“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

An Armchair Tour of Britain's White Horses

Living in Wiltshire, I regularly find myself driving past white horses that have been etched into the countryside. A number of these white horses I have seen numerous times, but really I know nothing about them. So I recently had the idea to get in the car and do a tour of the local Wiltshire white horses, and as a preview I decided to explore them via Google Maps. Here is a roundup of the white horses that I found via Google Maps. The white horses are listed by estimated age, with the oldest first.

1) The Uffington White Horse (Oxfordshire)

The Uffington White Horse can be found on the slopes of White Horse Hill, which is south of the village of Uffington (south of the B4507). The white horse is around 110m in length and is believed to date from the late Bronze Age (1000–700 BC) / early Iron Age (800 BC–AD 100), which makes it the oldest white horse in Britain. The other interesting aspect of the white horse is its unusual design, which is seemingly unique amongst the other white horses that have been created. This highly stylized representation of a horse has led to some debate as to whether the animal that is represented is supposed to be a horse or not, but the figure has been referred to as a horse since around the 1100’s.
Location (51.577723,-1.566601)

2) The Westbury White Horse (Wiltshire)

The Westbury White Horse lives about 1.6 miles east of the town of Westbury in Wiltshire (south of the B3098), and is just below an Iron Age hill fort (Bratton Camp) on the edge of Bratton Downs. The Westbury White Horse is believed to be the oldest of the white horses in Wiltshire, however it seems that there is no firm evidence (documentary or otherwise) for the existence of a chalk horse at Westbury before the year 1742.

Legend suggests that it was carved to commemorate King Alfred’s victory at the Battle of Edington in 878 (see my previous blog post on “King Alfred’s Folly”). King Alfred was supposedly born in the Vale of White Horses near Uffington and archaeological evidence suggests that the Uffington White Horse would have been long in existence before King Alfred’s birth, and as such it could have provided inspiration for the Westbury horse.
Location (51.26359,-2.146937)

3) The Cherhill White Horse (Wiltshire)

The Cherhill White Horse can be found just to the southeast of the village of Cherhill (to the south of the A4); the horse lies on the side of a hill fort known as Oldbury Castle.

The Cherhill White Horse is believed to be the third oldest white horse in Britain, and was cut in 1780 by a man from nearby Calne. Apparently the horse once had a unique feature, a glass eye, which was created by bottles being pressed upside down into the ground. It seems that this glass eye would reflect sunlight enabling the horse's eye to be seen from quite a distance. The eye however, is no longer made of glass.
Location (51.425196,-1.929775)

4) The Strichen White Horse (Aberdeenshire)

The Strichen White Horse can be found a few miles northeast of the village of Strichen, cut into Mormond Hill. The horse is believed to have been cut around 1800 and the figure is not (like most white horses) filled with chalk but is instead filled with local white quartz.
Location (57.599907,-2.066316)

5) The Preshute White Horse (Wiltshire)

The Preshute White Horse lives southwest of the town of Marlborough, just to the west of the A345 on Granham Hill. The horse is believed to have been cut in 1804, by the pupils of a local school. Whilst searching for this horse on Google Maps I also happened across a crop circle to the west of Marlborough.
Location (51.412711,-1.737568)

Location (51.42638,-1.778521)

6) The Osmington White Horse (Dorset)

The Osmington White Horse is a couple of miles to the northwest of the village of Osmington. The horse is distinctive as it is one of the few white horses that faces to the right and it is the only horse to be depicted with a rider. The horse was cut in 1808 and the rider represents King George III, who regularly visited the nearby resort of Weymouth. This horse is measured at 85m long by 98m high.
Location (50.65782,-2.404473)

7) The Alton Barnes White Horse (Wiltshire)

The Alton Barnes White Horse can be found about a mile directly north of the village of Alton Barnes in Wiltshire, etched into the side of Milk Hill. The horse was cut in 1812 and was apparently based on the Cherhill White Horse which is also in Wiltshire. From the top of Milk Hill another nearby white horse (at Pewsey) can also be seen.
Location (51.372542,-1.847943)

8) The Broad Hinton White Horse (Wiltshire)

The Board Hinton White Horse (also known as the Hackpen White Horse) lies about two miles southeast of the village of Broad Hinton (on the side of the B4041). Details of the origin of this white horse are not certain, but some believe it was cut into the hillside in the mid 1800’s (possibly in 1838 to commemorate the coronation of Queen Victoria).
Location (51.472435,-1.817519)

9) The Kilburn White Horse (North Yorkshire)

