I guess we have all played a game of join-the-dots at some stage in our lives, but on the last day of June I took part in a game that was of, dare I say it, Olympic proportions! To be honest, it wasn’t a game – but high up on the White Horse it was at least as pleasurable as any game, as we saw the original outline of the horse and rider take shape.

The team involved in this major exercise were Stewart Ainsworth and Peter Addison from English Heritage, Jon Horgan and Roger Lewis from Ordnance Survey, John Hayes from DCC and myself representing the Osmington Society.

I was a bit late as usual – mostly because I wanted some long shots of the guys at work on the Horse – at least that was my excuse. They had already started with the marking as I did my usual impression of a steam locomotive arriving, so at least some of the dots before my eyes were yellow paint on the turf!

Stewart was brimming over with excitement that this project – which is not only a first for him, but is a first for anyone – was finally coming together. The exact outline had been agreed after meticulous research of photographs, paintings and, most important, his interpretation of the earthworks. This outline was stored in the state-of-the-art computerized GPS wielded by Jon and it was he who located the exact spot in the turf for John to mark with special, yellow, bio-degradeable paint.

I started helping the “joining” crew of Roger, and Peter as we used a steel tape measure to span the dots so that Roger could spray the line.  Stewart soon took over from me as it became clear that his expert eye was essential in determining what was a straight line and what was a curve. Meanwhile I carried on snapping, chatted to the occasional visitor and kept the lads supplied with paint.

Soon after a brief stop for lunch we had our first “challenge” (other than constantly bending down on a 30 degree slope that is!).  All of a sudden, the GPS started to wander and made a bid to redesign the horse’s rump.  Apparently it uses a combination of mobile phone stations, US and Russian satellites to create a Virtual Reference Station (VRS) and from that it gives an accuracy of within a centimeter. But just sometimes, when working on the side of a steep hill for example, it loses a satellite and the VRS wanders . To paraphrase Jon’s comment at the time “When technology breaks wind – the results stink!” So even with all this technology, the human eye and brain is still essential – Stewart confirmed the error, Jon sorted the VRS for the GPS and we were back on track.

I confess that by mid afternoon I had had enough and left them to it – I mean there are only so many photos one can take of blokes joining dots – even if they are slightly reminiscent of the characters in Three Men in a Boat!  They carried on though and had the first draft of the outline on the hillside before the battery on the GPS finally gave out (as did various knees and backs).

The following day was just perfect with excellent visibility and sunshine. They were busy as usual by the time I walked through the fresh cut hay to begin my ascent. I had rather expected to see the yellow outline and glimpse the true shape of horse and rider, but the yellow line is very thin so its secret was not revealed, even from the field below.

The plan for the second day was checking and re-checking the outline to be absolutely certain that no GPS wander had been missed. It also gave Roger a chance to thicken the line and gave us the chance to photograph everything and revisit some of the decisions and interpretations that had been made, now that the paint was on the ground.

By lunchtime we were happy and were thinking that the job was done when we had our second challenge. This time it was not technology, but a herd of very inquisitive cattle that decided that they could easily remove all trace of paint from the rocky areas of the back legs. Luckily Stewart had a bag of English Heritage “approved” red pegs, so it was all hands to putting these in the ground where our bovine visitors had trashed our carefully planned artwork.

So when Geoff and Christine Codd arrived in early afternoon, the job really was done – countless dots had been placed and meticulously joined by over seven hundred metres of painted line – and a few red pegs. Our “game” of join-the-dots was complete but for now, perhaps only the buzzards circling above can see the big picture. The rest of us had to wait for the cutting out to begin……..

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