MELANIE GAMBRILL reports on the inaugural attempt at cleaning up the Alton Barnes white horse hill carving…
Following the ceremonial ‘lighting’ of the Alton Barnes white horse for the Winter Solstice last year, a group of us felt inspired to do some cleaning work on the hill figure. It was to be a symbolic preparation for the crop circle season, as the horse features so prominently in the crop circle landscape. It is also the Year of the Horse!
Having discussed the idea with farmer Tim Carson, who is responsible for the upkeep of the horse, we met on 23rd March (Saturday nearest to the Vernal Equinox). We started with lunch at The Barge Inn, hoping to get a ‘before’ photo of the horse, but unfortunately it was rather misty. However, the weather stayed dry so we were able to work on the horse all afternoon.
Our total workforce numbered about 15 (and yes we did all make it up to the horse after lunch at The Barge!). We were accompanied by a camera crew of three, consisting of students from King Alfred’s College in Winchester who are making a documentary about people interested in crop circles. Trying to pose for the cameras whilst digging up weeds on a windswept Wiltshire hill is quite challenging! We managed to persuade the camera crew to help us out with the digging by suggesting their work on a backdrop for the interviews would improve the footage!
Working in various teams, we focused on the legs, tail and head of the horse, as these were most eroded. The front legs were really thin in comparison to photos taken of the horse just a few years ago. We removed lots of grass and soil from the surface of the horse, revealing the white chalk underneath. This was stamped down to ensure further rainfall did not simply wash it away. Unfortunately, the mist prevented us from getting a clear view of the ‘transformed’ horse as we drove away from Alton Barnes.
Digging into the soil to remove weeds was a deeply grounding experience and we felt we were communicating with the energy and symbolism of the horse by playing a part in its restoration. It was a really enjoyable day and the group remained motivated until the daylight started to fade. We all felt that our efforts were worthwhile.
The horse was last re-chalked about 12 years ago with the help of the army. Chalk was delivered to the car park at the top of Workway Drove (on Milk Hill) and then airlifted by helicopter across to the horse. It has been scoured many times in the past and had to be covered during the Second World War as it is such a distinctive landmark.
I believe it is very important that we maintain our white horses, which have inspired and mystified many generations. They act as a powerful symbol to the community. If you want to learn more about Wiltshire white horses, go to:
We are planning to return to carry out more restorative work on the horse at a later date. If you would like to get involved with the project, please contact me at: