At dawn on May Day, the Long Man Morris Men will dance at the foot of the Long Man of Wilmington to celebrate the pagan festival of Beltaine. Why, we’re not entirely sure, but this 70m high hill figure just outside of Eastbourne is more than just a familiar landmark to many, it is also an ancient site of worship.
So they probably wouldn’t be too pleased to know that last Christmas Proporta gave the Long Man his own little companion in the form of our armadillo logo. The trick to making a good hill figure, we found out, is to make sure that you expose the right amount of chalk, which we found to be a doddle one cold winter night when we visited the Long Man of Wilmington armed with a 50ft stencil and a spoon…
Because as well as being very old (no one is quite sure how old), the Long Man is also, like all hill figures, relatively new. Cut as it is from the green turf of a hillside so that the chalk underneath shows through, the Long Man has to be maintained, or he will disappear back under a carpet of grass. And we’re not the only ones to have had some fun with this mysterious figure. In 2007, Trinny and Susannah temporarily gave him a female makeover, complete with pigtails, and during the Second World War he was painted green for the more serious purpose of stopping German bombers using him as a landmark.
The Long Man of Wilmington is, therefore, both an ancient monument, and an emobdiment of a living, breathing tradition that continues today. So this weekend we’ll be raising a glass and a silent hey-nonny-nonnny to the Morris Dancers who are not just men in funny costumes with bells on their knees, but also a part of the ongoing care (if you ignore petty vandals like us, and those reprobates Trinny and Susannah) that keeps this hundreds of years old figure alive and kicking.