Tan Hill, Wiltshire

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The Wansdyke on Tan Hill

Tan Hill (grid reference SU080640) is a hill which lies just to the north of the village of Allington in the parish of All Cannings, Wiltshire, England.

Its summit is 294 metres (965 ft) above sea level and is the second highest point of the North Wessex Downs AONB hill range (the adjacent Milk Hill is 295 m high) and of Wiltshire. It is also the third highest point between Bristol and London. To the south, its adjoins Clifford's Hill.

On 23 August 2009, the BBC programme Countryfile featured an item on analysis by Ordnance Survey to determine whether Milk or Tan Hill is the highest. It was confirmed that Milk Hill is 26 centimetres (10.2 in) higher than Tan Hill.[1]

Along the north side of Tan Hill runs a section of The Wansdyke, an earth rampart which runs east to west across much of southern England.

Tan Hill formerly had a white horse.

In April 2003, a Dotterel was present on the summit of Tan Hill. This bird species does not usually migrate through Britain until May.

Hill figure and stone circle[edit]

Formerly, Tan Hill had a hill figure of a white horse, sometimes called the Tan Hill Donkey due its notably large head.

The truth about its existence was originally unknown, with the only direct evidence coming from author Kathleen Wiltshire, who in her book Wiltshire Folklore, published in 1975, wrote about the small donkey being still partly visible "on Tan Hill, though the legs have become quite overgrown... This pony or donkey is 75 feet from nose to tail, which stretches down much like that of the Uffington horse, and its head is very large.".[2] She went on to write that in "the 'valley' between Tan Hill and Rybury Camp stands a miniature stone circle of nine upright sarsen stones about four feet in height, in the centre of which lies a prostrate stone, about the length of a man. A pathway leads up to the 'donkey' from the circle."[2] The figure subsequently became known as Mrs Wiltshires Donkey.[3] Whilst Wiltshire stated the hill figure resided on Tan Hill, another, later source states the figure resided on a "medium steep slope between Tan Hill and Ryebury Camp".[3]

Many searches were made for the stone circle and the white horse, which, after it is said to have become overgrown in 1964 with its legs disappearing,[4] seemed to fade very soon after 1975. None proved successful until March 2002 when the location of the stone circle was given to wiltshirewhitehorses.org.uk, who received a confirmation that the horse did exist.[2] The stone circle, as it was discovered in 2002, was in ruins. Mrs Wiltshire's description is misleading due to the circle actually being in a valley below Tan Hill and Rybury Camp, but not between the two.[2] The stone circle had previously been noted during an archaeological field investigation in 1973, but it was thought likely that the stone circle was a modern arrangement of field clearance boulders rather than a prehistoric monument.[5]

The footpath going up to the horse from the circle still exists, but in the 2002 trip, no trace of the horse remained.[2] However, in November 2004, due to vegetation and light conditions, the horse's shape temporarily resurfaced.[6]

In folklore, it was said locally that when the horse heard All Cannings' church clock strike midnight it went down to a dewpond above Cannings Cross to drink. One night it was supposedly so thirsty that it drank the pond dry, even though a dewpond is said never to dry up.[7]


Views are extensive from here, ranging from Cheesefoot Head near Winchester to the SE to, in clear weather, the Black Mountains in Wales to the NW, making this, alongside neighbouring Milk Hill, one of the most southeasterly points in the UK from which high mountain country can be sighted.[8] Salisbury Plain and, further away, the Mendips and Cotswolds are also clearly visible.

According to [9] it should be possible to sight Pen y Fan, highest point of the Brecon Beacons, in exceptionally clear weather.


  1. ^ "23/08/2009". Countryfile. 2009-08-23. BBC One.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Wiltshire White Horses: The Tan Hill white horse". www.wiltshirewhitehorses.org.uk.
  3. ^ a b Hows, Mark. "Tan Hill Donkey". www.hows.org.uk.
  4. ^ Historic England. "Monument No. 216086". PastScape. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  5. ^ Historic England. "Monument No. 216086". PastScape. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
  6. ^ Hows, Mark. "The Hillfigure Homepage". www.hows.org.uk.
  7. ^ "Wiltshire White Horses: Folklore and legends". www.wiltshirewhitehorses.org.uk.
  8. ^ "Panorama diagram". viewfinderpanoramas.org.
  9. ^ "Panorama diagram". viewfinderpanoramas.org.

Coordinates: 51°22′30″N 1°53′11″W / 51.37500°N 1.88645°W / 51.37500; -1.88645