I first visited the Uffington white horse over 30 years ago. I vowed that I'd return one day on horseback, and ride the Ridgeway. It took 14 years before I was able to do so, in celebration of my 40th birthday. The seeds were sown there and then for a much longer ride between Uffington and the numerous other enigmatic white horses carved into Britain's hillsides.
Since the Uffington white horse was carved by our ancestors 3000 years ago, it has tantalised and fascinated. Both the Uffington horse and its relatives symbolise the cultural importance of the horse in the UK. I didn't want to just ride between the white horses. I wanted to find out what they mean to the visitors they attract from all over the world.
From the outset, the juxtaposition of my sturdy black Fell ponies, whose native home is Cumbria, riding between prancing white horses, added to the appeal. But there were also other parallels to explore. As a breed, Fell ponies date back nearly as long as Uffington. They exemplify the way in which horses have developed through time, and how our relationship with horses has changed. We no longer depend on horses for work, war or transport, but the question in my mind is whether we are still, at heart, a horse land?
For years, work, life, kids and a few other things (including several other long rides) meant my white horse ride plans were relegated to the back burner. In the meantime, various other iconic new horse landmarks sprung up: the Kelpies, the Glasgow Clydesdale, and Sultan the pit pony landart sculpture. The appearance of four huge horses on the banks of the Thames in the form of the Rising Tide sculpture in September 2015 was the final catalyst in deciding I could wait no longer to ride between Scotland, Wales and England, exploring the role of the horse in Britain's past, present and future. It's only when I started digging maps out to plan my route that I found all the dots I'd stuck on all those years ago locating each of the white horses in southern England, and the outlier on the North Yorks Moors. The Heeley white horse in the middle of Sheffield, and the white horse at Folkestone, hadn't even been thought of then, but were quickly added to my schedule. When I learned Scotland had its own white horse, near Peterhead, it was obvious where I must start.
Wherever I can, I'm following routes historically used by pack ponies, pit ponies, Reivers, Romans and others in the days when horse were the main means of transport. The farriers who shoe my ponies along the way, together with the people I meet and places I visit offer further insight into the social, political, cultural and economic role of horses in Britain.