It’s strange how one can end up making history – even with a mattock. I know they did it that way two hundred and three years ago when they cut out the White Horse on the hillside using mattocks, shovels, baskets, carts and muscle power – but hey this is the 21st Century!  Some things just don’t change though, so when John Hayes and Nick Tarrier of the Dorset County Ranger Service unloaded their tools at 8.00am on Saturday, it was mattocks, shovels, trugs and even a wagon of sorts!

For John this couple of weeks will be the culmination of 20 years of trying to tend the Horse. Before, he has been fighting the scalpings and weeds with a very limited volunteer force and no real freedom to make changes. This weekend, the tools might be traditional, but now he was leading a team backed by the best expertise and technology and with all the permissions he needed to cut out and restore this wonderful monument.

He and Nick were pretty well set up by the time I got there, with ropes anchored to aid the climb and haul the “wagon” (you may have read in my previous blog that this is the marriage of a fish box and a mountain board). And soon after I arrived, we were joined by the first group of volunteers from PGL. Now anyone who lives round Osmington will be familiar with the smart blue uniforms of the PGL instructors but it was only at the Royal Wedding party in the village that many of us really saw them in action. Activity holidays for youngsters are their business and they gave the youngsters a fantastic time with non-stop games and involvement.

And now we saw another side of these young people – they are capable of sustained and seriously hard graft.  Students, graduates and young folk on Summer contracts, they come from all over the country and after briefings from John and Nick, they just got on with it.  Mattocks cut along the painted line, shovels filled the trugs and endless trips were made to the small quarry where the cuttings were dumped. Those working on the Horse’s legs made use of the wagon and to say that hauling this up the slope was tiring, would be an understatement.

I decided my role, between taking photos, was to permanently mark out the baton. Now if I am honest, the paint would have lasted until next week, but well, I just fancied making a mark! And yes, it is a baton not a sword, before you ask. I was busy working on this when I looked up to see Ruth Carpenter and husband Tim, both from Natural England. Ruth has been hugely important in the project as it was she who obtained the funding for the helicopters last Autumn and has been so helpful in facilitating our work on the SSSI site. As it happened, their main interest was to join in and they will be back next Friday to pick up shovels – this project is a bit like that!

A little later, Geoff and Christine Codd joined us and Geoff joined in there and then, grasping a mattock like a professional and helping to carve out an ear. This entire project was Geoff’s brainchild and so to actually be cutting after two years hard graft on research and co-ordination was a real joy.

And so the work progressed – the sun shone and the wind blew. I graduated to mattocking and then humping trugs to the quarry before walking home for lunch and a brief rest. Needless to say I nearly set solid in my chair – but managed to persuade my muscles to take me back up there for another couple of hours. I helped on the reins, and heaved more trugs while the PGL team carried on with their good humour and dogged determination.

There was not much time (or breath in my case) for talking, but it is strange what one can learn on the hillside. A young geologist showed me a fossil, a girl explained about the problems of texting in Japanese and a guy who wants to run orchards and vineyards voiced his concerns for the economic future of his beloved Norfolk. And all this was as we chopped and shoveled and looked out over one of the finest views in the country.

I think it is fair to say we were all pretty tired by the end of the day – but as I walked home across the fields, I could see what we had achieved. The earth has yet to be washed clean, but suddenly the Horse’s body had begun to look right, it’s head had begun to lose that lizard look and I knew that our small group, with tools little different from those original workmen, really had begun to make (or should I say carve) history!

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