What Ian Learned This Week: An occasional attempt to capture bits and bobs I’ve learned in the past week or so. Most definitely not done every week, but basically whenever I feel like it.

Hill figures

Reading Hidden Histories, and learning more about features of the British countryside I’m particularly struck by the chapter on hill figures. The strikingly bold lines of the Uffington White Horse and the Cerne Abbas Giant stand out as wonderful examples of ancient hill figures. The Uffington Horse also happens to be one of my favourite pieces of art of all time.

But what surprised me was discovering just how recent many hill figures are. A number of them were made in the 18th and 19th century and the Folkestone White Horse was “created in June 2003 as a millennial landmark that can be seen from the Channel Tunnel trains to and from the continent” (Hidden Histories, p 177).

Something feels off about the idea of a recent hill figure emulating ancient styles. Without knowing the history of the piece it’s possible that viewers may not understand the distinct origins or ancient vs modern. Given it’s art that must be viewed at a distance it’s not like they can pop up a mile-high sign to note it’s a recent piece.

But then we make our mark on the landscape all the time with much less attractive stone structures, so I’m not sure why it seems somehow disrespectful to instead ape earlier styles.

One thing ancient hill figures definitely do have over more recent versions is an enviable history of maintenance. The Uffington Horse is estimated at 3000 years old and has been maintained regularly for 150 generations – an incredible monument to human cooperation.

The Folkestone White Horse seems unlikely to repeat this incredible feat, and perhaps it’s the more artificial construction and the high likelihood that it will fade that makes it seem less…. right. But time will tell and it may be that in 3000 years the Folkestone White Horse is remembered in a similar vein to it’s predecessors.

What a fool I’ll feel then.

(Incidentally the Folkestone White Horse has an incredibly 90s website still live for some reason.)


‘Ian’ has always been a difficult name for friends – or enemies – to make into a useful nickname, but there has been no such trouble with friends and colleagues finding ways to adulterate ‘Goggin’. I’ve heard almost every variation of my surname possible over the years from Gogs to Goggotron and more ridiculous ones in between. My personal favourite for creative usage was when a pub quiz team named itself A Curious Incident of a Gog in the Nighttime.

But while reading about hill giants I’ve come across a possible variation that I’ve never heard before.

When reading about hill figures it’s difficult to avoid a prominent member of the giant family: the Cerne Abbas Giant. It stands proud on a Dorset hillside, and is estimated at being almost 2000 years old. But it seems there used to be more hill giants across the British countryside.

One such hill giant was a depiction of ‘Gogmagog’, a legendary giant in Welsh and English folklore. The last of the giants in Albion and the most terrible, being monstrously strong and tall.

If used as a nickname I just hope it isn’t an omen of my eventual end. Gogmagog was chucked off a cliff by the eponymous first legendary ruler of Cornwall.

I have now read too much about Gogmagog.