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The iconic White Horse of Kilburn

My blogs often come about from strange inspiration, but on a dog walk at the weekend my Apple Music shuffled to an old XTC album called English Settlement which I had not played for ages – but the cover showed the Uffington White horse a huge prehistoric figure carved into white chalk in Oxfordshire. It occurred to me that Yorkshire had its very own White Horse which I often passed as part of my North York Moors & Coast Tour and thought readers maybe interested to find out more.

Whereas the Uffington horse is believed to date to the Iron Age and is possibly 3000 years old, our Yorkshire version is considerably younger.

Back in Victorian times, a local businessman called Thomas Taylor had seen the famous chalk horses in Southern England whilst working for a London merchant. He decided that something similar would look rather good on the hillside next to where he lived in Kilburn in North Yorkshire so paid artist Harrison Weir who drew out a horse and then Taylor made it be known locally his plans and that he would fund its building.

The project was taken on by his friend, the local village schoolmaster a man named John Hodgson who pulled together a team of 31 volunteers during the summer of 1857 to cut away the ground cover on the hillside to expose the limestone rock beneath on the edge of the Hambleton Hills not far from Sutton Bank.

When the shape of the horse was complete, the rock below being limestone was grey and not as bright as the chalk rocks where the Oxfordshire horse was carved so it was decided that 6 tons of limewash were needed to be deposited onto the shape to lighten it and to make sure it was visible from afar.

The White Horse of Kilburn at 314ft long and 228ft high has become one of Yorkshire’s iconic landmarks and can be seen from miles around particularly from the A19 and from Leeds which is 28 miles away . There are walks up to the horse but once up there it is so big the shape is difficult to make out. To give you an idea of size – the horses eye is made of a grass island and you can get at east 20 people to stand inside the eye!

I find that the two best views of the White Horse are from a layby just on the edge of the village across a gated sloping field near the Kilburn Village sign and also there is a great view from the top of the garden of the Mouseman furniture shop in the village itself.

Keeping the white horse white is an ongoing job and nowadays the horse has hundreds of retention boards built into the hillside which hold chalk chippings which are brought over from the Yorkshire Wolds every few years to top up the brightness.

The White Horse of Kilburn is the largest and most northerly hill figure in England. It is cared for (or some would say groomed) by The Kilburn White Horse Association.

On a final note the horse was actually covered up during World War II as not only were locals worried about being bombed due to the German strategy of destroying local landmarks to damage moral, it was also believed German bombers were using the White Horse to navigate to reach the Yorkshire cities of York, Leeds and Bradford.

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Jul 02, 2020

I often used to stop at the lay-by for a photo on way to York from Edinburgh via Thirsk.

You may be interested in my London-based guiding blog:


Jun 30, 2020

The White Horse is undoubtedly one of our iconic Yorkshire landmarks; visible on a clear day from afar; especially when the sun is shining on the steep hillside on which it was cut. Most interesting article on its origins.

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