When preparing the agenda for our Restoration Group meeting last week, I could not help but reflect on how much our ambitions for our project had changed over the two and a half years since the project started. Apart from Steve Wallis’ archaeological input and John Hayes’ experience on the hill, we were a motley bunch of amateurs with little realisation of the extent of the challenge that was facing us.
Since that early beginning, our journey has been eventful and inspirational. We had to become better informed and more focused, our hazy aspirations gradually became clearly specified objectives, and the figure on the hill started to look so much better relative to the tired old nag and its Royal rider that we had got so used to seeing but not seeing – if you see what I mean.
We all heaved a sigh of relief as each stage was completed. First there was research by Steve White and Sarah Harbige, and then the careful removal of 160 tonnes of offending limestone scalpings without damaging the surrounding SSSI. Then the identification and cutting out of the figure to accurately restore it to its original 1808 outline. Quite a challenge where specialist assistance from our friends at English Heritage and Ordnance Survey was absolutely key.
Natural England funding was clearly a life saver to kick start the process, but personal dedication and hard work by a small number of key individuals lies at the very core of our success. John Hayes’ organisation and supervision of volunteer teams – assisted by Nick Tarrier – often in awful weather conditions, and Chris Bird’s continuous flow of colourful and perceptive reports and photographs of daily events.
Also Michael Seall’s behind-the-scenes work on our dedicated website (and up on the hill, where he broke his ankle!), and Paul and Jan Critchell’s constant constructive support and encouragement of all our efforts. Of course, at the front line were all the young people and servicemen volunteers whose enthusiasm and good humour gave us all a great feeling of faith in our future generations.
So far so good, but while we have certainly come to the end of a particularly demanding stage in our restoration project, this is not by any means the end of the journey. Apart from some remaining titivation around the edges, we have to design a maintenance regime, and set arrangements in place, so that this process does not have to be repeated in the future.
We are also highly conscious that this ‘White Horse’ is in fact unique amongst its kind across the UK, and we should be proud of that and encourage others to enjoy its story. Consequently we hope to provide a viewing point off the A353 where visitors to Dorset are able to admire the monument’s artistic lines and learn about its fascinating history.
We have a good story to tell – an on-going tale.