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Cerne Abbas Giant

Hill Figure


What happened when Britain's naked giant got a BIG makeover

Well this news should brighten the day up, its from the Daily Mail

My arms feel as if they have done ten rounds with a Sumo wrestler, I have a nasty gash on my left thumb, my back is in spasm and I can barely stand, having tripped myself up and rolled like a human doughnut down a precipitous slope. But this is what happens when you take on a giant, especially when it is Britain's last and most celebrated one. I refer, of course, to the Cerne Abbas giant in verdant Dorset. The club-wielding figure, which is 180ft from head to toe and is administered by the National Trust, is carved into the hillside. It is finally due a makeover.

Thirty volunteers are restoring the giant - infamous for its gargantuan genitalia - to its old glory, re-digging its silhouette, which has been blurred by overgrown weeds and the footprints of animals, and re-chalking its outline.

No one is quite sure when the giant first appeared. Some say he is a pagan fertility symbol and that if a childless woman and her partner spend the night camping between the giant's legs, she will be a mother within two years. Others claim that the figure represents the Greek hero Hercules, who was often depicted with a club in his right hand. Either way, there are no documents mentioning the giant before 1694 - although medieval writers had written copious amounts about the hillside itself.

Local records suggest that the giant was carved as late as the 17th century, during the Civil War, on the orders of the area's bigwig, Denzil Holles. It was intended as a cruel parody of Oliver Cromwell, who was sometimes referred to mockingly as England's Hercules.

Whatever the truth, when I arrive at the picturesque village of Cerne Abbas, it is clear that nearly every emporium refers to its most famous son. There is the Giant Inn, the Giant Pub, the Giant Bakery and even Giant Hairstyles. Nonetheless, locals are furious at what they call the 'crass commercialism' of their giant. He has been used for publicity stunts and as an advertisement for everything from condoms and jeans to bicycles.

To publicise the opening of The Simpsons Movie in July last year, a 160ft Homer Simpson was outlined in white paint to the left of the hill's more established occupant. Enraged local neo-pagans enacted a rain dance in the hope of washing the American imposter away. The following month, a member of Fathers 4 Justice painted the giant's sexual organ bright purple.

Drinkers in the Giant Inn mutter darkly about the giant's revenge. 'You have got to treat him with respect,' says John Hodge, a local farmer. His companions nod sternly. I am then told the giant is not merely fiction, but actually existed in the flesh. According to 80-year-old Hodge, he wreaked havoc by killing sheep and cattle in the Middle Ages. But then he fell asleep on the hillside and the villagers roped him down and killed him before digging a trench, which is still visible, around his corpse.

National Trust archaeologist Nancy Grace, who has long brown plaits and looks rather like a medieval damsel-not-in-distress, is enthralled by the ancient stories. 'No one really knows when he first appeared,' she says. 'But it is true that written evidence points to the 17th century when he was created as a rude cartoon of Oliver Cromwell. He must have taken ages to carve.'
'But would anyone really go to all that trouble just to make fun of a politician?' I ask her. (You cannot imagine a chalk figure of our own dear Prime Minister gracing one of England's green and pleasant hillsides, let alone one with an erection.) 'Feelings ran much higher in those days,' says Nancy. 'After all, they were cutting off peoples' heads back then.'

We are standing at the bottom of the hill, admiring the view. I watch the workers on the hill. They look like ants. And then I join them. I am given a series of complicated directions and begin my upward and nigh-on-impossible muddy trudge. I fall down every second step. Something brown splatters in my face. I glance over at the National Trust workers and hope they haven't noticed me. 'Hello over there!' shouts one of them. 'Are you having difficulties?' I pretend he is speaking to someone else.

Eventually, I find myself on top of the giant's club. There, Mike Clarke, director of the National Trust, explains the makeover. Once the old chalk and detritus has been removed, 17 tons of sparkling new white chalk will be poured into the outline and then flattened. He hopes everything will be done by Sunday. To his left a woman heaves a bag of chalk onto her shoulders, panting with exhaustion. 'It's quite a job given his size and the fact his genitalia alone is 10ft long,' he says.

He explains that over time, pranksters have deliberately extended his manhood's length. The prudish Victorians, meanwhile, attempted to cover it up by planting a strategically placed bellybutton. 'But do people really come to romance each other in the mud?' I ask. And after that debilitating scramble up the hill? 'Oh yes. We get a lot of calls saying people are at it in the grass.'

Mike hands me a large sack and instructs me to dig out the old chalk, which is a rheumy grey. I shovel as much of it as I can into the sack. I look around, hopefully, for some National Trust worker to take it away to a waiting lorry.
'What are you hanging about for?' remarks a small, slight woman standing nearby. 'I don't think I can lift this,' I confess. She laughs derisively and explains that I have to do my own hauling. My temper up, I shoulder the sack, thinking I must look less like Hercules than the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I trip on a small mound and fall over. There is now more chalk on me than on the giant. Mike sighs. 'Try putting in the new chalk instead,' he says.

He gives me a bag of fresh chalk and a long pipe with a flat rectangle on the bottom. I am told to lay the powder along the outline and then use this object to pack the new chalk as tightly as I can. I reach for a handful and lightly sprinkle it on the ground. 'What are you doing?' says Mike. 'You're not icing a cake. Put your back into it.' I lift the flattener and start bashing the chalk. Mike grins at my discomfort. 'It's much better than going to the gym,' he says. 'I've become so fit. My partner is thrilled.' Interesting. Will he be bringing her up there for a fertility rite? 'Gracious, no. I'm a National Trust official,' he says. I don't trust him. The Cerne Abbas giant seems to have a strange effect on those who come too close to it.

Is it the revenge of the giant slain in the ancient mists of time? Is it the allure of the arcane rites recommended by erotically minded pagans who worship fertility symbols? Or could it be Oliver Cromwell having the last laugh on monarchist modern Britain.

I start back down the hill, buoyed up by the thought that the descent will be considerably easier than the going up. I am mistaken. I slide down the hill like a human toboggan. Helplessly, I clutch the fence for support and impale my thumb on some barbed wire. The giant's round, green eyes seem to take on a malevolent glare in the autumn sunshine. This is no Roald Dahl-style BFG. But when I finally look up and see the giant and his shining new outline, it is a wonderful and mesmerising sight. If magic exists anywhere, it may, indeed, be in this quiet corner of Dorset.

By Petronella Wyatt
moss Posted by moss
16th September 2008ce
Edited 19th September 2008ce

Comments (1)

Good old Ollie!

(and here's some background )
Stoneshifter Posted by Stoneshifter
16th September 2008ce
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