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What is the Cherhill White Horse?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2016
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The Cherhill White Horse is a hill figure in the county of Wiltshire, England. As the name of this hill figure implies, it is in the shape of a prancing horse, and it is white because it is composed of chalk. The Cherhill White Horse is one of the oldest white horses in England, and it is a major landmark in its home county, placed in such a way that it can be seen from a great distance. Visitors to Wiltshire often attempt to make time to see the Cherhill White Horse, and to enjoy the walking and hiking in the surrounding area.

Hill figures are made by cutting into the turf of a hill to expose the stone or earth which lies underneath. In many parts of England, the underlying geology of the hillsides is chalky, and as a result, hill figures are white, which causes them to stand out dramatically against the surrounding hillside. The practice of making hill figures appears to be ancient, and several very old specimens can be found around England. The Cherhill White Horse itself dates to 1780.

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The horse is carved into a steep face on Cherhill Down, and it faces northeast. It is depicted in the act of raising one foreleg, with its bobbed tail standing almost straight up. The eye of the modern Cherhill White Horse is made from concrete, but historically it was made from glass bottles which were stuck into the soil with their bottoms facing up. The bottles caught the light and glittered, making the eye visible from a distance. However, souvenir-hunters repeatedly stole the bottles, leading to the decision to use a more permanent medium for the eye.

Construction of the Cherhill White Horse, which is also known as the Oldbury White Horse, was supervised by Dr. Christopher Aslop. By the early 20th century, the horse was badly degraded, leading to a preservation effort in the 1930s. During the Second World War, the horse was covered, so that it could not be used as a landmark by enemy troops. In 2002, the Cherhill White Horse was preserved again, with a fresh layer of compacted chalk and a series of buffers to hold the surrounding turf back. Today, the edges of the Cherhill White Horse stand out clearly against the surrounding hillside.

The reasons behind the construction of the Cherhill White Horse are a bit obscure. Most probably, it was simply inspired by other hill figures in the area, and a desire to make a splashy impact in the community. Some historians have also suggested that Dr. Aslop may have wanted to honor a friend who was fond of painting horses.

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