Giants, horses and nudity: exploring Britain's hill figures

Thursday 01 January 1970

Carved into hillsides so the chalk stands out white against the grass, Briain's hill figures come in all shapes and sizes. If you've ever come across one while you're out walking, you'll know they make a striking sight among the hills and forests of the British countryside.  We thought we'd have a look at some of the most famous:

1: Animals

Have you seen the great white lion near Whipsnade Zoo, or the giant stag on Mormond Hill in Aberdeenshire? Animal hill figures are by far the most common, though the preference seems to be for horses, and Wiltshire is a definite white horse hotspot. Once home to 13 of Britain’s 24 white horse hill figures, today there are 8 visible in Wiltshire. One of the oldest of these is the Westbury horse, which dates from around 1740. Westbry W Horse3 600 Stories about its origins are mixed: it might commemorate a historic battle, or be associated with the Saxons, Hengest and Horsa, who were said to fight under a white horse banner. One thing is for sure, it makes a majestic sight on the escarpment of Salisbury Plain. Look out for it next time you’re visiting Stonehenge! The oldest of all hill figures in Britain is just across the county border in Oxfordshire. More than 3000 years old, the Uffington white horse is a highly stylised hill carving that dates back to the Bronze Age - it's Britain's only prehistoric hill carving. Uffington Horse If you fancy walking to the Westbury white horse, take a look at the AA website for walking directions. To explore the Uffington white horse and the gorgeous Oxfordshire countryside that surrounds it, take a look at the National Trust page dedicated to it.

2: Longman of Wilmington

Cut into the steep side of Windover Hill in the South Downs, the Longman of Wilmington was originally thought to be a Neolithic hill carving.

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  More recent archaeology has shown that it’s more likely to have been carved in the 16th or 17th centuries. The carving depicts a human figure holding two staves, and there are theories that these were once a scythe and a rake, or even that he was meant to resemble early depictions of the Norse god Odin. Whatever the interpretation, he overlooks a beautiful part of East Sussex, so if you want to walk and see him, park in the long stay car park at Wilmington then follow these directions on the AA's page.

3: The Cerne Abbas Giant

Perhaps the most famous of all British hill figures, the Cerne Abbas giant stands an impressive 180 feet tall on his hillside above Cerne Abbas, Dorset. A quick glance at the picture should reveal one facet of his fame - he's the only hill figure that's quite so graphically naked!

©National Trust ©National Trust

 

  As you'd expect, theories about him abound. Was he the Greco-Roman Hercules, or some kind of mockery of Oliver Cromwell? Whatever the story, he makes an impressive sight, and if you fancy a walk out to see him, you'll find details on the National Trust website. You might also want to see the day they gave the Cerne Abbas Giant an enormous moustache as part of Movember, a charity promoting men's health that asks people to grow moustaches every November!

For more information on British attractions, stop by the VisitBritain LoveWall

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