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... continues...
This walk may be more interesting to geologists but looks interesting....
The walk starts at the spring which rises from below the Upper Greensand. A huge quarry on the eastern side of Giant Hill, in the Lower and Middle Chalk, provided building stone for Cerne and probably other villages... continues...
I called into the car park to view the Giant last Autumn but due to the wet summer the chalk lines were not very clear as grass was starting to grow through. There was a sign on the gate in the car park stating that there was a re-chalking process due to start shortly so presumably all will be clear when visiting now? There is a gate from the car park which gives access to a path which leads to the Giant if you want a closer err.. inspection! I will visit again when in the area as Cerne Abbas village also looked very pretty.
Access hmmm, didn't actually go up to 'the man', but I guess this might still be useful to someone.... Tarmac car park is signposted from the A352, on the left heading south. This is the best observation point for seeing the Giant on his hillside, which is of course the only way to really see the figure properly (other than from an aircraft!).
Thursday 18 September 2003
I'd been looking forward to seeing ye-probably-not-quite-so-old-as-perhaps-was-thought-but-who-cares Giant for quite a while. Pretty damn impressive the old boy and his Belisha beacon are too!
Although I still find the evidence not completely conclusive, I'm quite happy with the notion that it's a later figure on a long-significant hillside. And even if the theory that it's supposed to represent Ollie Cromwell is right, it's still a cool sight/site.
Although not quite steep enough for perfect observation from below, Giant Hill gives a pretty good view from the car park. We didn't bother climbing the hill, as we were on a pretty tight schedule and wanted to see quite a few sites on our only day in the 'far' south.
When we reached Yelcombe Bottom, the valley below the Giant, it was already early evening, and a warm golden glow was spreading across the land before us.
The gradient and angle of the carving means that it can only be seen properly from the air - not dissimilar to the Uffington White Horse. The car park opposite the Giant is a tranquil, peaceful spot, apart from the occasional car passing by. A thoroughly good vibe permeated the whole sunny valley, as evening songs of blackbirds, robins, chaffinches and wrens filled the air. It’s very easy to feel that the Giant owns Yelcombe Bottom, and there is a definite feel of mystery about the place. Worth a look.
Visited November 1998: We went to see the giant on our honeymoon. At the time Lou was already pregnant (no, it's wasn't a shotgun wedding) so we decided fertility rites needn't be pursued.
When my Dad drove past this site with his prudish mother and father my Grandma allegedly commented on the size of the giant's club. This wasn't intended as an innuendo (if you'd ever met her you'd know she was no Kenneth Williams), but as a pathetic distraction technique, intended to draw her son's attention away from the enormous penis on the hillside. Needless to say this didn't stop Dad from spotting the giant's most distinctive attribute.
There was an interesting article in 3rd stone by Jeremy Harte that presents
convincing evidence that the figure is not ancient which i think is the only
conclusion you can come to by looking at the facts even if that is not what you
want to believe. here is a quote from the article:
"no 17thcentury deeds or field names referred to the figure, despite his obvious
advantages as a landmark. Even Giant Hill appears as Trendle Hill, after an
earthwork at its summit, until 1700. Neither the churchwardens nor the estate
managers, as we have seen, record the work of recutting the Giant before 1694. He
is absent, not only from national surveys by antiquaries
like Camden, but from the notes of local scholars such as Gerard who had passed
through Cerne in 1625, and from a very detailed survey of the manor in 1617."
This is in dramatic contrast to the genuinely ancient hillfigure at uffington
where the first record is of a white horse hill in the 1070's and of the actual
figure in 1190.
you can read the article here: http://www.thirdstone.demon.co.uk/download/cerne_24.pdf
Just to mention that Ronald Hutton has made an academic career out of 'debunking' ancient myths. Not that his books aren't interesting in their way, but if you follow his ideas there aren't *any* ancient sites or traditions that predate pretty much the Victorians! A large pinch of salt is advisable; and our speculations are at least as likely as his, most of the time, when all's said and done!
I simply love this giant, no matter the embaresment is causes to some. And shall I tll you something, the dick's a fake! Oh yes, it is genuinely there, but the lenght was added to in later times, by 'innocently' enlarging it to incorporate the navel as well! So all theories of fertility or the abbott being ridiculed can go out of the window...
What can you say really.. gut reaction when I saw him was to laugh my ass off. Im sure he has had this effect on pilgrims for thousands of years.
I read with interest what Proffesor Ronald Hutton had to say about him being a Reformation joke aimed at Cromwell. The argument is based around the fact that no one wrote about him until that period.
The theory being that a local landowner went out and cut the figure into the cliff to flick the V's at Olly.
