Ancient Britain: White Horses



Leaving Stonehenge, our drive continued on through the lovely Wiltshire countryside towards nearby Avebury, with a few quick highlights along the way. A very quick sighting was of a White Horse, a chalk hill figure. My husband luckily had the camera handy and managed to capture a couple of blurry photos of it as we rode past. However we didn’t catch its name and forgot to ask later. It looks similar to this image of the Cherhill White Horse and the location sounds about right, but I’m not positive.

I’ve long been intrigued by England’s White Horses, especially the Uffington one. This was our first live sighting, exciting but much too brief. Just over a week later when we were on the Eurostar train somewhere in southeast England heading for Paris, we saw another one, even more briefly and without any warning. We have no photo of that one and by now the particular shape of it has begun to blur in my memory… but not the unexpected thrill of seeing it.

According to the The Wiltshire White Horses site:

Wiltshire is the county for white horses. There are or were at least twenty-four of these hill figures in Britain, with no less than thirteen being in Wiltshire, and another white horse, the oldest of them all, being just over the border in Oxfordshire. Most of the white horses are chalk hill carvings, and the chalk downs of central Wiltshire make it an ideal place for such figures.

Of the thirteen white horses known to have existed in Wiltshire, eight are still visible, and the others have either been lost completely, or are in a sense still there, under the turf, but have long since become grown over and are no longer visible.

Contrary to popular belief, most white horses are not of great antiquity. Only the Uffington white horse is of certain prehistoric origin, being some three thousand years old. Most of the others date from the last three hundred years or so, though the hillside white horse can be a slippery creature, and the origins of some are impossible to establish with any certainty.

There is a wealth of information on the web on hill figures. Here are just a few that I’ve gathered over the past:
The Little Professor’s Links about hill figures
The National Trust: Uffington
A Mouse in France visits Uffington
Grooming a White Horse

EDITED July 14th: Olga of Threading Thoughts wrote the following in a comment on the next post. With much thanks to her knowledge, I’ve added it here:

Yes your photo is of the Cherhill horse. It is such a lovely road that one, either side of Avebury with the horse to the west, and Silbury Hill to the east.
Further along that road to the east, just before Marlborough (with its famous Polly’s tearooms which you must visit next time if you were not taken there on your tour) there is another white horse -the Preshute. It is only visible from the road when there are no leaves on the trees, and because it is so elusive I love it. It is not one of the old ones, and was cut by a schoolboy, and is mentioned on the Wiltshire White Horses website.

Other posts about our Ancient Britain Tour:
Old Sarum
Wiltshire Flint
Silbury & West Kennet

July 13, 2009 in Culture, History, Travel by Marja-Leena