Kilburn White Horse – North Yorkshire, England - Atlas Obscura

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Kilburn White Horse

England's largest white horse isn't even white. 


It may seem no different from the many other enormous equines carved into England’s chalk downs, but this particular geoglyph is truly a hill horse of a different color.

The Kilburn White Horse is on Sutton Bank near Kilburn in North Yorkshire, just on the edge of the magnificent North York Moors National Park. At 318 feet long and 220 feet tall, it’s the largest and most northerly white horse hill figure in the United Kingdom. It was created in 1857 and constructed by a local schoolteacher and his students.

To some hill figure purists, this colossal white horse is a fake. Unlike the other geoglyphs in England, this elephantine equine was carved into a steep gray limestone hill instead of a traditional chalk hill. Once its shape was dug out of the earth, white chalk chips were carted in to give the horse the signature ivory color.

As such, the hill horse—dubbed the “Old Gray Mare” because of its true hue—needs quite a bit of careful grooming to maintain its snowy sheen. In the past, new chalk chips were dumped onto the figure to freshen it up. But it was soon feared that if any more chips were added, all the weight would cause the horse to start slipping down the hillside. Now, the geoglyph gets sprayed with a coat of white masonry paint every few years.

Traditionally, these touch-ups were done by a dedicated stable of local volunteers. But in 2018, the Forestry Commission, citing health and safety concerns, decided to take the reins on any future conservation work.

Know Before You Go

The horse is visible from parts of Leeds some 28 miles away, and in good conditions can be seen from 45 miles away in Lincolnshire. You can get a particularly good (and convenient) view looking east from the train on the East Coast Main Line between London and Edinburgh, just south of the town of Thirsk (about 10 minutes after leaving the York station when traveling north).

It's easy to visit the horse, which is directly on the long-distance Cleveland Way trail. If visiting the Sutton Bank National Park Centre, it's about a two-mile walk. Follow the path which crosses the A170, continue to the left, skirt round the gliding club, and you'll see the horse down the hill on your right.

Alternatively, you can get directly to the base of the horse by following the narrow Low Town Bank Road past the gliding club entrance to the car park, where there are steps up to explore further.

If driving, be careful of the 25% gradient of Sutton Bank, where encounters with lorries on the narrow bends are a common hazard. Check your brakes! The easier direction is east to west from the delightful town of Helmsley.

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