The hill figures of Great Britain are most commonly giant drawings created by cutting deep trenches into hillsides, revealing the underlying rock, which is in most cases white chalk. Although these hill figures are often assumed to date back from ancient times, most of the ones still visible today only date from the 18th and 19th centuries - in some cases, even the 20th and 21st centuries. Although there are a few such drawings in Scotland, by far the greatest numbers are found in England, specifically on the chalk downs found in the south.
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View a 20th century chalk carving, the Pewsey White Horse, which is located on Pewsey Hill about a mile south of the town of Pewsey and to the east of the minor road leading from the A345 to the village of Everleigh. This chalk drawing, created in 1937, is close to the site of an earlier chalk drawing on the same hill that was created around 1785 but was later overgrown.
Check out one of the newest hill figures, the Whitehawk Hawk. This chalk drawing, carved in the hill at Sheepcote Valley, was created in 2001 by local artists Same Sky with help from the Friends of Sheepcote Valley and from the residents of the Brighton suburb of Whitehawk.
Contrast the more modern carvings with one of the oldest, the bronze-age Uffington White Horse. This figure dates back some 3,000 years, and is still very visible on the slopes of White Horse Hill in the parish of Uffington. It is one of England's most famous prehistoric monuments, and has inspired a number of poems and stories, appearing in works by G.K. Chesterton, Rosemary Sutcliff, and Terry Pratchett, amongst others.
Look out for the 17th century Cerne Abbas Giant, also known as the Rude Man or Rude Giant. The word rude refers to the fact that this figure of a giant man, which was cut into a hillside near the village of Cerne Abbas in Dorset, is not only naked but is depicted with a very large and obvious erection.
Pay a visit to the Long Man of Wilmington, the only other known human figure in chalk form. The Long Man, carved into the slopes of Windover Hill in Wilmington, East Sussex, is thought to be of possible 16th century origin, although scholars aren't really sure. He recently gained notoriety as the subject of a British TV show during which he was temporarily changed into a woman with the addition of pigtails, hips and breasts, but he is now back to his original male form.
Tips and warnings
- If you you're travelling with children, better plan how you'll answer any awkward questions they might have about the Cerne Abbas Giant's, er, rudeness