The Kilburn White Horse can be found to the north of the village of Kilburn, on the western side of Low Town Bank Road. This horse dates from 1857 and is around 97m long by 67m high, covering around 1.6 acres, making it one of the largest white horses in Britain.
Location (54.224757,-1.212779)

10) The Broad Town White Horse (Wiltshire)

The Broad Town White Horse is situated about half a mile northeast of Broad Town in Wiltshire. This white horse is believed to date from 1864 and was cut by the farmer who owned the land at the time.
Location (51.503326,-1.859149)

11) The Litlington White Horse (East Sussex)

The Litlington White Horse is situated southwest of the village of Litlington, on the opposite side of the Cuckere River to the village. The present horse was cut around 1924 and is apparently close to the site of an earlier horse that was cut around 1838 (possibly to mark the coronation of Queen Victoria).
Location (50.788422,0.14188)

12) The Pewsey White Horse (Wiltshire)

The Pewsey White Horse is located about a mile south of the village of Pewsey on the side of Pewsey Hill (to the northeast of the Everleigh road). The horse was cut in 1937 to commemorate the Coronation of George VI and is very close to the site of a much older Pewsey White Horse. The original Pewsey White Horse was believed to have been cut around 1785 by a man from Alton Barnes, possibly the same man who cut the Alton Barnes horse in 1812.
Location (51.321247,-1.756578)

13) Devizes White Horse (Wiltshire)

The Devizes White Horse can be found a couple of miles northeast of Devizes (almost directly north of Northfields on the A361). This white horse is the most modern of the Wiltshire white horses, and was cut in 1999 to mark the millennium. The Devizes horse is rare in so much that it is only one of the few that face to the right, the majority of white horses face to the left.

This white horse is not the first that has resided in Devizes. A white horse was originally cut in 1845 just below the nearby hill fort (known as Olivers Castle), which is about a mile to the west of the current white horse. This original white horse was apparently known as the "Snob's Horse". Due to a lack of maintenance this original horse disappeared over the decades.
Location (51.376358,-1.978463)

14) The Heeley Park White Horse (South Yorkshire)

This white horse can be found in the center of Sheffield in the Heeley Millennium Park. The horse was created in 2000 and is said to commemorate a local horse which died at a nearby farm in a fire in 1995.
Location (53.362017,-1.469908)

15) The Folkestone White Horse (Kent)

The Folkestone White Horse lives to the north of Folkestone, just below Crete Road (West). The horse was intended to mark the millennium, but it was constructed belatedly between 2002 and 2003. The white horse is unique amongst the other white horses as it is an outline figure (as opposed to a solid figure) and it is constructed from limestone slabs, which have been pinned together and secured to the ground.
Location (51.101107,1.139649)

16) The Parc Penallta Green Horse (Mid Glamorgan)

While not actually a white horse, this welsh earth work is a stunning sight. The 200m long sculpture represents a welsh pit pony and was created in the late 1990s. Some horseshoe imprints have been cut into the ground around the pony which help to make the pony very easy to spot from above.
Location (51.650893, -3.256590)

So that is the end of my virtual tour of Britain’s white horses.

Because I did not know much about the white horses before I started looking I have found two things rather interesting. Firstly I assumed that white horses would be fairly evenly distributed across Britain. It is clear however that Wiltshire is currently the main home for white horses. Presumably a chalk hill is an ideal prerequisite for carving a white horse, so perhaps Wiltshire's geology favors it being a home for white horses?

The other thing that surprised me was how modern the white horses are. Most of the white horses seem to date from after 1800, and without knowing better I would have assumed that they would have been much older.

In my next blog post I will finish this virtual tour of chalk earthworks by looking at some of the other (non-horsey) earthworks that can be found around the country (again predominately in Wiltshire).

Pictures, Google Maps (September 2013).

If you find this post interesting please share it using the buttons below.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Dropping in on the Skywalkers

In 2002 I took a trip to Tunisia and while I was there I visited the Berber town of Matmata. Matmata is a small settlement in the south of the country where some of the local residents still live in traditional underground troglodyte dwellings. A troglodyte dwelling is essentially a large pit dug into the ground (a courtyard of sorts), off of which separate caves are dug which serve as rooms for the family living there. These underground residences provide the benefits of being cool during the hot desert days, and offer insulation and warmth during the cool desert nights. It seems that this permanent underground settlement in Matmata was not widely known about until 1967, when intense rainfall (lasting 22 days) caused a number of the troglodyte homes to collapse and forced some of the residents to seek help from the Tunisian authorities.

