Watlington chalk 'spire' 250th anniversary marked

Watlington White Mark
Image caption Edward Horne wanted the church to look like it had a spire when viewed from his house. However, trees now obscure much of the view

The National Trust is celebrating the 250th anniversary of the Watlington White Mark in Oxfordshire.

The chalk scar was dug into Watlington Hill in 1764 to give the illusion that the town's church had a spire.

Local squire Edward Horne designed the 82m (270ft) shape so it appeared above the parish church of St Leonard when viewed from his house.

Visitors are being invited to re-chalk the white mark and bring nightlights in jars to help illuminate it.

As well as giving the white mark a facelift, throughout the afternoon visitors have been invited to take part in scrub bashing [clearing scrub], bushcraft activities and toasting marshmallows before the feature is lit up with fairy lights and night lights in jam jars.

It is difficult these days to align the mark with the top of the church due to trees blocking the view.

The hill, owned by the National Trust, forms part of The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and is a haven for butterflies.

The Friends of Watlington Hill was formed in 1989 at the request of Lord Esher, whose family gave Watlington Hill to the National Trust.

Jerry Page, National Trust ranger for Watlington Hill, said: "This anniversary event is a great way of encouraging people to come along, join in and celebrate everything they love about the hill and for us to thank the Friends of Watlington Hill who help us to maintain it on a regular basis."

Hill figures

Hill figures, also known as chalk figures, are shapes and images cut into hillsides, with the removed turf replaced with chalk or other light material.

Hill figures in England include the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset, the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire and the Long Man of Wilmington in East Sussex.

The Uffington White Horse is thought to date back to the Bronze Age but most surviving figures were created in or after the 18th century.

Hill figures require constant maintenance to prevent them grassing over and many have been lost over the centuries.

The most common design for hill figures is a white horse, the symbol of Wiltshire, where there were at least 13 known white horses, with eight still visible.

Image caption The White Horse of Uffington is built below an Iron Age hill fort but is thought to date to the Bronze Age

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