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The Scilly Isles

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Scilly IslesIn my article on the Uffington White Horse, I mentioned the Scilly Isles, situated south-west of Cornwall (roughly 2 hours 45 minutes by boat, or serviced by 3 airports on the mainland, ranging from a 15-minute hop to an hour’s flight).  The island group includes 5 inhabited islands and countless uninhabited islands, ranging in size from dangerous hidden tidal “sharks” waiting to sink ships, to more substantial islands that are largely inhabited by seals and sea birds.

Garrison Walk, St. Mary's

Garrison Walk, St. Mary’s

Perhaps from the 1866 Gilmore Wreck.  Tresco Abbey Gardens.

Perhaps from the 1866 Gilmore wreck. Tresco Abbey Gardens.

Not only are the islands beautiful, but they’re packed with history both onshore and in the waters surrounding the isles:  To date there have been over 900 shipwrecks documented around the archipelago; every tide washes debris from shipwrecks onto the beaches – porcelain, glass, clay pipe debris, and occasionally larger chunks; seasonal changes in the currents shift the seascape, unearthing “new” wrecks to be discovered.  Most of the shipwrecks documented so far occurred between 1700 and 1900; some of their mastheads are displayed in the Tresco (Island) Abbey Gardens (where this photo was taken).

On the main island, St. Mary’s, there is what is called the “Garrison Walk” – a hiking trail around and through the star-shaped garrison (called the “star castle”), complete with cannons in some of the batteries.  It dates from at least 1655, and was used to harass enemy ships attempting to navigate the treacherous waters between Scilly Isles and the mainland of England, and was a strategic site up through the Second World War.

Woolpack Battery, Star Castle

Woolpack Battery, Star Castle

Halangy Down Ancient Village

Halangy Down Ancient Village

Another point of interest on St. Mary’s is the Halangay Down Ancient Village:  Occupied from around 300 BC to AD 700, much of the stones from the buildings were repurposed in the 19th century to build Hugh Town, the main (only) town on St. Mary’s.  Archaeologists have discovered countless ancient burial sites on the islands; it has been speculated that perhaps people brought their dead to the islands for burial from the mainland, there have been so many found.  Also, due to the rising sea levels from the last Great Thaw, they believe that there are larger settlements than Halangay down in what would have been valleys 1,500 to 2,000 years ago, which are now underwater.

Scilly Isles, St. Mary's town beach

Scilly Isles, St. Mary’s town beach

I could go on and on about this fascinating place; check out this link to the Scilly Isles to see for yourself!

 

 

 

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The Uffington White Horse

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Uffington White HorseI like to go “flying” occasionally with Google Earth; it is how my husband and I discovered the Scilly Isles (I’ll tell you more about that sometime), and how I’ve found several hill figures across the UK; here’s one of my favourites:

Dating from the late Bronze Age (1000–700 BC), the Uffington White Horse (in Oxfordshire, nearest the town of Uffington) is a stylized hill figure of 110 metres long, created by deep trenches filled with crushed white chalk. It is protected and maintained by the National Trust as a Scheduled Ancient Monument (if it is not cleaned regularly it would disappear rapidly, the chalk being washed away by rain or the trenches filling in with local vegetation).

Iron Age Celtic CoinsThese coins pictured are Iron Age Celtic coins (the currency of the pre-Roman population), and the designs are comparable to the White Horse, supporting the early dating (it was thought for some time that the figure could have been constructed as late as the Iron Age, 800 BC–AD 100, but samples from silt of the figure supported the earlier date).  The White Horse is by far the oldest such figure in Britain, but certainly not the only one; ancient figures are scattered throughout the British Isles, though Wiltshire alone has at least eight.  When you have a few minutes to spare, take a Google Earth flight over the UK, and see if you can spot any other figures!

 

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