Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Cerne Abbas Giant

Cerne Abbas is famous for its hill figure which dominates the surrounding countryside. It is of a naked, club-wielding giant with an erect penis. Inevitably the village has a variety of humourous souvenirs for sale which feature this rude figure in a number of guises. Giant apart, this is a charming village which was formerly the site of an ancient Benedictine Abbey and is still the site of extensive legends, folklore and, of course, ghosts.

The Walk

1) Park in the small car park above the village, off the A352, signed as Giant’s View. This spot offers a fine view across the valley to the Giant.

The great chalk figure of the Cerne Abbas Giant is best known for his startling and very obvious nudity. His erect manhood measures an impressive 23 feet in length. The giant wields a huge club over 120 feet in length. Unlike most other hill figures, this giant has eyes, eyebrows, mouth, ribs and other features accurately rendered, he is no mere outline drawing. It has been estimated that to cut away the turf to reveal the chalk would have meant excavating around 25 tons of material, as well as having the know-how to render accurately such a gigantic figure on a hillside. Clearly this was a major undertaking for somebody, but who?

There is no written record of the giant before the 1690s when he is mentioned in the records of the local church, but this is no clear evidence for its age. Until Cerne began to be used as a stop by the coaches on the new roads of the 18th century this was a remote area. Few gentlemen likely to record the giant would have come this way, and the locals would have known the giant far too well to comment on him. In 1754 a visiting doctor noted that the figure looked a bit like Hercules with his club, and that the lord of the manor provided food and drink every seven years for men to scour the figure and so keep it pristine.

Some suggested the giant was cut by the Club Raisers. This sturdy group of Dorset men organised themselves to drive off soldiers of either side in the Civil Wars of the 1640s. Their interest in politics or religion was slim compared to their determination to keep their crops for themselves. Lacking guns, these men carried clubs. This would certainly explain the giant’s club, but would not explain his ruder aspect. Others suggest that the giant was cut by Denzil Holles, a Parliamentarian commander in the Civil War, who owned land in Cerne and was known for his satirical writings. If the giant is a 17th century satire, his significance is lost. Other suggested culprits include the Romans, the Phoenicians, the Celts, King Alfred and the monks who once owned Cerne and had a beautiful abbey in the valley. In truth, nobody really knows how old this giant is nor for how many years he has been staring out across the valley of Cerne.

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