A hill figure (chalk figure) is a large visual representation created by cutting into a steep hillside and revealing the underlying geology. It is a type of image usually designed to be seen from afar rather than above. In some cases trenches are dug and rubble made from material brighter than the natural bedrock is placed into them.
Hill figures are common in England: examples include the Cerne Abbas giant, the Uffington White Horse, the Long Man of Wilmington, various badges of military units as well as the “lost” carvings at Cambridge, Oxford and Plymouth Hoe.
1. Uffington White Horse, Oxfordshire. Length: 114 m (374 ft)
Around five miles from the town of Wantage, the Uffington White Horse is a stylish figure, which is believed to be about 3,000 years old. Other prehistoric sites, such as Wayland’s Smithy, a neolithic tomb, are located nearby.
In 2002, the horse was used for a pro-hunting publicity stunt, with the temporary addition of a rider and three hounds.
2. Osmington White Horse, Dorset. Length: 98 m (323 ft)
Sculpted into limestone hills north of Weymouth in 1808, the Osmington White Horse is a depiction of King George III, a regular visitor to the town, and is best viewed from the A353. Legend has it that George was unhappy that the figure was shown riding out of Weymouth, a sign that he was not welcome, and he never returned.
3. Folkestone White Horse, Kent. Length: 81 m (267 ft)
A recent edition (it was completed in 2003), the Folkestone White Horse became the subject of a legal battle between local residents, who supported the construction, and environmental groups. The locals won, and the figure was eventually finished more than five years after planning permission was sought, despite the EU declaring the construction unlawful.
4. Westbury White Horse, Wiltshire. Length: 55.5 m (182 ft)
The Westbury White Horse has existed on its present site – 1.6 miles east of Westbury – since the mid 1700s. It is sometimes claimed to be a memorial to King Alfred’s victory at the Battle of Eoandun in 878.
5. Long Man of Wilmington, East Sussex. Length: 69 m (227 ft)
One of two human hill figures in England, the Long Man of Wilmington plays host to a number of neo-pagan rituals throughout the year, and was used as part of a fashion show by tv presenters Trinny and Susannah in 2007. The acerbic duo gave the figure temporary female features, provoking the anger of pagan worshippers who protested during filming.
6. Wye Crown
A Crown cut into the chalk hillside to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII by college students, on the Wye college estate on 12th June 1902. Restored between 1991 and 1995, recently re-whitened (April 1997) for Wye College’s 550th Anniversary.
7. ANZAC badge
Chalk figure carved into the hillside at ‘Misery Hill’ on the southern edge of Salisbury Plain visible from the A36 near Codford St Mary, Wiltshire. It was carved by Anzac troops stationed in the area during the great war of 1914-18 and represents the rising sun of the ANZAC badge.
8. Royal Corps of Signals badge
In 1961 the Fovants Badges Society was formed with the objective of maintaining the badges.
9. Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry badge
Soldiers cut the badges with great zeal maybe as a distraction from the war in Europe.
10. Cerne Abbas Giant, Dorset. Length: 54.9 m (180 ft)
Probably Britain’s most famous hill figure, the Cerne Abbas Giant dates back to the 17th century. The cutting has become a symbol of fertility, owing to the giant’s erect penis, and childless couples have visited it for years in an effort to successfully conceive.
The Cerne Abbas Giant has been used for numerous publicity stunts during recent years, notably for denim jeans…