Posted 22 August 2013 by Andrew Gardner
Is the Long Man of Wilmington in East Sussex a piece of early political satire - a sort of precursor to the Ronald Searle or Steve Bell cartoons that appear in our newspapers? Was he carved out of the hillside by Saxons furious at the Roman invasion, by monks from the nearby abbey or farmers having a joke? Is he a symbol of fertility, rebellion, war or peace, or does he mark the passage of Orion in the sky above his head?
A lot of people have had fun studying the giant's origins and some of them have taken it extremely seriously for its historic and cultural value. These figures, which famously appear in several locations in South-East England, put me in mind of crop circles, which might be caused by alien spaceships or by locals having a laugh - indeed the late Reg Presley, frontman of '60s band The Trogs, admitted to having created a few in his time - but they certainly provide a lot of fun and a nice focus for visitors.
The Long Man (and he really is, at over 69 metres) is a scheduled ancient monument on the South Downs and an impressive sight. Until the mid-19th century he was more often described as a green man, since he was visible as an indentation in the grass rather than the bright white outline you see today. You can walk around and view him close up, but I'd suggest that he's more impressive, and perhaps more mysterious, from a distance.
Equally impressive, if less mysterious, is Sussex's other chalk figure - the Litlington White Horse. This one is carved near the top of a steep escarpment above the Cuckmere Valley between Alfriston and Seaford. You can scramble up (or down) the slope of Hindover Hill to examine it close up, but the best view is from down below, where the river meanders through flood meadows on its way to the sea. The whiteness of both figures comes from the natural chalk and the horse is occasionally cleaned up to preserve its brightness - although at one time it was camouflaged - and quite recently its stance was changed from standing to prancing to help prevent erosion of its lovely lines.