Cerne Giant - National Trust

Prehistoric site
View of the Cerne Giant cut into the chalk on Giant Hill, Dorset

© National Trust Images/Fay Godwin

    • The striking giant of Cerne Abbas is a 180 foot high figure of a man bearing a 121 foot long club, incised into the chalk of the hillside. It has been speculated that the giant may have carried a cloak over his left arm and gripped a severed head in his left hand. If that is so, no evidence of either head or cloak now remains. The giant has been variously identified as Roman and Celtic. His obvious, er, physical endowments have made him the source of fertility practices over the centuries; it is said that if an infertile woman spends the night within the figure, she will then be able to bear a child. The name "Cerne" may be a reference to Cernunnos, a Celtic fertility god. During the 19th century the ditches that make up the giant's penis were filled in with dirt by prudish Victorians. No hard evidence exists about the giant's origin. Written records do not mention the carving until the mid 18th century, leading to speculation that the figure was not built until sometime around the English Civil War. The similarity of the design of the giant to depictions of Hercules has led to more speculation that the giant was built sometime during the Roman occupation of Britain, probably in the 2nd century AD, when the Roman's resurrected the earlier pagan myth of Hercules. Local legend tells a different story; the tale goes that a real giant from Denmark terrorized the neighbourhood. When he lay down on the hillside to sleep the villagers cut off his head. They then cut the outline as a warning to other giants. The best views of the giant can be had from the A352, just north of the village of Cerne Abbas. Just up the hill and to the giant's right is a small enclosure called The Trendle, where May Dances were held.
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