Cycling past Yorkshire’s famous white horse

Few villages are so obvious for miles around than Kilburn on the south-eastern fringe of the North York Moors National Park. It may be tiny, its residents numbering 227 at the time of the last census, but on a clear day it is possible to hone in on its location from about 30 miles away in Harrogate.

For this is a village with a famous landmark so huge it was covered to avoid the cross hairs of German bombers during the Second World War. The famous White Horse of Kilburn lies to the south of Sutton Bank; a beautiful beacon of white rocks arranged in equine shape on the sheer Roulston Scar hillside. Its surface extends 318ft long and 220ft high, making it the largest of Britain’s white horses.

And all riders taking part in the 2018 Ryedale Rumble will enjoy seeing it up close as they pass through the village.

Kilburn White Horse on the route of the 2018 Ryedale Rumble

The horse, which covers almost two acres, was first marked out by local schoolmaster John Hodgson and his pupils in 1857 before being cut into the limestone of the North York Moors National Park by 31 men.

Since the hillside is formed of limestone, the horse was created by removing topsoil and exposing the underlying rock. This Yorkshire landmark is clearly visible in the satellite view of Google Maps. In fact, during World War II the horse was covered over to prevent it from becoming a conspicuous navigation landmark for enemy bombers. A collection of funds was made for its construction with the balance in an account still providing for maintenance today.

The horse goes with the weather. When the sun shines it dries it out and makes it really white. But when it’s wet and miserable it goes very dark grey and it gets the nickname, the ‘old grey mare’.

Chalk chippings used to be added to the horse, but that stopped due to the danger of it slipping down the hill into the visitor car park. Today the chippings are spray painted with pressure hoses.

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