The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Treasures of Dorset: the Cerne Abbas Giant

Image: LLAP Shawn Matthews

Image: LLAP Shawn Matthews

For the iconic image that most represents Dorset, it is a close thing between the ruined profile of Corfe Castle and the figure cut into a hillside just north-west of Cerne Abbas. The latter is a naked, very obviously male figure, 180 feet tall and wielding a club. He is Dorset’s most intriguing mystery. One theory says that he is a Celtic fertility god and even today, some childless couples believe that making love on him will help them conceive. Or he may represent Hercules, electromagnetic investigation having shown that he had a cloak – the skin of the Nemean lion? – over his left arm. There are many other, wilder theories, but although the hill on which he stands is mentioned in earlier documents, there is no written record of him before 1694: proof, some think, that he is barely 350 years old and was perhaps either a tribute or an insult to Oliver Cromwell.
In his aroused state, the Giant would be censored in any newspaper or TV programme, but residents of the county pass him without a second thought and even visitors, after some gawping and sniggering, seem to accept his priapic glory as part of the Dorset landscape. Male observers of the Giant who suffer any feelings of inferiority are reassured to learn that he was less well-endowed until a Victorian restoration incorporated his navel into his manhood. ◗

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