The Osmington White Horse Restoration

An Osmington Society Project

Okay – I admit it – I just couldn’t face climbing the Horse again today! I took the easy option of driving to White Horse Farm and taking some long shots. The problem was that the sun was playing hard to get so as usual, a large number of photos went into trash. I just wish I had thought of it yesterday when the sun was shining bright……..

When we planned this lift, we aimed for a lift of about 110 bags, but the Veritair guys had carried on yesterday until the light failed them – and by then they had lifted close to 130 bags (65 tonnes)! By the time I got there this morning another 20 odd had been lifted and this time I got a close up view of Duncan doing the unhooking – in a matter of seconds.  It really is a very slick operation.

During a brief re-fuelling stop I took the opportunity to ask Wes and Duncan why they needed to take the curved flight-path rather than just go straight between Horse and drop area.  I learned that helicopters lose height by going forward and the route taken gave the necessary distance to achieve this.  Apparently if helicopters lose significant height without moving forward they risk creating a vortex of dirty air which means they can drop much too quickly for comfort.

With that important lesson under my belt I retreated to a safe distance and left them to their last few lifts before needing to head back to Cardiff. In the end they managed to lift 173 bags in the time available to them – over 50% more than we had originally planned. 

This was an incredible operation to watch – and I have spent the last hour or so editing up a short video which will give some idea of the level of skill and professionalism from the Veritair guys.

Greg Walker and team will be back up there next week and Veritair will be back in action on the 4th November – weather permitting.  And, of course, I am looking forward to climbing up there to take some more pictures……….

Some of you may have heard the Veritair helicopter arrive at White Horse Farm yesterday, bang on time at 5.00pm.  But I think most residents of Osmington and Sutton Poyntz will have heard it today!

It might seem like a simple task to run a helicopter back and forward – lifting bags and dropping them off – but a lot has been involved in getting this right. White Horse farm is a working farm so a crucial factor for Paul Critchell was to get the cattle away from the helicopter zone and the horses safely stabled to avoid being upset. So a big thank you to Paul and all involved for getting all that sorted.

So lots of folk were up earlier than me – but the frost was still thick on the ground as I walked across the fields at 8.15, just as the pilot fired up the helicopter to defrost it. For those interested in such things, the helicopter is a Messerschmitt Bolkow Blohm 105 dating from 1980. It is powered by two Rolls-Royce turbines and Wesley, the pilot, told me that it is the “Land Rover” of helicopters. I have to say that having seen it in action today, it is very impressive!

I made the usual climb and was ready to take photographs when they got going at about 9.15.  Having experienced the sand-blasting from the Sea King, I was ready with hard hat, ear defenders and safety glasses – though my poor cameras had no protection. After a few quite tentative runs, Wesley got the hang of the wind and updraft on the hill and Dave, the hooker-on got settled into the hard graft of running about on the Horse. The projected four minute turn round was soon closer to 3 minutes and the Horse began to lose its “dipped in paint” look.

I had to return home at 11.00 and as I walked back an hour later, I was astonished at the progress. They were refueling as I headed towards the Horse and so I waited for the long shot photo. I was lucky that Geoff Codd chose that moment to appear by the King’s head and so I could get the shot of him looking over the helicopter. He looked justifiably proud – having spent a huge amount of time on driving this project forward.

My third visit today was at about 4.00pm and by then there were 100 bags (of the 187) shifted. I was going to take more photos from below (I couldn’t face climbing the Horse for the third time!) but the wind had changed and the flight-path now crossed the best vantage points, so I left them to it.

I have to say that I felt a huge sense of satisfaction in seeing the scalpings heading south. There are still a lot to bag and remove over the next couple of weeks – and a lot of work to do – but it really feels like we are making progress and I, for one, think King George would have approved……not to mention his horse……….

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Well the sun is shining today and all seems set fair for the transfer of the first loads of scalpings from the White Horse to the farm below, starting tomorrow.

 The Veritair helicopter will be working for most of the day from about 9.00am on Thursday 21st and Friday 22nd October.  As the flightpath crosses the footpath from Osmington to Sutton Poyntz, the helicopter will only be able to operate safely if this path is free of walkers. 

 Although we are not closing the footpath, we would greatly appreciate it if walkers would avoid the section below the White Horse when flights are in progress. The Coastal Ranger service will be manning the gates at each end to explain the situation and suspend the operation if safety is compromised.

 Our apologies for any inconvenience and for the noise over the next couple of days .

Another superb day up on the White Horse! I had other distractions this morning so it was early afternoon before I made the climb – and before you ask – it was no easier! The weather was just as good though and even the wind dropped a bit later on.

The Gregorys team had already filled another 40 bags by then and that included clearing the front legs and raking the loose gravel from around them. Those legs are quite deceptive and what looked like quite a thin layer of scalpings proved to be much more. We were all pretty surprised when the first of the back legs yielded close to half a tonne every metre.

It was great to see that the Dorset Echo ran a piece on the project in today’s paper and the result was that we had quite a few sightseers. And as one of my distractions this morning was to send off some more photos to the Echo, it is likely that we will see more coverage in the coming days.

At the end of play today, there were 150 bags ready for the helicopter lift and the team will aim to fill about another 30 tomorrow. They will then return after the bulk of these bags have been lifted so that they can remove the scalpings that have formed the ledges to support them.

I headed down the hill as the lads were getting ready to call it a day and I was nearly at the bottom when a loud whoop echoed across the hillside. No it was not joy at having finished another hard day of shoveling – it was to warn me that a large yellow trug had escaped and was heading my way. Now goal keeping has never been my strong point – but I did catch it – and my reward was to climb halfway back to return it!

