The White Horse Trail Wiltshire is a 90 mile walk taking in all eight existing white horses cut into the county's chalk hillsides.
This is a quiet and peaceful part of Southern England, steeped in history and mysticism, much of it designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It incorporates sections of other long distance trails, such as The Ridgeway (said to be the oldest road in Europe), the Wansdyke, the Wessex Ridgeway and the relatively new Mid-Wilts Way, as well as parts of the Kennet & Avon Canal towpath including the famous flight of 29 locks at Caen Hill, Devizes.
The old market town of Devizes is virtually at the centre of the Trail with no point being much more than 14 miles away by road. The Trail also passes through or nearby to the towns of Westbury and Marlborough and a number of villages, large and small. There are railway stations at Westbury and Pewsey. There is a section which includes prehistoric Avebury with Silbury Hill and the ancient Kennet Long barrow nearby and they are worth a detour. The terrain is varied and during the 90 miles walkers will also encounter valleys, woods, hills, open fields and plenty of wildlife.
The Trail can be taken up at various points but some sections are fairly remote and it is possible to walk 10 or more miles without seeing anyone else. There are some pubs and cafés en route but they may not be open on arrival so it is safer to take a packed lunch to avoid going hungry!
The White Horse Trail Wiltshire is named for the chalk figures carved into the hills. Some are easier to spot than others – a spate of fast-growing weeds can disguise them somewhat and obviously a snowfall can also be a problem! Generally they stand out clear and bright and can be seen for many miles around and are probably best appreciated from a distance. However, it is very rewarding to be able to stand on or nearby a White Horse you have been walking towards for many miles.
The Horses you can see today are relatively new, certainly when compared to the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire, which is around 3,000 years old. The oldest Wiltshire horse is the Westbury (or Bratton) Horse, sited on a very steep slope with magnificent views of the Vale of Pewsey below and Bratton Camp, an Iron Age hill fort above. Like others, the present horse covers an earlier example, and dates from 1778. At 55½ metres from nose to tail and 33 metres from ear to hoof, it is also the largest and can be seen from 20 miles on a clear day.
The Pewsey Horse is on Pewsey Hill and also overlooks the Vale of Pewsey. This horse was cut in 1937 to replace (but not cover) an earlier version which had become completely overgrown, to commemorate George VI’s coronation. It measures 29½ metres nose to tail and 10½ metres ear to hoof.
The Alton Barnes Horse can be found between Walkers Hill and Milk Hill in the Pewsey Down Nature Reserve, close to Adam’s Grave, another long barrow. This is one of the highest points in Wiltshire with magnificent views and the horse can be seen from 22miles away! The Horse was cut in 1812 and measures 49 by 55 metres. It was paid for by Robert Pile from Manor Farm – who ended up paying twice because the first contractor absconded with the money.
Less easily visible is The Marlborough (or Preshute) Horse, far smaller at 19 metres nose to tail and 14½ metres ear to hoof. It lies just above the village of Preshute and was designed by a pupil at a local school in 1804, well before Marlborough College was built in 1843 but is now maintained by the College.
Hackpen Hill lies below The Ridgeway on the edge of the Marlborough Downs and affords wonderful views of the Wiltshire countryside. Its Horse is known as the Hackpen, Broad Hinton or Winterbourne Bassett Horse and was cut in 1838, probably to commemorate Queen Victoria’s coronation. Measuring 27½ by 27½ metres, it can sometimes be seen from as far as the downs near the Cherhill horse but only when newly scoured.
Broad Town Horse is thought to date from 1864, measures 24½ by 18 metres and although visible from 20 miles, is best viewed from the village of Broad Town. It was camouflaged during WW2 and uncovered in 1945 and is now maintained by The Broad Town White Horse Restoration Society.
The Cherhill Horse is the second largest and second oldest in the county, cut in 1780 and measuring 39 metres nose to tail and 43 metres ear to hoof. It can be visible from an impressive 30 miles and lies beneath an Iron Age hill fort, Oldbury Castle. This Horse was cut to directions called out from below, ensuring it looks good from the ground. Close to the Horse is the Lansdowne Column, built in 1845 by the 3rd Marquis of Lansdowne who lived at nearby Bowood House, from where it can be seen.
Finally there is the newest horse, on Roundway Hill, just north of Devizes. The Devizes Horse was cut to celebrate the new millennium, although there was an earlier horse below the hill fort of Oliver’s Castle on Roundway Down. The original Horse was cut in 1845 but by the end of the century had grown over. However, it was occasionally visible during dry hot summers and was spotted in 1954 by Peter Greed, a schoolboy who made a drawing of it. Over 50 years later a mirror image of this drawing was used to re-cut the Horse - meaning it faces the other direction to all the other Wiltshire White Horses. A time capsule containing 20th century items was buried under the head. This Horse measures 45 by 45 metres.The White Horse Trail Wiltshire