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1 June 2009
Grooming for Oxfordshire's White Horse

The age-old tradition of 'scouring' or re-chalking one of Britain's most mysterious ancient monuments is being revived. For centuries locals used to clamber up White Horse hill, freshen up the prancing creature carved into the chalky Oxfordshire slopes and enjoy folk music, games and one or two glasses of something refreshing. The event, which included horse racing and chasing a round of cheese down the steep slopes, was halted in 1857 after about 30,000 people who turned up became just a little bit too rowdy. But the National Trust, which has managed the hill for the last 30 years, has decided the time is right to revive the tradition.
     Several hundred people are expected to make sure the horse – now a little faded around the edges, thanks to the close attention of sheep and rain – is returned to its former glory. Caroline Searle, White Horse hill warden, said: "Local people feel very fond of the horse. They want to feel they are involved in its care. So we thought a good way would be to invite them up here and get them to help to rechalk the figure." She shudders at the term 'scouring'. In times gone by, the "scouring" involved stripping a layer of chalk away to make the figure gleam. Now they simply replace a layer of chalk, quarried locally.
     The horse was created in the late Bronze Age, about 3,000 years ago. Exactly how it was constructed is largely a matter of guesswork but it is thought an outline was made in the turf, then deep trenches were dug and filled and packed with chalk. The reason for its construction is unknown. Some think it is a religious figure, others that it functioned as a tribal boundary.

Source: The Guardian (22 May 2009)

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