What to See in England
By Gordon Home
Public Domain Books
Wantage and the Country of Alfred the Great
=How to get there.=–Train from Paddington. Great Western Rly. =Nearest Station.=–Wantage Road. =Distance from London.=–60-1/2 miles. =Average Time.=–Varies between 1-1/2 to 2-3/4 hours.
1st 2nd 3rd =Fares.=–Single 10s. 0d. 6s. 4d. 5s. 0-1/2d. Return 17s. 8d. 11s. 0d. 10s. 1d.
=Accommodation Obtainable.=–Good posting and hotels. “Bear Hotel” and “Blue Boar.”
The chalk ridge in the north of Berkshire is rich in memories of Alfred. First in importance is Wantage, a peaceful town at the foot of the hills, and famous as the birthplace of the great king. There is a statue by Count Gleichen in the wide market-place representing Alfred with a battle-axe and a charter in his hands. The church is a fine example of Early English architecture, and interesting besides as the burying-place of many famous Fitz-warens, among them Ivo, whose daughter married Richard Whittington, Lord Mayor of London. Dr. Butler of The Analogywas born in the town, and the house is still to be seen.
Leaving Wantage, one may go along the breezy downs to Uffington Castle, a large fort, presumably of British origin. It was one of many similar forts along the Roman way called Ichenilde Street, that stretches straight as an arrow along the whole ridge. Near the fort is the famous White Horse cut in the chalk, which, since its recent cleansing, gleams brilliantly from the hillside. It was cut out to commemorate the magnificent victory of Ethelred the Unready and Alfred over the Danes at Ashdown in 871. Readers of Tom Brown’s School Days will recall the story of the Berkshire revels in 1857, when the scouring of the Horse took place. Judge Hughes was born here, under the shadow of the downs, and near by is the round hill where tradition says St. George slew the dragon.
In Kenilworth Sir Walter Scott has immortalised Wayland Smith’s Cave, a neolithic burial-place of some ancient chieftain which lies to the west of Uffington Castle. It is a circle of stone slabs with flat stones on the top. Wayland was the “Vulcan” of the men of the north, and Alfred, in one of his translations, altered the “Fabricius” of the Roman account into the northern “Wayland,” the fairy smith who replaced lost shoes on horses. It was in this cave that Scott made Flibbertigibbet play tricks on Tressilian.
[Illustration: THE STATUE OF ALFRED THE GREAT AT WANTAGE.
It was designed by Count Gleichen.]