Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Getting close up and personal with the Cerne Abbas Giant

The Cerne Abbas Giant is well-known to visitors of Dorset. It's a huge figure cut into the grass on the side of a hill, exposing the white chalk beneath and making it very visible. From a mile away, it's quite a sight, up there on the hill - although, at that remove, smaller than you'd think. You really need binoculars to discern the full glory. Close up, as you'd expect, it's immense and impressive, but actually much harder to see: viewing the entire figure becomes completely impossible; you can make out only a small portion from any given spot on Giant Hill, and that only at an oblique angle. This is a landscape feature best appreciated from the air, in the manner of many another hill figure (not my own shots, of course!):


You can easily see why the Giant is famous - it's that willy (or more correctly that fully-erect and especially-distinct penis, with testicles to match) which one can take as a pagan expression of guaranteed fertility if one so wishes.

Indeed, it is very tempting to construe the Giant as an ancient rural fertility god, set on a hillside for men and women to visit when children are wanted. But in fact nobody knows what the giant really represents, nor even how old he is. He is attested in surveys and documents no further back than 1694. No doubt he was around a little while before that - in 1675 say. (The chalk outline is nowadays 'freshened' every twenty-five years) Around that slightly earlier time lewd and randy Charles II had been restored to the English throne, following the death of Oliver Cromwell and the imploding of the Commonwealth under his successors. So the Giant may be an insulting figure, created by the order of a disgruntled local landowner who had not found favour at court. Alternatively, things were at the time going badly in the American colonies, the local indian nations asserting themselves, and the Giant may depict a naked indian chief on the warpath.

But who can say. He may, after all, be very ancient. You can't easily tell the age of anything cut into grass, and periodically cleaned up and re-delineated after getting overgrown.

My own view is that he is older than the 1600s, and may in some form go back to Roman times. There has been the strong suggestion that he is Hercules; and the Romans would have no embarrassment about showing a fully-aroused naked male figure. No doubt there were many periods during the centuries since then when the Giant, much as we see him now, would have been locally venerated and his rampant sexiness carefully maintained (which would keep him magically powerful). But I'm amazed that he made it unscathed through the prudish Victorian Age. After all, Cerne Abbas may be in the Dorset countryside, but it isn't that far from civilisation and the London trains at Sherborne and Dorchester.

So much for historical speculations. What was my angle? Why was I there?

Well, I hadn't visited Cerne Abbas for years. I wanted to look around the village. And in particular I wanted to indulge an ambition to climb Giant Hill, and see whatever might be seen of the Giant at close quarters. It was a half-decent September afternoon, with some risk of a rain shower. The hill was steep-sided, and I didn't look forward to rain making my ascent or descent dangerously slippery. I do fear taking a tumble. But it seemed a risk worth taking.

I arrived from the north on the A352, and went first into the official car park just off that road, the one with the best distant view of the Giant. Not that it seemed nearly close enough. All you could see was this:


Zooming in - that means zooming digitally on Tigerlily - I could make out this:


Not terribly impressive! But closer in still, the Giant might improve. I drove a little way onward into another car park. I was distinctly closer, but trees hid most of Giant Hill. I did however find the one good viewing-position:


That picture is interesting as a demonstration of how poor a digital zoom can be! I went off into the village, and - despite the cloudy sky - got worthwhile shots of the vernacular cottages.


After a brief rain shower, the sun came out again. All systems go for the Giant? Yep. Let's do it. I took the path past the former Abbey, and came out into a meadow. Looking back, the village church stood out as a silhouette against the darkening sky. Hmm. It might rain again quite soon. Oh well.


I reached a wood at the base of Giant Hill. There were steps leading up. Right. Five minutes later, I was looking at a National Trust sign - the Trust look after the Giant now.