As I walked home I couldn’t help thinking that the White Horse looked like it had stepped in some white paint. Those new gravel bags certainly give it a sparkly white finish – but I shall not be sorry to see them go.

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Well, it has been a bit quiet on the blog over recent weeks, but that is not because we haven’t been doing anything. As Geoff Codd has outlined below, the next phase has been planned, agreed and set in motion.

I did spend a morning up there, back in mid-September, when the Dorset Coastal Ranger team shifted the few remaining bags from below the front leg. Luckily we found that lightly filled bags could be dragged down and a small power barrow could bring down trug loads.

It was this morning, though, that the real work started.  John Hayes, Senior Ranger, was up there first thing to establish the fill level for the bags and Greg Walker arrived with his Gregorys team soon after.  No power-barrow this time – just shovels, rakes, muscle power and most important, the supply of bags generously donated by Warmwell Quarries.

When I climbed up there just before 9.00am (panting and gasping rather a lot) they had already cracked on and were dealing with the problems of evenly loading and stacking the bags on a 30 degree slope. 

We were incredibly lucky with the weather – bright sunshine and an easterly wind dried the mixture of soil and scalpings and made for very pleasant working conditions (though shoveling hard packed gravel and soil on that slope is brutally hard work!). I took a few photos and then came on as the team stopped for breakfast with over twenty bags already sorted.

The work continued apace and by the time I returned at about 3.00pm there were over ninety bags full. We took a few minutes with Greg to examine the less obvious parts such as the arm, sword and reins, which are mostly overgrown, and then he went back to his shovel. By the end of play they had used all the bags on site and 100 (50 tonnes) were ready for the Helicopter.

The Gregorys team will be back up there tomorrow and hopefully my climb will feel a little easier!

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During the next four weeks work will be continuing with the Osmington White Horse restoration project, following renewal of Natural England funding for this work.

The aim of the current stage of the project is to remove the remainder of  the 140 tons of stone scalpings spread on the figure by the Challenge Anneka TV programme. Earlier this year a huge amount of progress was made with the help of the Royal Engineers and the Army Cadet Force who filled builder’s bags that were removed by Royal Navy helicopter.    

Local contractors Gregorys are now being brought in to bag up the remaining scalpings, which will then be taken off in two separate lifts by Veritair helicopters who have previous experience in this field.

Chairman of the Osmington White Horse Restoration Group, Geoff Codd said: “our aim has always been to remove the stone scalpings from the hillside by the end of this autumn, and we are then intending to move on to the next stage of the project preparing for the restoration of the outline of the figure.”

Images taken by LAPhot Vicki Benwell from Photographic Section RNAS Yeovilton. These images are Crown Copyright.

From the cockpit

From the Sea King cockpit

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A meeting of the Osmington White Horse Restoration Group has once again reviewed progress, using the experience gained to assess the viability of a number of options that are open to us to complete this phase of the project. The Restoration Group expressed their deep appreciation for the outstanding help that has been provided by the army, the Dorset ACF and the local community thus far, but there was also great sensitivity to the fact that the aim must now be to complete this current phase as soon as it is possible to do so.
The removal of the remaining scalpings may have to involve a combination of several methods. These may include the further use of a helicopter lift in order to minimise any adverse impact on the surrounding SSSI area, and possibly the use of chutes where this is found to be practicable. Discussions are taking place with various parties who are able to offer their services in completing the current phase of this challenging project.
Restoration Group attention is also now being focused in more depth on the tasks that will need to be addressed when this phase is complete. These include the methods of identification and delineation of the restored outline of the figure, and the way in which the restored surface of the figure will need to be stabilised in due course.

GeoffComing back to reality, after one week of being completely out of touch with that reality, brings home to me how the personal drive and enthusiasm of a small group of people can achieve so much so quickly, and provide such an interesting story for the community to tell.
As a most reluctant absentee when so much was happening on the ground, and as chairman of such a worthwhile enterprise, I feel deeply indebted to all of those who provided such an outstanding contribution both personally and through their teams. The planning leading to the extremely hard work on the hill, the landowner collaboration, the photographic recording of all aspects of the work, the PR through the local media, and the development of our dedicated website record, are all most impressive and a real credit to those responsible.
I will today be writing to express our gratitude to those responsible for the organisations who have been so helpful to us in this venture, and to express the hope that that support may continue to be available to us in one form or another in the future. We are still at an early stage on a long journey – and time is not on our side if I am to be in a position to get back in touch with HRH Prince Charles’ office early in the new year.
By that time we should not only have completely cleared the scalpings, but will also need to be well on the way to stabilising whatever surface we decide is appropriate and to have the delineation of the monument edge well in hand. That all provides an undoubted challenge for all of us, but one that I am certain we will overcome, particularly with the help of those who have been so helpful in this community venture thus far.

I had a day away yesterday and as I headed home, down Church Lane, I saw the effects of the heavy shower on the hillside. As expected, our “White” Horse was showing more than a hint of brown!

I say “as expected” because having spent four days with my nose very close to mother earth up there, I knew that this is indeed the colour of the soil and stone mix that is both on the surface of the Horse and also appears from the many freshly dug rabbit holes on the hillside.  The good news is that it gets a lot lighter when it dries out .

This morning I managed to find the time to edit up my video of the Commando helicopter operation.  I am afraid it was a bit windy up there, even in the quiet moments, but it gives an idea of the superb operation and the flight-path towards Osmington at one extreme and Sutton Poyntz at the other. 

It also shows that the worst of the dust at White Horse Farm had been blown away by the time these bags were delivered – the first delivery was in a total white-out.

And then this afternoon, I opened the Dorset Echo (read it here) to find the story on page 6 with John’s fantastic photo of the operation.  It quite made my day!