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Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Long Man of Wilmington

The Sussex village of Wilmington lies about 6 miles north west of Eastbourne.  Marked out on the side of nearby Windover Hill, just to the south of the village, there’s a 235’ high figure of a man.  No one knows who he is meant to represent, or how long he’s been there.

The Wilmington Giant could be prehistoric, Roman, Saxon – or much newer. We know he’s been there since at least 1710, because in that year a surveyor called John Rowley made a drawing of him.  It seems the figure in those days was an indentation in the grass, only able to be seen when the light was right, or after a snowfall.  In 1874, he was outlined in yellow bricks, replaced by concrete blocks in 1969 that are periodically painted white.  During the Second World War, the bricks were coloured green so that enemy bombers were unable to use the Long Man as a landmark.  Clever, eh?

You’ll find people who swear he’s an ancient fertility symbol, or a representation of an ancient war-god.  His head, apparently, was once shaped as though wearing a war helmet.  Or is he a gigantic hoax?  Some sort of memorial?  The fact is that we simply don’t know and, so, for the time being, the giant hides his mysterious identity and purpose.  You may think it’s a little surprising that there seems to be no reference to him earlier than 1710; but then, if he’d been made just before then, wouldn’t it have been hard to keep it a secret?  The ancients, after all, got up to all manner of things, including carving enormous figures on hillsides; so it’s quite possible that Wilmington’s Long Man has a long history.

In any event, our tall friend is a little special.  He may lack certain anatomical features enjoyed by his close relative, the Cerne Abbas Giant (though some believe the Victorians robbed him of it), but that doesn’t mean he’s not worth a brief visit if you happen to be passing – or as part of your research into large figures carved into the English landscape.

There are public footpaths if you want to get up close and personal – he’s not far from the South Downs Way.  Or you can be lazy and view it from a minor road between the A27 and the A259.  Apparently, there’s also a public car park just south of Wilmington Priory, with good views nearby.

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