It is not easy climbing up the White Horse with a broken little toe – but it is possible.  And on Thursday it was essential for me to do it, because our Horse was being surveyed by what I can only describe as the “A Team” – and I wanted to be there!

To explain the importance of this survey, I need to go back a few months. Then, with the Horse clear of all the scalpings, the major issue facing the restoration group was the question of the outline. There had been so many changes over its 202 year existence that getting the right outline was far from easy.  But Geoff Codd, chairman of the group, had a brainwave. He asked Ordnance Survey, who had first mapped the Horse in Victorian times, and English Heritage to lend a hand.

I have to confess that I had not realized the importance of this until we had a planning meeting at the Village Hall in February.  There we met the guys who had become involved, and in particular, Stewart  Ainsworth  and John Horgan.
Stewart as Senior Investigator with English Heritage (and previously with Ordnance Survey) had already been on the Horse to have a preliminary look. His expert eye had enabled him to see that most of the tell-tale signs of the original outline still exist.  And Jon, who is a research scientist with Ordnance Survey, had used an aerial photo from 1948 to build a computer model of the Horse as it was then.  By identifying the exact spot in the air where the plane was when it
took the photograph (don’t ask me how), he was able to build an image to show this in 3-D and even fly round it on the screen!

So the reason for my rather slow ascent of the Horse (which I now know is officially described as a “Hill Figure”) was that both Stewart and John were up there carrying out a detailed survey to enable us to finally see the correct shape for King George and his horse Adonis.

Now my role was to take a few photos – and I realised that I had a problem (other than the toe) even as I approached the hill. A picture with the Horse in made to surveyors look tiny, and a picture with the surveyors in made the Horse disappear!  Well at least you can get the general idea from the few snaps I have included….but the real interest was in watching the guys work.

When I arrived, puffing and gasping as usual, they were working on the King’s head, and after we had swapped a few “toe” stories (well I had to explain that I don’t normally walk like this) Stewart was able to show me that what looked
like bare grass, was, in fact, the King’s bicorn hat. And here was his nose – plus a later extension that made even Mr Punch’s nose look small. And here was his collar etc. etc.  If ever there was a demonstration of what the trained eye can
see, then this was it and I have to say that it was fascinating!

I could have talked all morning, but they had to get on with their work, because each high and low point had to be entered into the satellite device (which Jon told me not only used the GPS satellites, but also the Russian system to give
the maximum accuracy).  So I took a few more photos and admired the surface of the Horse, which, after the long dry spell, is as white as I have ever seen it. The weeds will soon begin to grow, but these will be sprayed in May, I understand, to have the maximum impact.

Geoff and Christine Codd joined us a little later, as did John Hayes, the senior Ranger who has played such a major part on the project so far.  A brief get together in the Spring sunshine established that results of the survey will ready in early May and then it will be a matter of marking out and cutting out in the early Summer.

As we walked down the Horse it was interesting to reflect on the fact that although this amazing expertise and 21st century computer wizardry from English Heritage and Ordnance Survey will enable us to re-define the White Horse, to
actually do it , we will use genuine 19th century technology – pick and shovel.

Oh yes  – and I also reflected on another thing. Stewart had been right when he predicted that my toe would be worse going downhill – but it was definitely worth the trip!

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