Through and indeed under it, to be strictly accurate. This Dorset village, a few miles north of Dorchester, is well-known, but for (arguably) the wrong reason, the chalk-figure giant on the hill in all his unfeasibly impressive priapic glory. Some say he represents Hercules (besides the fearsome club, excavations have found traces of some form of covering over the other hand – a manly lionskin for protection? Or for modesty perhaps?).
There are many theories for the giant’s origin and purpose, but the general consensus is that he dates from the c17 or early c18 – he is first noted in records in the mid-c18. Maybe he’s much older. It is said that a belief in the giant as a symbol of fertility encouraged young women of the surrounding area to climb the hill and sit on his… oh, work it out for yourselves. Let’s move on swiftly.
The fairly recently installed car park overlooking the hill has information boards that are unusually helpful. There’s a good map of the village and its significant features, and another boards with details of the village and its history.
In AD 987 a Benedictine Abbey was founded below the giant’s hill. The dissolution of the monasteries erased it, and apart from a gateway (‘Abbot’s Porch) very little remains, though lumps and bumps in a field reveal its extent.
Medieval monasteries were invariably built close to a reliable source of fresh water. The River Cerne runs through the village, with rivulets running right under the main street. It is a trout stream, which doubtless provided food for the monks. However, there was another water source that still exists. St Augustine’s Well, replete with Augustinian legend.
The water constantly bubbles out of the ground, and has a remarkable clarity. Although these leaves look as though they are on the surface, they are in fact covered by 3 inches of crystal-clear water.
Cerne Abbas was the location of the 1963 film ‘Tom Jones’, starring Albert Finney and Susannah York. If you are interested in seeing stills from the film, showing the village ‘Fielding-ised’ for the film, click HERE. If you want to know more about the book, including a reasonable synopsis, click HERE.
A painted jest from a few years ago…