There can be few more striking sights than the giant horses carved into the hillside of the English landscape. Probably the best known of these is the Uffington White Horse, a prehistoric hill figure that extends to over 100 metres long. The figure is formed from deep trenches filled with crushed chalk and is situated on the upper slopes of White Horse Hill at Uffington in Oxfordshire. It is approximately five miles south of Faringdon and a similar distance west of Wantage.
The site is owned and managed by the National Trust and is best viewed from directly across the Vale from the nearby villages of Great Coxwell, Longcot and Fernham. It is believed that the figure dates back over 3,000 years to the Bronze Age. Iron Age coins bearing the image of the Uffington White Horse have been found that seem to support this theory. The Uffington horse is by far the oldest of the white horse figures in Britain.
The Westbury White Horse, sometimes known as the Bratton White Horse, is on the escarpment of Salisbury Plain, just over a mile east of Westbury. It is situated just below an Iron Age hill fort and is the oldest of several white horses carved in Wiltshire. This figure is sometimes claimed to commemorate King Alfred’s victory at the Battle of Eðandun in 878 but there is no trace of such a legend before the second half of the eighteenth century. It is also uncertain that the battle of Eðandun can be safely identified with Edington in Wiltshire.
The horse was vandalised in the 1950’s and was not fully repaired until as recently as 2006. The Westbury White Horse was referred to in the novel (and later successful film) “The English Patient” by Michael Ondaatje as the location where the sapper Kip learned how to deactivate bombs. The Cherhill White Horse (pictured above) is thought to have been inspired by the horse at Westbury.
The Osmington Horse was restored in 2012 and was originally created to honour King George III in 1808. The King was not well enough to visit the completed figure and it gradually deteriorated over time. In 2009 The Osmington Restoration Group was set up with the help of funding from Natural England and work began a year later. The goal was to have the monument restored to its former glory in time for the Olympic Games in 2012 where the sailing was to be held at nearby Weymouth.
The project involved the removal of 160 tonnes of stone and working through all weathers. The very latest GPS and mapping technologies were used in the process of restoring the figure to its original design.