Mysterious Places: The Chalk Figures of England

England is a land offering a great deal of mystery. With it’s stone monuments such as Stonehenge and Avebury to the magical stories of King Arthur and Excalibur, England offers us a chance to really use our imagination.

One of Englands more unknown enigmas, are the chalk carvings that are scattered across the countryside. These carvings were created by people who carved the earth away, revealing the chalk that lies beneath. No one really knows who created these carvings, or why they were put there.

The Chalk Giant of Cerne Abbas

The one thing for certain that can be said about the Chalk Giant of Cerne Abbas, is that he is most certainly a pagan figure. Standing 180 ft. tall, he stands brazenly, naked and with an erect phallus. His ribs and nipples are also prominently outlined. His arms are outstretched, and in on raised arm he holds a 121 ft long club.

The earliest written reference to the giant was in 1751. In a letter by from John Hutchins, a Dorset historian, he states that he heard from a Steward that it was cut between 1641 and 1666. He also makes mention however, that this reference could simply be the time that the giant may have been re-cut, and that the figure is actually much, much older.

Many people feel as though the giant is a representation of the Greek athlete Hercules, which would suggest a much older carving. It is also interesting to note that the giant, like many of his fellow carvings, is located in close proximity to another prehistoric, Iron Age site. The Giants club points directly at The Trendle. The Trendle is a small, rectangular Iron Age enclosure that is outlined by banks and ditches.

The Uffington White Horse of Oxfordshire

Another of Englands chalk figures is the Uffington White Horse. The Uffington horse is 365 ft. from head to tail. The Uffington horse is a complete mystery. Many people believe that it was carved by the Iron Age Celts around 100 BC. The horse was highly venerated by the Iron Age Celts, as the goddess Epona.

Others believe the Uffington horse to actually be a dragon. Close by the Uffington horse is Dragon Hill. Dragon Hill is believed to be where St. George killed a dragon. No grass ever grows on the top of the hill where they say the dragons blood was spilt. Locals believe that the figure is in fact a dragon, put there to commemorate St. George’s triumph over the dragon.

As with the other carvings, the Uffington horse shares the fact that it is placed by a prehistoric Iron Age site, which many believe helps to place an age on the carving. Just above the Uffington horse, lies the Iron Age hillfort of Uffington Castle.

The Westbury White Horse of Wiltshire

Slightly southwest of the Uffington horse, on the edge of the Salisbury plain in Wiltshire, lies the Westbury White Horse. Many believe the Westbury horse to be a more modern creation, carved in 1778. That date however, was when the local lord decided to remodel the original horse more to his liking. Drawings made in 1772 show the original horse to have been a more primitive, unique style carving.

The original horse had a long, thin, stick figure like body, much like that of the Uffington Horse. The Westbury horse however, also had one big eye on its head and a long slim tail. The horses tail ended in a crescent moon shape.

In 1778, when the lord decided to remodel the original horse, the carving was made to look like a more modern, exact representation of how we view a horse. While it is still intriguing, it is definitely not as mysterious a figure as the original horse.

There are many beliefs about the age of the Westbury horse. Some believe it to be a creation of the Iron Age Celts. The Westbury horse does lie just below the Iron Age Bratton Castle. Others believe that it was created in 878 AD to honor King Alfreds victory of the Danes.

The Long Man of Wilmington

Further east of the other chalk carvings, lies The Long Man of Wilmington. The Long Man is carved into the northern slope of Windover Hill. Located at the eastern end of South Downs in Sussex, the Long Man is another of Englands great enigmas.

His true age is uncertain, and many believe him to be more than 2,000 years old. His present form can be dated to 1874 when he was restored by the locals. Unlike the other carvings that lie near Iron Age sites, the Long Man of Wilmington is located close to a neolithic site containing a long barrow and other neolithic burial mounds.

The Long Man portrays a basic outline of a human form. Standing 230 ft tall, he carries a long staff in each hand. Some believe him to be the image of a dodman, a prehistoric surveyor who would use his two staffs as sighting polls. Others believe him to be a local giant, and England has quite a great deal of folklore of giants living in the land. Still others believe him to represent St. Paul or even a Roman soldier.

Since there is no way of dating these figures, we may never truly know just how old these chalk carvings really are. There is also no way to tell how many of these carvings have become lost over the years from them becoming over grown. Sadly, the messages our ancestors were trying to convey with these carvings, may be something that is lost forever.