Like house-sized concrete koala bears in Australia and 20-foot-tall Paul Bunyan statues in the American Midwest, a massive white horse carved into an English hillside does a great job of catching the eyes of passing motorists.
But don't be deceived. Gracing the rolling chalk hills of rural southern England and further afield, these monumental hill figures are anything but blatant roadside advertisements for nearby businesses. Well, for the most part. Many, if not most, hill figures predate the winding modern roads that now afford some of the best views of them by centuries, even millennia.
Rare promotional uses aside, English hill figures — largely, but not exclusively, horses — have been painstakingly cut in the earth for many reasons: as tributes to revered leaders; as prehistoric tribal symbols; as declarations of victory; as political satire; as artistic expressions; as love letters to one's home.
Others, however, are complete enigmas. Like many of England's most emblematic historic sites, these mysterious monuments are shrouded in mystery. Many hill figures have been unearthed and recreated after centuries of being "lost." The fact that so many hill figures have been neglected and left overgrown is a testament to the grueling, time-consuming nature of maintaining them. These monuments were meant to endure, just with regular upkeep.
With many spanning hundreds of feet across otherwise unembellished pastoral landscapes, hill figures were designed to be admired from afar or even from directly above, which made them problematic during World War II: big, white and very conspicuous landmarks etched into the chalk hillsides.
Here are eight of the most iconic English hill figures, all of which can be viewed from nearby highways, scenic hiking trails, designated viewing areas, rural villages and other points. As mentioned, hill figures predominately represent horses although we've mixed things up with a king (pictured), a lion, a bird and two especially large giants — one rather notorious.