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The Long Man of Wilmington (East Sussex)

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Type: An ancient chalk carving etched into the hill side / Location: Situated six miles north-west of Eastbourne

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    Your dooyooMiles Miles

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      23.11.2011 10:12
      Very helpful



      Interesting and historical chalk etched carved figure on the hillside of the East Sussex Downs

      "The Long Man of Wilmington looks naked towards the shires" Rudyard Kipling (1865 -1936)

      Scattered mostly throughout the south of England are some 57 chalk etched hill figures. These hill figures have been cut deep into steep hills and chalky slopes. Of these 57 odd hill figures, Wiltshire is way out in front and can boast at least eight horse carvings, a series of regimental badges, a panda and a kiwi. Trailing dismally behind is East Sussex, which can only lay claim to two figures - the most famous of which being the Long Man of Wilmington, and the lesser known Littlington White Horse.

      The Long Man of Wilmington is located between Eastbourne and Lewes in East Sussex. He's a huge beast of a man, being some 231 feet high, and he stands proud on the hill at Windover, near Hailsham. If you're in the area, it's a lovely climb up the hill to see him close up. However, do please note that any visitors are asked not to walk on the figure itself.


      The Long Man is also known as the Wilmington Giant, the Lanky Man, the Long Man or the Green Man (when he's overgrown, or during the war when he was camouflaged!). The figure represents the silhouette of a tall, long-legged man with an upright staff to each hand. Some believe he is a Saxon warrior carved in the 7th century, whilst others claim he was created much later in the 16th or 17th century. An OSL (optically stimulated luminescence) dating conducted by Reading University aged him as having been created in 1545. Either way, the earliest mention of him in the history books was in 1710.

      Historians have varying theories as to who he depicts, depending on what timeline they believe him to be from. Some say he is a representation of Norse gods like Odin or Thor, others say he is Anglo-Saxon and depicted to represent Baldur or Beowulf. A further group claim he looks like Varuna, a Hindu God, and others that he is Mohammed. I think it's safe to say he is definitely suffering from a severe identity crisis here!

      Despite being so tall, the Long Man is a rather featureless figure, as he has no facial or body details - just an outline. He holds two staves - one in each hand. It is believed at some stage the staves were bigger and depicted a rake to one hand and a scythe to the other. The Long Man is often compared to the Rude Man of Cerne Abbas, another man-shaped chalk figure in Dorset, complete with erect penis. However, the Long Man is not nearly as controversial a figure as his Dorset cousin, due to his more modest demeanour. Some think that the Long Man may once have had features, but that the locals in the Victorian era may well have had them removed. They were obviously less prim in Dorset as the Cerne Abbas Giant got to keep all appendages.....namely the erect penis!

      The original Long Man figure was thought to have been a shallow indentation in the hill rather than as a solid line. However, in 1874 the figure was marked out properly with yellow bricks. The yellow bricks were replaced with pre-cast concrete blocks in 1969 and these are regularly painted by the Sussex Archaeological Society so that the Long Man remains visible from a good distance. The Long Man became the Invisible Man during the Second World War, as he was painted green in order to prevent possible enemy recognition...."Don't tell him Pike"....


      Chalk carvings in the shape of human figures are known as Gigantotomy, as opposed to Leucippotomy, which is carving horse figures into the landscape. The shapes are traditionally created by digging out enough soil and turf to reveal the chalk underneath. Unfortunately, the chalk needs to be regularly scoured in order to keep the shapes visible from a distance. Without regular scouring, the shapes tend to disappear from view. As this is rather labour intensive, some chalk carvings have been filled in with white painted concrete (such as the Westbury White Horse in Wiltshire). The Long Man is easier to maintain as he is an outline rather than a completely solid shape, by even the chalk outline has been replaced with concrete blocks.

      The Long Man and his Dorset cousin in Cerne Abbas are the only two surviving examples of Gigantotomy in the UK. Sadly, figures in Cambridge, Oxford and Plymouth can no longer be seen....although they're there somewhere beneath the surface of the earth...just no longer visible to the naked eye. Such a shame.

      Whether he likes it or not, the Long Man plays host to a number of Pagan or Wicca rituals throughout the year. At dawn on May Day (Beltaine), the Long Man Morris dancers dance at his feet, and at Lughnasadh (Lammas) many Pagans and non-Pagans gather to give thanks to nature. I've never attended any of these Pagan festivals, and I find Morris Dancers supremely silly, so I've kept my visits to less popular times.

      In 2007 the Long Man starred on Trinny and Susannah's TV show "Undress the Nation", when he was de-sexed by 100 women! They gave the long-suffering Long Man a temporary female form by using their bodies to add breasts, hips and pigtails. The stunt upset several local druids, who protested during filming. I would imagine that adding a giant phallus to the Long Man won't have gone down too well with the druids either. In 2010 local jokers added an enormous penis to the Long Man with football pitch marker. Luckily this sort of paint does wash away over time. At least he was able to give the Cerne Abbas Giant a run for his money size-wise for a short period!


      Visiting The Long Man of Wilmington (and his nearby stead, the White Horse of Littlington), really does make a pleasant tip out. A brisk climb to the top of the hill to see him up close and personal (and admire the views) is highly recommended. I suggest lunch nearby (there are many great pubs in the area), and then onto Lewes or Eastbourne for an afternoon of shopping or wandering around. This, for me, is the makings of a most pleasant day out. Children can always be persuaded / bribed to join you, by offering a visit to Drusilla's, the local zoo, where the Meercats are always so entertaining.

