What can I say about the Long Man him/herself?
At first sight, up close, it will be a disappointment, consisting, as it does, of concrete blocks painted white. For me the real delights of this site lie above him on Windover Hill, and I have added these as associated sites.
The best way to experience the Long Man, in my view, is to sit on the flat platform to his/her right, formed from the spoil of a small chalk pit, and picnic/chill/meditate/whatever takes your fancy and involves sitting there.
This is a site where I have attended many open druid rituals and it is a wonderful setting. After a while those concrete blocks begin to speak to you….
Well today was different.
A while ago my Grove was granted permission to paint the Long Man of Wilmington, here in Sussex. We had three dates reserved for this, in case of inclement weather, and today was the first.
As I arrived at the car-park in Wilmington it was raining. In a circle stood a group of despondent Druids in raincoats looking at the sky. Opinions were swapped and we were all asked to "speak our truth" as to whether or not we would be insane to attempt to paint the Long Man in such weather. One good point made was "Would you paint your house in this kind of weather?"
I suspect we all knew the answer was no. We walked up to the Long Man for a recce, the rain steadily drizzling down upon us. We all went onto the figure for the first time, unable to resist the opportunity given to us.
While on the figure a brief ritual took place that I will not detail here. Suffice to say that I thank all those who took part from the bottom of my heart. I will always remember those moments as long as I live.
Eventually myself and another Druid (Chris who appeared on "Living in the Iron Age" a couple of years ago as it happens) painted a test slab.
At this point I should explain that the Long Man is not a normal chalk hill-figure. When the original figure faded in Victorian times, the shape was outlined on bricks, which were replaced in the sixties by concrete slabs. None of what you see is chalk, though it all overlays a genuine, and very mysterious, figure. Allegedly the Victorians turned his left foot so that it faced East, due to not being able to trace it accurately close up. Other than that it is thought to be accurate.
Having painted the test slab we all did the druidic thing and went down the pub, the very lovely Giant's Rest in Wilmington, in order to drown our sorrows, as we all know it wasn't going to happen now. The test slab was clearly brighter than the rest of the figure, even from a mile away, which was even more frustrating.
A few people left, understandably, and we settled down to good chatter and a warm pub.
Suddenly it was pointed out that the skies were brightening and a frissant of hope swept through the company. People could be heard saying such things as "Shall we...?" and "..bloody insane..".
A thunderstorm was still forecast for later on in the afternoon. If we were to do this we would have to lug 40 litres of white paint up to the base of the figure, then paint it, allegedly a four hour job, then allow AT LEAST an hour for it to dry.
Again we all spoke our truth. Many thought we would actually now be certifiable to try and get it done with the forecast as it was, yet one could sense that this was actually now on the cards.
Suddenly we were off. All the careful planning went out of the window. We dashed back up to the car-park in our cars. Paint, buckets and brushes were unloaded and we marched off once again to the base of the figure. All thoughts of a leisurely afternoon quaffing mead, picnicking and then sauntering onto the figure to do another bit from time to time were now abandoned. Before we know it we were puffing up the figure with paint filled buckets, nervously eying the sky and noting ominously that the test slab was now completely washed clean by the rain of an hour before.
The nightmare image of the newly painted Long Man washed clean in the rain was ever present.
By the time I reached the top of the left stave I was doing that kind exhausted breathing where you actually have to moan in order to get the air out fast enough. I also felt sick. I flopped down next to the top slab and set to work.
"Paint it on thin, so it dries quicker!" came the cry from below from Damh the Bard, a paint brush in his hand and a manic look in his eye.
"If we get away with this it will be wonderful, if we don't....embarrassing." I commented, half to myself. But then again, isn't that the essence of all true endeavour?
And so it began.
The Sun came out, we felt hope.
It want back in. We painted like furies.
A serious rain storm skirted west a few miles north of us. We painted even faster.
Dark, dark clouds suddenly appeared overhead from the south.
Yet still there was no rain.
The Sun came back out. We chilled a little.
It went back in. We sped up again.
Two other members of the Grove turned up, arriving breathless to tell us that the figure looked great form the road, and that they could see the progress we were making as they drove to Wilmington.
Slowly the jokes started to come about who should paint his groin and where we should put the Big Brother logo (I have a few ideas on that one and they don't include the Long Man).
Slowly, slowly we realised that shouts of "Which bit needs doing now?" were being met with no reply.
We had done it.
Ten of us.
Joined later by two more.
In an hour.
We slowly congregated in the Long Man's head (Where else?), in time to see another member of the grove arrive, amazed at the sight of our completed work.
The reluctance to leave the enclosure of this hill-figure was palpable.
Eventually myself and Chris went to the top of the hill to see the amazing barrows above the Long Man. Then it was back down the hill onto the Gorsedd Mound formed from the spoil of the chalk pit next to the figure, and time to picnic and hope for no rain for at least an hour.
We got our hour's drying time.
If we had left it any longer it would not have been enough. The gods granted us two and a half hours, half an hour to get up to the figure again, an hour to paint it, and an hour for it to dry.
So now we will all have to carry out the libations we promised to if we were granted such a miracle, in my case THREE bottles of Dorset Ginger. But I will do this with joy and (slightly whimpering) gladness.
The heavens opened and we set of back to the car park. The thunder started as we noticed two idiots at the top of the figure, testing the paint. We screamed at them to get the **** off it at a distance at which they could not have heard us.
They got the **** off.
I realised I had left my blowing horn in the grass at the foot of the Long Man and had to return to the figure for a third time, probably worrying the idiots that I was going there to have a go (Moi?).
We got to the pub.
We looked at each other and laughed from time to time.
It was wonderful.
Later we saw that the paint had stayed right where we put it through torrential rain.
This evening we all met up, freshly scrubbed, at a restaurant, and ate together as only those who have shared a common challenge can.
For the next four years, with any luck, every bit of the long Man that you can actually see is courtesy of the Anderida Grove of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.
I can't help ending with this. My bits are (From the long Man's point of view, assuming he is facing north):
His left stave, from the top to his left hand.
The bottom of his left hand to his elbow.
The top few stones of his left inner thigh.
The base of his left foot.
And his crotch.
Sunday 1st June 2003
Posted by Cursuswalker
2nd June 2003ce
Edited 14th February 2004ce
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