|"Long Man of Wilmington" by Cupcakekid at en.wikipedia.|
The Long Man is to be found reclining on the north-facing scarp slope of the South Downs a few miles to the east of Brighton. Europe's largest representation of the human form, he stands (or lies) 226 feet tall (or long). But the Long Man's origins are lost in not just the mists of time but the fog of human ignorance. And that presented itself to me as a challenge.
A party of American Lions were to visit Brighton and we had arranged a programme of trips. One of the early trips was to be to the Devil's Dyke and I was all geared up to tell our guests the legend of how the Dyke was formed. I'm not going to repeat it here, but if you are curious, just pop over here for a minute or two. Don't worry, we'll wait.
OK? I'll carry on. I fully expected that one of the trips would take our guests past the Long Man. They would, I felt sure, ask about his origin so I started my research. And what did I discover? Zilch, a big round zero. Nothing at all romantic or legendary. And so, I was forced to invent the Legend of the Long Man.
Long, long ago, before even our great-grandfathers' great-grandfathers were born, there were two giants living in Sussex, one on each of two hills on the South Downs. No-one knows what names the hills had in those distant days, but nowadays they are called Mount Harry and Firle Beacon, probably because the giants who lived on those hills were called Harry and Firle.
Every morning, Harry would look towards the east as the sun came up. On seeing Firle, he would call out and the two of them would discuss their plans for the day, the prospects for the weather and so on. In the evening, Firle would look westwards towards the setting sun and would call out to Harry. They would tell each other about how their plans for the day had turned out and chat generally as the sky darkened from the east.
Now it came about that the two quarrelled. What the quarrel was about, nobody knows, but neighbours being neighbours, it was probably over something quite petty. Harry and Firle no longer told each other their plans, nor did they discuss how their crops were doing, nor about the chances of rain in the morning. Instead, they hurled insults at each other. Then one day, Firle throw a lump of earth at Harry. Harry responded by throwing a large lump of chalk. This hit Firle on the temple and he fell down, dead on the instant.
Harry was immediately full of remorse and rushed across the valley. There was nothing he could do: even giants can't be brought back from the dead. Harry decided he would have to bury Firle. But Firle had been standing on Windover Hill at the time and Harry couldn't face carrying him back to Firle Beacon, so he decided to bury him where he lay. He thought of erecting a headstone, but chalk - the local rock - is quite unsuitable for headstones. Instead, Harry dug round the outline of Firle's body, his two staffs included, through the shallow topsoil to the white chalk beneath so that all who passed by could see and remember the giant Firle. Harry left Sussex after that, never to be seen again, but his memorial to Firle can be seen to this day on the slope of the Downs above the village of Wilmington.
Now comes the slightly worrying bit. Some time later, I was idly surfing the net when I came across a page telling the story of . . . The Long Man of Wilmington! And it was my story! Now, had somebody told somebody else who told somebody else who wrote it up - or did somebody else dream up a legend identical to mine?
All I can say is that there is absolutely no truth at all in my story.
At least, I don't think there is.