Lost Gods of Albion
Yes, you are correct, that is a picture of a man that seems to be very pleased to see you. And he has been that way for a very long time, since 1694 at least.
Some may wonder why I include a book on chalk hill figures in a blog about books on geology, but it is due to that very geology, and man’s interaction with it, that such wonderful artefacts exist. People have identified a hill, an aspect, its underlying soil and used these to tell a story, to advertise a fact or possibly just to show off.
Regimental Badges at Fovant, Wiltshire. Cut into the grass by soldiers stationed in the district during the 1914-18 war. In 1951 the badge of the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry was added
Almost exclusively peculiar to England, the majority of chalk hill figures are of horses with some lovely exceptions, which include crosses, the 180 feet (55m) high Cerne Giant shown on the cover of the book above and even a Panda.
Lost Gods of Albion only looks a few of the hill figures to be found and virtually ignores anything modern, preferring to concentrate on any perceived spirituality associated with some chalk hill figures. It does make interesting reading though.
The 231 feet (70m) Long Man of Wilmington, East Sussex was passed by Three Points of the Compass on the Wealdway. Still just visible in the light snow on the hill, the hill figure is designed so as to appear proportional when viewed from below . It dates from the 16th or 17th century.
This little book from Kate Bergamar is an early Shire Publication from 1972. I don’t think I bought it as a nipper, it was much more likely to have been one of my parents. It went some way to explaining the hill figures we would see from the car on holidays. A number of errors are present in the text though
Reaching Ivinghoe Beacon on my final day on the Ridgeway, over my right shoulder could be seen the huge figure of the Whipsnade White Lion. It measures 483 feet (147m) across
I defy anyone, when striding across the chalk hills of England, if presented with one of the fifty plus chalk hill figures to be found, to not stand and give it more than a casual glance. And while you do admire it, consider that you are seeing the product of show-offs, an earlier people that had something to say and they stood on their hill and cut the turf to do so, using the very geology of their land to shout their message across to you.
Just about the worst place to see a chalk-hill figure is standing next to it, even when it measures 360 feet (110m) nose to tail. Three Points of the Compass passed the top of Uffington Horse, cut into White Horse Hill, on the Ridgeway in 2016. However you can see how those who constructed it, over 3000 years ago, looked out at their vista and said- ‘this is the place’
Another two books to consider are the 1991 second edition reprint of the definitive White Horses and other Hill Figures by Morris Marples, or Ancient British Hill Figures by Rodney Castleden, published in 2000, which concentrates on the older chalk figures
Book in featured image:
Lost Gods of Albion, the chalk-hill figures of Britain, Paul Newman. Robert Hale, 1997. ISBN 0 7509 1563 3
If you want to look for a cheaper option than Lost Gods of Albion, then Gods and Graven Images was simply an earlier (1987) version of the book by the same author