      I think the Long Man will forever remain a mystery, unless some new manuscript or document comes to light. When all's said and done, despite all the historical research, no-one really knows why he's there or how long he's been in situ...and that's part of his continuing allure. Ancient fertility symbol, bronze-age warrior, Roman soldier or simply a 16th, 17th or 18th century folly - he could be any of them. I think it was nicely summed up by the Rev A.A Evans who said of the Long Man - "The Giant keeps his secret and from his hillside flings out a perpetual challenge".



      The Long Man is situated 6 miles north-west of Eastbourne and 10 miles east of Lewes. From Eastbourne you need to travel north on the A22 towards Polegate. At Polegate turn left on the A27 towards the village of Wilmington. Once you arrive in Wilmington you need to follow the signage for Wilmington Priory (not open to the general public) and the Long Man. You can park in a car park (it's free) at the foot of the hill and then take the footpath up towards the figure. The best distant view of the Long Man is from the road just beyond the Priory entrance.

      The Long Man is reached by public footpaths to the bottom and the top of the figure. There is a board with some details in the car park and another to the bottom of the hill. It's a fairly easy, but somewhat steep climb of about 10 minutes to reach the base of the figure. It can be a bit muddy underfoot at times, so sensible footwear is recommended.

      If you want to make a day of it, then there are several things of interest in the area. Nearby is another chalk caved figure known as The White Horse at Littlington. This horse figure is located only a mile or two away from the Long Man. It was cut in 1924, allegedly overnight by three men during a full moon, as they wanted to surprise locals. I think this must be somewhat exaggerated as it's VERY hard work to cut out enough earth to make the chalk beneath visible - especially on a shape that's big enough to be viewed from a distance.

      Lewes - The town of Lewes is some 10 miles away and is always worth a visit. It has a number of great shops and an interesting castle. Last time I was there we spent a nice afternoon at The Needlemakers, a craft centre in the middle of the town. They serve a very nice afternoon tea, as well as having plenty of workshops and crafts on offer. It's rather hilly is Lewes, so more elderly members of your party may prefer Eastbourne.

      Eastbourne - An elegant seaside resort located some 6 miles away; it's a pleasant place to wander around, and especially popular with the elderly.

      Drusilla's - Drusilla's is a small zoo nearby, and was a definite hit with my ten year old nephew, when we visited some 12 years or so ago. Further details can be found at http://www.drusillas.co.uk


      Wiltshire, and to a much lesser extent Dorset, are the best places to find chalk hill figures. Below is a very brief rundown of what you can find just in the south of England if you've a mind to go exploring.

      * WILTSHIRE - The White Horses of Wiltshire *
      Wiltshire has a profusion of white horses carved into its hills. At last count they had eight, with the ninth just over the border in Oxfordshire. I've covered these and a suggested tour to view them all in another review (which can be found at http://www.dooyoo.co.uk/sightseeing-national /the-wiltshire-white-horses/1055905/), so I won't repeat myself all over again here.

      * WILTSHIRE - The Regimental Badges at Fovant Down *
      Fovant Down in Wiltshire is home to 12 regimental badges, which were cut by different military regiments in around 1916, often early in the morning before rifle practice. However, you need to be quick if you wish to view some of these, as they are no longer going to be regularly maintained and will be slowly fading away as time progresses. A shame I must say, but it would be a very labour intensive job to care for all of them.

      * DORSET - The Rude Man of Cerne Abbas (also known as the Giant or the Corfe Giant) *
      You may well be familiar with his image rather than his name, as he has very distinctive features (!). The Cerne Abbas Giant can be found in Dorset (near to Dorchester), and is a huge 180ft outline of a naked man complete with erect penis. His erection was allegedly extended when his navel became overgrown and was incorrectly identified as the tip of his penis! As with most chalk hill figures, his origins remain unclear - some believe he is an ancient Druid fertility symbol and others believe he was created in the 17th century in order to lampoon Oliver Cromwell. Despite his origins, he was and still is, something of a fertility symbol, and women wanting a baby either spend the night with him or walk around his edges. Local Neo-Pagans were most upset by the painted Homer Simpson (brandishing a doughnut) image which appeared alongside the Giant in 2007. Luckily Homer did disappear after a good rain shower, and the Giant remained unscathed and still top dog!

      * DORSET - The Osmington Horse near Weymouth *
      This is a rather unique white horse figure as it's the only one that has a rider on its back. The rider is allegedly George III and was cut in 1808 to commemorate the King's visit to the area. I last viewed it on a rather cloudy day in 2003, and it was terribly difficult to spot as the chalk was so dark and overgrown. I believe it has been scoured since then, so it should be a bit easier to spot next time.

      * KENT - The Millennium Horse on Cheriton Hill, near Folkestone *
      This is the most recent UK hill carving. It was originally planned to herald the dawning of the millennium, but planning and environmental issues delayed its completion by three years and it was finally completed in 2003. This is not yet one I have managed to view, but from photos it looks like a rather mystical beast.


      A website at http://www.hillfigures.co.uk/ - this has some great photos as well as loads of information on various chalk carvings in the UK (as well as other parts of the world). There's also a good summary of Hill Figures at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hill_figure

      A couple of books that I own are "Discovering Hill Figures" by Kate Bergamar and "White Horses and other Hill Figures" by Morris Marples. The Marples book is quite heavy going, but the Bergamar one is slimmer and more digestible.


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