K is for … The Kilburn White Horse

The Kilburn White Horse (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

The first time we ever visited the Kilburn White Horse was a complete accident. It was our very first date. Ian asked if I fancied going out for a drive but had no idea where to take me. And so he decided to show me some of the beautiful scenery around one of his favourite fishing haunts, which sounded good to me.

It was a nice hot summer day and anywhere would have been fine.  When we were almost there, though (it was a long drive), for some reason he took the wrong exit from the motorway  and, not sure of where we were, we ended up on a magical mystery tour, driving through some very pretty villages in the North York Moors.

Ian used to smoke real cigarettes in those days, and the dog was with us, and eventually we decided to stop at the next major town, to replenish supplies, use the facilities, give the dog a walk, and maybe see if there was a tourist information centre.

The next major town was Thirsk. And we didn’t get as far as the tourist information centre because the ladies in the newsagent suggested we try Sutton Bank, where there was apparently a visitor centre and some good walks. So that is where we went, and the ladies in the visitor centre gave us a walk leaflet to follow.

Sutton Bank (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

We followed the path until just beyond the Yorkshire Gliding Club, where we took a detour down the hill, through some woods, and into a large car park. When we turned around to go back up the hill, just in front of us, partially hidden by the treeline, was this huge white horse carved into the side of the cliff.

Ian hadn’t even realised there was one there, and he’s a Yorkshire man! And I didn’t realise there was one so far north. It was such a lovely surprise. 

We climbed back up the hill, Rufus pulling me on his lead by one hand, Ian pulling me up by the other. I was completely honest right at the start about not “doing” hills, so he already knew to not even talk to me.

On the way back along the path we took another diversion and this time ended up at a lovely pub with some gallops behind it. (We think this pub has since closed.) The landlord invited us in, even the dog, and we had our first meal out together. It was such a nice day that we vowed to go back again one day.

When we got home it turned out that the Kilburn White Horse wasn’t such a secret to quite a few of our friends. In fact, many local walkers go there all the time.

The Yorkshire Gliding Club (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

We have been back a few times since then, and we decided that we’d quite like it to be included in our alphabet adventures. We just couldn’t decide whether to have it as “K” for Kilburn or “S” for Sutton Bank. But when we discovered that another “K” we’d considered didn’t really have much of interest around it, “K” it was.

We headed off to Sutton Bank on New Year’s Eve. The year 2019 had turned out to be full of problems for us in the end, but we were determined to get out at least one more time, even if it was on the very last day of the year. 

It took us about 90 minutes to get there. We parked up first at the visitor centre so we could use the facilities and then we drove down to the white horse to do some filming. On the way back up to the visitor centre we stopped off at the gliding club to do some more filming, and to give Ian an opportunity to be right when I was wrong. I keep calling it a flying club. Even now I’ve had to change it twice from “flying” to “gliding”.

Back at the visitor centre we had literally just set off on our walk along the top when first Ian’s (he ignored it because he was busy filming) and then my phone started to ring. It was our burglar alarm at home calling us up, and we were 90 minutes away.

But we turned around to start back anyway, calling first the police and then Ian’s daughter on the way. Both responded quickly and positively, and Ian’s daughter, bless her, dropped everything to go and check on the house. She got there a good hour before we did and, fortunately, it was a false alarm.

The next day, New Year’s Day, we packed a picnic, in case the visitor centre was closed, and we headed back to complete our filming … imagine our surprise to see the place heaving and with even the overflow car parks filling up at an alarming rate. There were cars, people, dogs everywhere.

The Kilburn White Horse was carved into the cliff at Sutton Bank in 1857 by a Victorian businessman, Thomas Taylor, helped by 31 men and school teacher John Hodgson. Taylor had seen similar hill figures in other parts of the country and couldn’t see why there wasn’t one in Yorkshire.

After the figure had been cut, 6 tons of lime was deposited on top of the greyish stone, along with gallons of whitewash, and that was what gave the horse its white colouring. The figure is around 314 feet long and 228 feet high, and today chalk chippings from the Yorkshire Wolds give it its colouring. It is believed to be the largest hill figure of its kind in the north of England.

Sutton Bank is a hill in the Hambleton area of North Yorkshire. It is also home to the Sutton Bank National Park Centre.  Approximately 500m one way is said to be (initially by the vet, James Herriot) the finest view in England, across the Vale of York. Approximately 1¼ miles in the other direction is the Yorkshire Gliding Club (I got it right that time!) and the path down to the Kilburn White Horse.

The National Park Centre is open at weekends only during January and February, but then daily for the rest of the year, apart from Christmas Eve and Christmas Day when it is closed. There are many walks and also bike trails, as well as a children’s adventure playground, the toilets, shop and café. It cost us £2.50 to park for up to 2 hours. 


The 2½-mile round trip to the white horse and back took us an hour and 23 minutes, and that included filming and taking pictures. The path is good, and suitable for both wheelchairs and pushchairs.

There are 2 paths down through the woods to the car park at the base of the white horse. We chose to take the furthest one down as, apparently, the gradient back up that one is far steeper than the other one. And we took the other one back up again. This path isn’t really suitable for wheelchairs or pushchairs, but you can drive around to this car park and see the horse from below.

We did just under 8,000 steps and burnt off more than 325 calories. And the majority of the other dogs on the walk were on leads, just like Rufus. One very kind dog-less couple looked after Rufus for us while we filmed on the edge of the cliff.

The Yorkshire Gliding Club, founded in 1934, is open seven days a week throughout the year, with flying planned for every day, subject to suitable weather conditions. Non-members are welcome, and they will even take willing visitors up in the gliders with them. There is a café here also open daily.

Gliders at the Yorkshire Gliding Club (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

Before you go …
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Ian’s Gear: Ian used a Canon 70d with a Tamron SP 17-50mm lens, on several different settings as they were all handheld. For the video he used a GoPro sports camera with a Feiyu gimbal, the Tamron 70d, and Diane used a Samsung A70.


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