It was no surprise to find a ban on casual entry - a 'request' to stay outside the barbed-wire fence that formed a rectangular enclosure around the Giant. Hmm. It was only a request, not a dire threat of thunderbolts, and it wouldn't be all that difficult to find a gate that could be climbed over. (There must be one, and there was, at the top of the hill)

But I don't like trespassing, or at any rate doing the wrong thing. It would be highly embarrassing if a National Trust Ranger, or any kind of official, spied me walking on the Giant from one of the car parks - or indeed any public-spirited visitor did, who happened to have their binoculars trained on the Giant. I imagined an angry posse coming up to eject me. And not just ejection in disgrace. Prosecution might follow. Found guilty at the Dorchester Assizes, no doubt by a hanging judge, I would be fortunate to get off with ordinary transportation to Australia in some verminous hulk. Or a long sentence in Dartmoor Prison. And they would make a point of ceremonially stripping me of my National Trust Life Membership. It would all be on the main TV and radio news, with in-depth analysis on the web. Infamy. My name besmirched and reviled forever. No, the likely penalties were too severe.

But I was reluctant to turn back. I could tamely explore the foot of the Giant's enclosure. Unexciting! Or I could make an anticlockwise circumnavigation: up the hill, across the top, down the other side, and back along the foot of the enclosure. I might still get glimpses of the Giant. I set off uphill.

I wasn't fit, but it's amazing what you can do if determined, and not in too much of a hurry. I reached the first top corner without problems. The views were lovely.


Centre left in the above shot - between a caravan and the barn - click or tap to make it out clearly - is a blue parked vehicle. That was Fiona in the second, closer car park I tried. The first car park - the one with allegedly the very best view of the Giant - is just above the centre of the picture. I felt very high up. Off to my left, to the south, the village of Cerne Abbas was spread out before me, not far off:


But elation turned into concern.


Specks of rain! You can see it on my glasses. Please, please, let it hold off. Getting down a slippery chalk hill was no joke. I had a stick with me, but three legs might not be enough for stability...

You'll have noticed how convex Giant Hill was. That made it very hard to discern anything of the Giant. In fact I saw nothing recognisable on my ascent. Maybe going down I'd see something?

I passed a gate, used either by the farmer, when putting sheep or cattle into the Giant's abode, or by NT staff and volunteers when carrying out maintenance work, such as mowing and weed-removal. Certainly, it was 'authorised access only', which excluded me! There was no welcoming notice saying 'Life Members may enter if they are carrying their membership card. They may freely take selfies while straddling naughty bits of the Giant's anatomy. For refreshment, there is a cache of champagne at the tip of the Giant's club.'  Sigh. It's not at all a perfect world.

I crossed over the top of the enclosure, then turned the corner and headed downhill. I was of course shod in my trusty Alt-Berg boots, but even so I placed my feet with great care, mindful of what might happen if I lost my footing on that steep slope, or twisted an ankle. The way down was obvious, but soil erosion and general bumpiness made it tricky.


And the Giant? Well, I took some sideways shots, and they showed turf cuts that might be bits of its middle anatomy, or even the famous willy...


...but I think I mostly captured only parts of the Giant's club, and his arm. Oh well. 

My attention was now increasingly directed towards reaching the path at the base of the enclosure without landing on my bottom, or overbalancing and cartwheeling. By dint of zig-zagging downwards, and massive concentration, I made it. I did at least establish that the unworthy people who stayed on the base path, and were too lazy to climb, saw nothing of the Giant. At least I had had glimpses.  

Down the steps, and out of the wood, I was a windswept mess.


This was towards the end of the seven-week 'no-hairband' trial period. Any puff of breeze, and I looked like that. I was getting fed up with it. But despite of the lack of any real contact with the Giant, it had all been a worthwhile experience - though once was enough. 

What had I really had in mind? I've since found a low-res picture on the Internet, which shows a woman standing on the business end of the Giant. This is what I wanted to do:


If it had been possible to take a selfie where she was standing, it could only have shown the rounded tip of the humungeous member. But it would have been like planting a flag on the top of Everest. An achievement! A result!

Possibly a woman who becomes a NT Volunteer might get a chance of joining a crew engaged in tidying-up the Giant. And on such an occasion, to get a snap or two of herself on the Giant's willy.  

But I have a strong suspicion that the NT is careful to ban females from entering the enclosure, lest they (and their testosterone-maddened male colleagues) are overcome by the heavy pagan atmosphere, and, abandoning serious conservation work, engage in wild fertility rites they might later regret. 

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