The trouble is no one at the time, including the aforementioned landowner wrote about the appearance of a vast nob monster on a Dorset hillside. No one involved in the joke seems to have felt the need to mention it or draw anyones attention to it. A lot of effort to go to to raise a laugh and then not share it with anyone.
The argument seems to be "no one mentioned it, so it didn't exist". By the same measure Britain didn't exist until the Romans started writing about it. End of rant.
I have a couple of stories about the big mans pride and joy. He has lost it on a few occasions. The prudish Victorians turfed it over and then during the Second World War he was emasculated again. The story goes that Luftwaffe pilots were using his nob to target Bristol.
My favourite story is about the Sunday school teacher who led a party of children up onto the giant for a day out. When an inquisitive child asked about the monster dick the flustered teacher told the kids. " He must have been a tailor, and those must be his scissors".
The village of Cerne Abbas has a cracking holly well near the church.
this is one steep hill! -- we went rolling decorated eggs down here on Easter Sunday. Too many ridges and paths to get a satisfyingly smooth roll though ...
but the sheer angle of the hill sways me away from the "can only see it from the air, so it must be for gods/aliens" type theory ... it's the steepest non-cliff hill I think I've been on - perhaps its the nearest the designers were going to get to a suitable canvass for viewing the giant from the road/nearby hills.
Dunno really - just a thought - only by going up there, rather than just looking at it from the road as I've done before, did I think about it
What's that huge scary looking mansion type place opposite all about then?
There were curative wells at Cerne; one called Pill Well, now dry, and St. Austin's Well, anciently Silver Well. Hel Well still flowing, in a marshy place covered with trees and brushwood, was not curative. A man now living, named Vincent, aged fifty-five years, had a crippled child. Every morning, for several months together, Vincent carried his child, wrapped in a blanket, to St. Austin's Well, and dipped it into the well, and at last it was cured. Sore eyes are healed by bathing them, and feeble health is restored by drinking. A farmer used to go down to this well every morning and drink a tumblerful of the water. (Jonathan Hardy, aged 65, born at Cerne, and now sexton there.) I have not analysed the water, but can affirm that it is not chalybeate. The spring sometimes "breaks," that is, suddenly begins to flow with increased energy. Its water never freezes.
If anyone looks into St. Austin's Well the first thing on Easter morning he will see the faces of those who will die within the year. (--Miss Gundry.)
St Austin's Well also seems to be called St Augustine's well. But it's interesting that it gets a non-religious name too? The well is just south of the Abbey, which is to the south of the Giant and Trendle hill.
From 'Dorset Folklore Collected in 1897' by H. Colley March, in Folklore v10, Dec 1899.
While speaking of English stories, I may relate one told to myself and my friend, Mr. J. J. Foster, at Cearne in Dorsetshire. We were questioning a labourer as to the giant figure cut in the turf at that place. He assured us that it was supposed to be the representation of a Danish giant who led an invasion of this coast, and lay on the side of the hill to sleep; while asleep the peasantry tied him down to the ground and cut off his head, and the outline in the turf represents the place where the giant lay. Upon being asked how long ago this was supposed to be, the answer was, "About a hundred years."
From 'The Gentleman's Magazine Library: English Traditional Lore' 1868.
After an excursion, causing mischief in the Vale of Blackmore, devouring several sheep, the Giant lay down on the hill to rest and digest his breakfast. On falling asleep the local people rivetted him down, killed him and then cut his figure in solid chalk.
Variations of this story can be found in:
Hutchins 1774 29292
Darlton 1935 p 80
Wightman 1977 p98
Five or six years ago I was told by an elderly dame at Cerne Abbas (Dorset) that her mother had told her, in her young days, that it was customary, in her own youth, to " hold junkettings " on the Giant: and that it was well known that if a girl slept on the Giant, she would have a large family.
The " junkettings " were almost certainly the well-known May-pole festivities held in the Trundle, on the top of the hill, above the Giant. The latter part of the elderly dame's statement is not, I think, so well known. But it points to folk-memory of the fertility cult, with which the Giant seems so obviously to be connected.
J & C Bord report some relatively unsurprising folklore for the figure, though they don't give any dates - well, perhaps it's still going on:
In order to cure barrenness, women would sit on the hillside (they don't mention where, but I think some spots would be more effective than others). Likewise, married couples would spend the night there to ensure they had children. Unmarried girls (being much more polite) would pray at the giant's feet that they wouldn't end up old maids.
('Atlas of Magical Britain')
A vicar of the nineteenth century put a stop to the scourings of the figure, which were held every seven years, 'as' says Udal in his Dorsetshire Folklore (1922), 'they tended to practical illustrations of the above superstitions.'
Disgraceful. (Quoted in Jennifer Westwood's 'Albion').
