

Today life is good.  It’s late summer, the sun is shining and the day is warm.  I’ve walked up here with Andy, as we want to find the White Horse of Uffington.   At nearly 3,000 years old, it’s the oldest of the famous chalk horses in southern England.  In the distance I see Didcot Power Station, fired by coal laid down millions of years before the White Horse was carved into the hill.  Is this how we will be remembered by future generations, I wonder absent-mindedly, looting the earth for fuel to feed our voracious appetite for electricity?  I wander off towards the Ridgeway, trying to find the White Horse which eludes us both. 

Then Andy gives a shout.  He’s found it!  I run across the hill to find him standing by a narrow, winding chalk path.  This is it?  We look down on it but cannot see what it represents, so we follow its trail and walk slowly towards Dragon Hill where St George slew the dragon – or so it is said, and who are we to disagree?  We are on a special site and feel that anything could happen here.  We walk on sacred earth.  What lies beneath?

This winding path – whether leg, mane, tail or body I cannot tell – intrigues me.  Which ancient visionary drew this line into the chalk and was able to imagine how it would look from afar?  I look back, but the White Horse still remains elusive.  So instead I consider the geology of the landscape.  The rippling folds of grass which lie above ancient rock structures intrigue me.  Geologists say they were left after the permafrost retreated during the last Ice Age.  On the other hand, legend has it that giants walked here and left these footprints.   I like the idea of giants striding across this landscape.   Here, they had space to breathe freely. 

We walk away from Dragon Hill and head slowly back to our car.  Andy walks ahead of me, and is soon a tiny figure in the distance, for I have stopped to take photographs.  I love the scale of this amazing place, of being lost in the landscape, of time standing still.

I reach the gate which leads to the car park and look back.  Steam rises from Didcot Power Station only to vanish into the ether.  Life is transitory, I think. 

Then the White Horse of Uffington rises out of the chalk from below a cerulean sky and leaps across the hill.  I watch and wonder. 

Elizabeth says:

I’m a retired language teacher who was born and brought up in Orkney. I now live in Keith in north-east Scotland.  I’ve always liked writing, whether it’s letters, e-mails, scribbles on post-it notes or tales from my family history.  

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About Cath Barton

Cath Barton is an English writer who lives in South Wales. In June 2017 she was awarded the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella. She is active in the on-line community of writers of flash fiction and is a regular contributor to the on-line critical hub for Welsh arts and culture, Wales Arts Review.
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