The Tan Hill white horse
Ordnance Survey grid reference: SU 080 644
There was once a white horse, or possibly a donkey, on Tan Hill in the parish of All Cannings. Until recently there had been little evidence for the existence of the figure, and some authorities had doubted its existence.
The only direct evidence had come from the author Kathleen Wiltshire. In Wiltshire Folklore, published in 1975, she wrote: "... and a small 'donkey' is still partly visible on Tan Hill, though the legs have become quite overgrown. The shepherds call this 'Donkey Hill' and one told me he had 'eaten bread and cheese on its back scores o' times'. This pony or donkey is 75 feet from nose to tail, which stretches down much like that of the Uffington horse, and its head is very large." The reference to the figure as a "donkey" seems to derive solely from the size of the head, but as hill figures are not noted for their anatomical accuracy it seems uncertain whether it was indeed a donkey or whether it might have been another white horse.
Kathleen Wiltshire went on to say, "... in the 'valley' between Tan Hill and Rybury Camp stands a miniature stone circle of nine upright sarsen stones about four feet in height, in the centre of which lies a prostrate stone, about the length of a man. A pathway leads up to the 'donkey' from the circle." Searches had since been made of the area, but no trace of either the stone circle or the hill figure could be found.
In February 2002, as a result of enquiries made for me in local villages, I was given the exact location of the stone circle, and received a confirmation that a white horse had indeed existed on the hill above it.
On 16th March 2002 I rediscovered the miniature stone circle, which now lies in ruins. It is not surprising that previous searches by myself and by others had been unsuccessful, as Mrs Wiltshire's description is a little misleading. The circle is in a valley below Tan Hill and Rybury Camp, but not between the two. It is at the mouth of a combe on the western face of Tan Hill, at SU 079 642. The pathway which once led up the hill to the horse still exists, but no trace of the horse itself remains.
It is perhaps worth noting that there has been some suggestion that the horse might have been cut and maintained by visitors to Tan Hill Fair, a sheep trading fair and accompanying entertainments fair, held on Tan Hill on August 6th and 7th from at least the fifteenth century until 1932. The location of the horse turns out to be very near the site of the fair, which lends new credence to this idea. And if the horse began to fall into disrepair when the fair ceased, then it is not surprising that it was becoming overgrown when Mrs Wiltshire described it, and has now disappeared.
I would like to thank Chris Watkins for making enquiries in the area on my behalf, and Nick Luffman for providing the information that led to my rediscovery of Mrs Wiltshire's stone circle and the spot where the Tan Hill white horse had been.
This site was last updated on 20th March 2019