Cerne Abbas – a photo essay
Ken Ayres takes his camera round one of Dorset’s most attractive and historic villages
Published in August ’14
Folk historians, like nature, abhor a vacuum and all kinds of possible explanation for the Cerne Abbas Giant have been offered over the years. More respectable historians have run their rule over the Giant too (although, whilst they give foot and inch measurements for his height, span and club length, they assiduously omit any mention of his other prodigiously large offensive weapon), but they too have been able to offer any definitive explanation for why there’s an enormous hill carving overlooking the village. In fairness, they have had little to work on with a monument which exists only in terms of what has been taken away.
It is a shame that the Giant garners quite so much attention, though, as Cerne Abbas the village (and former town) is packed with some of the most beautiful buildings in the county. Where some villages have a wood and thatch vernacular architecture and others have Victorian brick or sparely beautiful Georgian buildings, Cerne Abbas really has the lot – not to mention an array of pubs, a ruined abbey, a sacred fountain and an excellent shop.
Cerne’s name is taken from the river Cerne, which is itself derived from the Celtic word for cairn, or pile of stones, while the Abbas suffix (Latin for an abbot) is not too difficult to work out from the presence of the former abbey. The town as it was came down in the world as the railways made their way into Dorset and markets only accessible by road found their attractiveness waning.
This moth-balling of the Victorian town has been the 21st-century village’s making as its 16th-to-19th-century buildings are some of the finest examples around, including a rare terrace of houses from around 1500. The parish church of St Mary the Virgin is of the same vintage and features the following poignant eulogy to an 18th-century child: ‘A little time did blast my prime and brought me thither; the fairest flower within an hour may fade and wither.’
Luckily Cerne Abbas hasn’t.