My day started with losing my small camera – a real gem that I can keep in my pocket and which still just about works after all the dust and abuse it has had to put up with on the White Horse project. My wife Liz and I spent a merry half hour searching for it and debating the merits of “A place for everything……..” before we gave up – and it miraculously appeared from under my hat on the kitchen table…..

We had hoped it would be “Press Day” today as the students from Thomas Hardye school were due to cut out King George’s profile. I say had hoped, because even before I crossed the fields in the glorious sunshine, we had already got the message that media were busy elsewhere and so we were unlikely to make any headlines. Now I am a bit biased, but I have to say that they missed a treat as we had an extraordinary team up there on the hillside and genuinely made some newsworthy history with our picks, shovels and trugs.

As usual, Dorset Countryside Rangers John, Nick, Elliott and work experience student Shannon were already well prepared by the time I reached the King’s body. Stewart Ainsworth and Peter Addison from English Heritage and Jon Horgan from Ordnance Survey were already there and soon after, the staff and students arrived from above and below us. At first we were puzzled by what appeared to be the number 18 on their T shirts, but deputy head teacher, Kaye Chattenden quickly explained that these were, in fact the letters “IB”, standing for the International Baccalaureate. Of course, we said, though at that stage I confess that I was not much wiser!

John and Nick went through their briefing for them and although I think I detected the odd gulp as they looked at the pile of heavy mattocks and spades. It certainly didn’t deter them though and they soon swung into action.

It is strange that what looked like it would be the easy bit – the least slope and just a bit of turf to remove – proved to be an almost mattock breaking task. In some places, below the innocent green of the grass, lurked hard packed Portland scalpings. Here the harder we hit it, the more the blade bounced back. In other places the turf was deep and serious excavation was necessary to get down to a stony layer. Some of us old hands were able to give a bit of guidance, but when it came down to it, it was just seriously hard work!

Talking of excavations, Stewart and Peter, with help from Jon, tackled two important ones. The first was the horse’s “eye” which had first appeared in the 1970’s and which had no place on the restored monument. They performed this surgical operation first with mattocks and then with their archaeologist’s trowels to see if any thing interesting lay beneath. This drew a blank so they then pegged out an area of the King’s chin for detailed examination before joining in with the general cutting out.

And by this time the Students were making excellent progress, helped by White Horse enthusiasts, Bill Norman, Geoff and Christine Codd and Councillor Teresa Seall, as well as Ruth Carpenter and husband Tim from Natural England. White Horse owner, Paul Critchell, also joined us – which was great as it is Paul, under Natural England’s “High Level Stewardship Scheme”, who has made all this work possible. Like the others though, he wasn’t there to watch, he had his own trusty mattock and soon got down to business.

It will not surprise you by now to learn that I found the odd moment to chat to folk. I learned about the International Baccalaureate from some of the students and also from staff members Alex and Bridget. Out of a sixth form of nearly 500, at Thomas Hardye School, some 20 students have taken on this prestigious course with its six subjects (equivalent to A levels) and an obligation to put at least 150 hours into Creativity, Action and Service. I have to say that I was seriously impressed – and I gather that Universities across the world are too.

When we paused for lunch, cakes and biscuits provided by the Osmington Society were very welcome indeed – it is surprising how much energy this job uses up! And then it was back to work, which seemed to be getting harder as we uncovered more and more of the dreaded Portland scalpings. As I walked down to the fields below for a photo or two, I had some misgivings about whether we would achieve the day’s target – but when I got back up there, some superb teamwork had got well on top of it. And I also heard that Kaye Chittenden had been heard giving an interview on the project to our local Wessex FM, which pleased everyone.

When time came for them to pack up, the weather was turning, but I managed to take a group photograph of the students on the King’s newly shaped bicorn hat, and then, at Stewart’s suggestion, one next to the Dorset Countryside Ranger’s vehicle. This was because Stewart knows, as indeed do all of us involved in this project, that it is the organization skills and energy of the Rangers team that had made this, and all the other days, so successful.

And then it was time for me to stagger home – but as I looked back at the freshly shaped image of king George III, I could not help pondering about the headlines that might have been. I mean if the journalists had seen those young people accurately hacking lumps out of the hillside might they not have written; “Student Hackers Expose Lost Royal Profile!”?

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