On Winter Solstice 21 December 2005, another lighting-of-the-Alton-Barnes-White-Horse ceremony was held in Wiltshire. MELANIE GAMBRILL reports…
The day of the Winter Solstice began foggy and damp, but as we climbed to the top of Adam's Grave just before sunrise, the mists began to lift. An ‘Agnihotra’ fire was lit by Simon Peter Fuller and a small group of us meditated, welcoming the new sun. Just after a mantra had been sung, the clouds parted and the winter sun emerged bright and clear, illuminating the emerging landscape. Woodborough Hill looked like an island, encircled by the mist, akin to the mystical Isle of Avalon at Glastonbury. Being present to greet the new sun was a very special experience.
Whilst having breakfast at our B&B, we received a call from BBC Radio Wiltshire asking if I would do a live interview about the horse lighting. They wanted to know why we had come all the way from Sussex for this event and what it signified.
In the afternoon we gathered at Knap Hill to walk up to Milk Hill for the lighting of the Alton Barnes White Horse. Caroline Williams from Sussex told us she had seen a whole field of white horses on their drive to Wiltshire via the M4! About 50 people were at the horse to set up for the lighting, placing the 437 jars and candles (thanks to Richard Smith for counting them!) around the outline, on the eye and marking the heart. Meanwhile Dr Mark Hows was taking pictures of the set-up and the lighting from the bottom of the hill. You can enjoy his wonderful photographic record of the event on his website:
Tony Hughes, of the Wiltshire Microlight Centre, was flying over the horse in his plane as we lit it. Once the horse was fully alight, BBC radio phoned again for a live update on the lighting. They asked listeners to phone in to say how far away they could see the lit horse. I have heard it was seen from Bottlesford, near Woodborough.
After the lighting, many of the people who had lit the horse went down to the bottom of the hill to see the spectacle in its full glory. It was a magical sight - the horse twinkled against the dark sky, as if it was just about to take flight!
The Silent Circle Cafe had agreed to open especially for the horse lighters that evening - many thanks to those involved. We enjoyed some well-earned sustenance and a hot drink before going home. Deirdre Edwards had also lit the chalk crop circle patterns outside the cafe, which was great to see. Amazingly, when we returned to collect the jars from the horse the next morning there was one candle still alight! It had been burning for about 20 hours! This candle was placed at the horse's neck. A big thank you to Emma and Rod who helped us collect the 437 jars - more volunteers welcome next year!
To see some of Emma Holmwood’s photos of the event visit:
Our friends in Ohio were also celebrating the Winter Solstice by lighting the famous Ohio Serpent Mound. They used tealights in white paper bags, weighted down with cat litter. Delsey Knoechelman, director of Friends of Serpent Mound, kindly sent me a photo of the lit Serpent Mound, with over 750 lights.
A final thought on the tradition of the horse lighting. It has been commented that the Alton Barnes White Horse is not in fact that old (I believe it was cut in 1812). Consequently, the tradition of lighting the horse may not be that ancient. There is a tendency to attribute more value to ancient times and thus somehow belittle what we do in our current lives. However, I think what inspired the people that were brought together for the Winter Solstice horse lighting was the fact that they were taking part in something that was of NOW, had meaning to them TODAY and helped them re-connect with a beautiful landscape.
It has been suggested that we should light more of Wiltshire's White Horses next year - any volunteers?!
For information about future horse lighting please email: