Marja-Leena Rathje
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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

Marja-Leena | 13/07/2009 | 11 comments
themes: Culture, History, Travel


How beautiful to see them again. It's interesting that the Uffington one is best viewed from the air - kind of like the Nazca Lines in Peru. There's nothing I like better than a good old fashioned mystery.

Wow ... I never even knew about these! Thanks for introducing this fascinating mystery.

Susan, glad you enjoyed these. Interesting comparison, the Nazca Lines, have you seen them? One artist friend of mine has flown over Peru and seen them as well as Machu Picchu, taking some impressive photos. Yes, I love these kind of mysteries.

Maria, really?... then enjoy!

The slight blurriness in the photos somehow makes them more arresting.

Rouchswalwe, they even appeared blurry to my eyes as we passed by so fast!

No, I've only flown over them by way of imagination with a little help from Thor Heyerdahl, Michael Cremo and Graham Hancock. A good friend of mine carried the hard bound copy of Heaven's Mirror I'd sent her when she climbed up to Macchu Picchu. In a way I felt I went with her.

Susan, same here. Now there's a book that I must look for in the library, thanks!

Oh, how beautiful! I've never heard of these. Wonderful that you got to see more than one - and capture this quick photo.

Leslee, yes, they are quite beautiful, stunning against the green hills and each different.

I forgot to say in the post that an artist friend of mine had seen them years ago and did a lovely print inspired by them. I'm a proud owner of one of those prints. I should take a photo and post it here.

This post brought back SUCH happy memories
Thank You

I try to catch a glimpse of the White Horse as I drive to work, I feel I should see able to see it, it's so close, as yet I have not been successful

Maybe one day, when the time is right...

Mouse, is it the Uffington White Horse in your area? They do seem to be very fleeting and hidden behind trees. Hope you see it again.