Where are the White Horses of Wiltshire? Other counties might have giants and dragons of disputed and reputed antiquity but the white horses that gallop across our hills are modern marvels of engineering.
There is something quintessentially English about the need to decorate a hill. Think about it, we have such wonderful undulating downland, especially across southern England, no nasty rocky precipices, mountains or crags, just green and pleasant slopes. But look around those slopes and at various points over the years, centuries, millennia, humans have seen fit to carve out their own symbols, using those green slopes as canvasses for their art.
We previously featured the work that went into giving the Alton Barnes White Horse a facelift, and it was by all accounts a huge undertaking [Alton Barnes chalks it down to experience; October 2019], and back in July 2019 we featured the great efforts involved in restoring the chalk badge of Australia at Compton Chamberlayne down the road from the world famous Fovant Badges.
Carving military badges into the chalk, of course, is a fairly recent phenomena, with examples at Codford and Bulford joining those above, but what about those enigmatic white horses. There has been speculation as to the antiquity of these horses, but unlike the most famous example, over the border at Uffington, which appears to be very old (and yes I am playing it safe), the oldest of Wiltshire’s horses seem to date back only 250 years.
Here we take a look at those that still remain visible today (oldest first), and while doing so, admire the great endeavours it took to create them.
The oldest White Horse in Wiltshire appears to be at Westbury (1778), which is located on Westbury Hill, Bratton Down. Perhaps one of the best of the county’s White Horses given its prominent location: you can see the horse from Trowbridge, and perhaps further. If you are driving, you can park off the B3098 just east of Westbury for an excellent viewing point. Iron age Bratton Camp sits on the hilltop above the horse.
Cherhill (1780) is located east of Cherhill village and is another to sit beneath the earthworks of an Iron age camp, Oldbury Castle. The horse can be seen well from the A4 and there are several footpaths in the area that lead around the site.
Marlborough (1804) is a relatively small White Horse which can be seen from various points around the town.
Alton Barnes (1812) on Milk Hill, a mile north of Alton Barnes village, overlooking the Vale of Pewsey and the new Pewsey White Horse. The village offers the best views of the horse.
Hackpen (1838) is located on the edge of the Marlborough Downs, just two miles south of Broad Hinton village.
Broad Town (1864), three miles south of Royal Wootton Bassett, has benefitted from the formation of the Broad Town White Horse Restoration Society in 1991.
Pewsey (1937) is situated a mile south of the village; it overlooks the Vale of Pewsey.
Devizes (1999) was carved in celebration of the Millennium and as such is the most modern White Horse. Located on Roundway Hill, its claim to fame is that it is the only Wiltshire White Horse to be facing to the right.