Inhabitants of the UK have been carving works of art into hillsides for many thousands of years. Most ancient hillside carvings, named ‘Hill Figures’, have now been lost, but in the last several hundred years we’ve rediscovered a love for these giant pieces of art. From humans to horses, the UK’s hill figures are a must-see that often have a wealth of history behind them.
Must-see hill figures of the UK:
Wye Crown – Wye, Kent
This spectacular crown, the only one of its kind in the UK, was carved into the chalk on the side of the North Downs to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902. The downs themselves boast spectacular views over the Kentish countryside and the famous Devil’s Kneading Trough, a pereglacial coombe formed during the last ice age.
Cerne Abbas Giant – Cerne Abbas, Dorset
Quite possibly one of the most recognisable Hill Figures in the UK, the Cerne Abbas Giant presides over the hillside that was known in medieval times as Trendle Hill. Now cared for by the National Trust, it’s hard to date when exactly this club-wielding man came into being. He is often assumed to be ancient, but it’s more likely he’s actually a 17th century creation.
Uffington White Horse – Uffington, Oxfordshire
Horses are the most popular form of hill figure in the UK, but none are quite as well known as the Uffington White Horse. The horse has been extensively restored but dates back to the Bronze or Iron Age and retains the artistic style of the time. The hill it sits on is also the location of Uffington Castle hillfort and a number of long barrows.
Long Man of Wilmington – Wilmington, East Sussex
The Long Man of Wilmington is a figure almost 70m metres tall cut into the chalk side of Windover Hill. Holding two staves, he’s designed to appear in proportion when viewed from below. Dating back to the 16th or 17th century, there are a number of drawings that have been made of the Long Man over the last several hundred years that suggest he has changed over time.
Kilburn White Horse – Kilburn, North Yorkshire
The Kilburn White Horse can be found on a hill named Sutton Bank in the North York Moors National Park. The horse was created in 1857 by scraping away the topsoil to reveal the sandstone underneath and then covering it with white limestone chips. The story goes that after a visit to the Uppington White Horse Kilburn resident Thomas Taylor wanted to create one to preside over his own community.
1612 mark – Pendle Hill, Lancashire
Pendle Hill is most famous for its connection with the Pendle Witch Trials of the 15th century. On the 400th anniversary of the occasion in 2012, the local council painted a giant ‘1612’ onto the side of the hill, creating an iconic image that was sadly impermanent and has now gone.
Whipsnade White Lion – Whipsnade, Bedfordshire
It may sound like an escaped animal, but actually this chalk figure has been carved into the Dunstable Downs since 1933. Originally created to identify the location of Whipsnade Zoo the lion can be seen from the surrounding hills and roads. During WW2 the lion was covered over so as not to act as a marker point for German bombers.
Mormond Hill Horse & Stag – Mormond Hill, Aberdeenshire
The horse and the stag stand on opposite sides of the hill are the only two known hill figures found in Scotland. The horse itself is made from white quartz, and although the exact date of its construction is unknown it’s thought to be around the 1790s. The much larger stag can be dated to the 1870s and was constructed to commemorate the wedding of a local tenant.
Shotwick Bridge Dragon & Lion – English/Welsh Border near Shotwick, Cheshire
On opposite sides of the road next to a motorway bridge are an impressive Welsh Dragon and English Lion. Built only a few years ago the pair were constructed using metal edging to hold white stone chips. They were put there on either side of the road to welcome people both ways across the border.
Fouvant Badges – Fouvant, Wiltshire
These are a set of military emblems cut into the chalk of Fouvant Down. They were created during WW1 by soldiers stationed nearby waiting to go to France, and are recognised by the Imperial War Museum as War Memorials. Only eight of the original 20 are left, but the Fouvant Badge