Chalky white horses

It was day 16 of our cycling tour of the UK. The weather was overcast and pleasantly mild as we rode across to Devizes (Wiltshire) from Hungerford. The day’s ride was not very long (47km) and we had plenty of time to appreciate the countryside.

Map of the day's ride from Hungerford to Devizes

Map of the day’s ride from Hungerford to Devizes (Tracked using the Cyclemeter app and opened into Google Earth)

We were  approaching the village of Alton Barnes when KJ casually asked if I knew about the horses.

I glanced around. There was no traffic, the roads completely deserted – if there were people about riding horses, they would have been quite obvious. But no riders, and no horses. I was a bit stymied.

But he was referring to the White Horses which are located on various hills around Devizes and are quite famous. After getting this explanation, I proceeded to scour the local hills, but could not see anything remotely resembling a horse!

The Alton Barnes White Horse on a hill in the distance

The Alton Barnes White Horse on a hill in the distance

But as we got closer to the village of Alton Barnes, I saw one of the horses on the far hill. The image above is what we could see from the road, and the image from Google Maps (below) shows what it looks like from above.

Google maps overhead view of Alton Barnes White Horse (Credit: GoogleMaps)

Google Maps overhead view of Alton Barnes White Horse (Credit: Google Maps)

Using the zoom on the camera, we were able to see the horse in greater detail. It  is made of white chalk which is placed on an area which has been cleared of vegetation. This horse was commissioned in 1812 by Robert Pile who lived in Alton Barnes at a place called Manor Farm.

The chalky horses require regular attention to keep them in good condition. The chalk washes away and weeds and other vegetation have to be kept off the cleared areas.

The Alton Barnes White Horse

The Alton Barnes White Horse

This horse is located in a nature reserve and has no direct road access. It has been re-chalked recently in recognition of the fact that it is now 200 years old. 150 tons of chalk was delivered by helicopter for this task (Source: MailOnline).

Apparently, each winter solstice, there is a traditional lantern parade where the locals position lights around the edge of the feature making it visible in the dark.

Google maps overhead view of Devizes Millennium White Horse

Google Maps overhead view of Devizes Millennium White Horse (Credit: Google Maps)

Further along on our route, we also saw another horse, this one was immediately north of Devizes. It faces the other direction to the Alton Barnes image (it is one of only four that face this way in the UK). Unfortunately we could not get a good photo of it but it is visible in the Google Maps image above. This horse was created in 1999 to mark the advent of the 3rd millennium.

These horses were something that I had not expected and I really enjoyed seeing them. It was by pure chance that our cycling route took us past such good vantage points.

Background information used in this post is from the Wikipedia website. Further information on both these and a number of other white horses in the UK is also published on this website.

(Follow this link for details on our overall UK cyclo-touring route).

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