The troglodyte homes of Matmata did not stay secret for long however, and one of these was used as the location for Luke Skywalker's home on the planet of Tatooine in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977). This film set is now a hotel (The Hotel Sidi Driss), and when you visit you can still see traces of the Lars' moisture farm on Tatooine where Luke Skywalker lived with his aunt Beru and uncle Owen.

Interesting, this troglodyte house was only used for the interior shots of Luke's home, the exterior shots in the movie where filmed around 100 miles away to the north west, near Chott El Jerid. The "igloo" that formed the surface part of the Lars' moisture farm can apparently still be found in the middle of nowhere, on the old salt lake flats near Chott El Jerid.

The home that Luke shared with his aunt and uncle is not the only part of the Star Wars films that were shot in Tunisia, it seems that Tunisia abounds with abandoned film sets that portrayed locations on the fictional planet of Tatooine, from both A New Hope and The Phantom Menace. So if you ever visit Tunisia, your inner geek may get the chance to visit Obi-Wan Kenobi's hermitage, Mos Espa, Toshi Station or even the settlement where Anakin Skywalker lived as a slave with his mother during The Phantom Menace.

The remains of the set of Luke Skywalker's house (the Lars' moisture farm):

Inside a troglodyte dwelling:

The view above ground:

Pictures, Tunisia (December 2002).

If you find this post interesting please share it using the buttons below.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Some Random Rocks

Here are a couple of interesting rock simulacra that I have encountered. The first is a pebble that I found in my garden back in May 2012. The pebble immediately stood out to me as it was a good likeness of a classic “Gray” extra-terrestrial, with the typical large eyes and small mouth and nose. As good a simulacrum as it seemed to me, it was unfortunately deemed “not striking enough” for Fortean Times' “Simulacra Corner”, but has featured on Andrew May's Forteana Blog.

The second rock is described as a “Cocke (or Cock) Rock” and it is plain to see why it is so named. This particular rock was photographed in the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft this year. As the caption accompanying the rock says “This phallic shaped flint has been used as a fertility aid in the donor's family for several generations. As late as the 1920s women wishing to conceive would place the stone under their pillow on the night of the full moon. They would be “with child” within nine months.” Whether the Cocke Rock actually worked it is hard to say, but given the rock's shape, it certainly would not have been easy to sleep with it under your pillow.

Pictures, Wiltshire (May 2012) and Cornwall (August 2013).

If you find this post interesting please share it using the buttons below.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

King Alfred’s Folly

Near Stourton in Wiltshire a rather striking triangular tower can be found. The tower is known as King Alfred's Tower (or King Alfred’s Folly) and it is part of the Stourhead estate.

Construction work on the tower was commissioned in 1762 by the banker Henry Hoare II and the project was completed in 1779. The tower stands 49 metres (161 ft) high, and is essentially three round towers connected to form a single triangular tower, which is comprised of over a million bricks. The entrance to the tower is guarded by a 10 ft high statue of King Alfred the Great (for another statue of King Alfred in Winchester, see my "Dead Man's Plack" post).

The tower is said to stand near the location of 'Egbert's stone' where it is believed that in May 878 King Alfred the Great rallied his Saxon troops before the Battle of Edington. A battle which saw Guthrum’s Great Danish Heathen army, which had been terrorising the countryside, finally defeated.

Apparently (although I did not find it myself) near the tower there lies a stone which is about 1 metre across and has the profile of a bowl. It seems that the purpose of this “bowl” is not actually known, however one proposed idea is that during the plague the bowl would have been “filled with vinegar so that coins left as payment for food and provisions could be sterilised, and outsiders would leave food and collect the coins as payment, so that the residents of a village infected by plague need have no contact with the outside world, and thereby avoid passing on the disease.” Which is an interesting theory, if it is true.

A picture of the stone / bowl can be found here.

Another piece of often quoted history related to the tower is that it was damaged in July 1944 when a plane headed for the nearby Zeals Airfield collided with the tower in fog, killing all the occupants of the aircraft.

As you can tell from the below pictures, the way in which the tower stands alone in a clearing in the woods makes for a rather striking sight!

King Alfred's Tower from a distance.
The front of the tower.
The tower from the rear showing its triangular nature.
The statue of King Alfred over the tower's entrance.
Inscription above the tower's entrance. It is interesting to note that this inscription refers to 879 AD, instead of 878 AD.
Inside, looking up.
View from the top.
View from the top.
Nearby tourist information board.
Pictures, Wiltshire (August 2013).

If you find this post interesting please share it using the buttons below.