There is a book of poems written by Jeremy Hooker, "The Soliloquies of a Chalk Giant", in which our giant appears, rather sadly at times. The last verse on one of the poems is below...... As he is a disputed giant on TMA, legends will abound of course.
"The god is a graffito carved on the belly of the chalk,
his savage gesture subdued by the stuff of his creation.
He is taken up like a gaunt white doll by the round hills,
wrapped around by the long pale hair of the fields."
But Jeremy Hooker went on to speculate about the naming of this giant, and to quote him, I have found something I wrote ages ago, his book was borrowed from the library some years back..
If as Hooker says, he comes from this time than he must be Helith - "In which district the god Helith was once worshipped" This comes form an old document, and is part of his legend. Helith, an iron age god who takes his name from Hercules. Romano-Britains would have adopted and changed the old roman god to fit their own religion.
Augustine's mission in 601 AD seemed to have renamed him as Cerno El, the pagan saxons renaming him as Heil. But apparently during the saxon period he shared his valley with another god whose neophytes purified the waters that had long been sacred.
But to conclude, here is Hooker's meaning for the words Helith....
"Helith; that is holy stone - or a corruption of Helios, maybe the sun. A sunstone, pediment in earth. The ground is dense with holy names; Elwood, Elston hill, Elwell, Yelcombe (y l cwm). Was there a standing stone on Elston Hill before Helith was fleshed out below the Trendle: Where beth they, beforen us weren? Make your enquiry of the dust, I make no enquiry there. Give me a living name"
This set of motorbike leathers was the first garment I ever had made, in 1989. I made the patches myself and took them in to the maker. He held up the willy patch between finger and thumb like it was a piece of off fish.
The figure also seems to figure in his work - 'Vote Alan Measles for God' for example!
Whilst there is dispute about the age of the big bloke, a very cogent argument for an early age is given in the only book I know of which is entirely devoted to the subject - The Cerne Giant by Rodney Castleden.
Although he's a big lad, he hasn't always been quite so well endowed, there is an early edwardian photographic postcard which clearly shows him having a navel. This was incorporated into his penis when the giant was re-cut in 1908.
If you take a sightline/alignment on May Day you should see the sun coming up;
to quote; "a sightline taken up the giant's penis on May Day points directly at the sun as it rises over the crest of the hill"
So to verify this fact if anyone is around at dawn on May Day next year - please check..
In 1980 Devonshire artist Kenneth Evans-Loude proposed cutting a Marilyn Monroe figure on the hill with the giant ( to satisfy his lust ) He got permission off the landowner, but the Arts Council wouldn't give him the sponsorship.
There is a well immediately south of the figure, at the top of the graveyard. JM Harte's article summarises the wide range of folklore connected with it. (yeah it's not to do with the giant, but it's very near, and fertility features again).
The page is part of Katy Jordan's 'Tales from the Black Cat' set of websites, which are well worth a look.
Ah the thrill of fear as a child watching 'Arthur C Clarke's Mysterious World'. This episode includes the Cerne Abbas Giant and some other English hill figures.
"The key to the giant's identity may lie in something missing from the drawing: what did he have in his left hand?"
The locals report it's supposed to be a head he's chopped off - or a dog on a string. But an archaeologist gets involved with some geophysics equipment and appears to discover it was a cape, thus suggesting the figure is Hercules. He even gets out a bucket of whitewash and paints on the outline. To be honest the resulting figure looks quite convincingly balanced. But who knows - sometimes you find what you're looking for, don't you.
(Most is in part 3 but it's worth seeing the end of part two not least for the strange local inhabitant).
The Trendle (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork) — Miscellaneous
The Trendle is an iron age enclosure with two sets of banks and ditches. It measures 37m by 30m and is sub rectangular in shape. It is small in size compared to other similar sites, one on Pilsdon Pen is about four times the size of this one. It is similar in form to another one near to Blackdown, just to the south of the long barrow on Sheepdown.
The Trendle (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork) — Folklore
Just above the giant's head is a small square Iron Age earthwork, and a maypole was traditionally raised here, as if another fertility symbol were required.
Childs, the former sexton, well remembers the maypole. It used to be set up in the ring just above the giant. It was made from a fir-bole and renewed every year. "It was raised in the night," It was decorated with garlands, &c. The villagers went up the hill and danced round the maypole on May I. Nothing of the sort is now done.
.. The maypole was set up, not as is usual elsewhere, in the town, which possesses two convenient spaces, formerly, no doubt, "village greens," but a good way off, on the top of a very steep hill immediately above the giant, in the centre of an ancient camp, belonging probably to the Bronze Age.
From: Dorset Folklore Collected in 1897
H. Colley March
Folklore, Vol. 10, No. 4. (Dec., 1899), pp. 478-489.