Cerne Giant & Maiden Castle, Dorset, England

Cerne Giant, Dorset, England. Photo Nilfanion

The Cerne Giant’s best view other than from an aircraft. Photo Nilfanion

What is The Cerne Giant?

The Cerne Giant is a rampant, naked 60 metre male carved into the chalk hillsidenear Cerne Abbas, an old village about 8 miles (13kms) north of Dorchester, in Dorset, England.
The photo shows as much of the giant as you will currently see unless you rent air transport; the carving becomes a lot more indistinct from close up. For scale you can see a couple of hikers at the top of the hill on the left.

Viewing the Cerne Giant

This is as close as you can officially get to the giant since the National Trust installed light wire fencing to keep out hikers and horny couples and preserve the figure from erosion.

The giant grass-carved perspective from here is less than thrilling, though the overall view is gorgeous. A marked, circular hiking trail called the Giant Walk – 3 miles/5kms long – runs from Cerne Abbas village, past the giant and along the Dorset Downs, where orchids and butterflies (especially the Adonis Blue) are common sights in season.

Why was the Cerne Giant created?

1) He was cut out 4, 000 years ago in honour of a Celtic fertility god, Cernunnos. Above his head is a maypole mound that was central to pagan May Day festivities until 1635, when the church decided that the wild, all-night, get nekkid scenes that were enjoyed by locals in the adjacent woods should be discouraged.
Legend has it that barren couples who wish for children should copulate on the giant genitalia – preferably after dark in case passing sheep lose their appetites.

2) He was carved 1, 500 years ago in honour of the Roman god Hercules.

3) He appeared a mere 350 years ago and is a caricature of Oliver Cromwell, a brilliant and influential though brutal leader (1599-1658) who gained enormous power during the English Civil Wars, espoused religious freedom and was offered the king’s crown – but refused.

The reason that the giant’s origin is unclear is firstly that the only elements remaining in the area are grass and chalk which have been around for months or millenia, so carbon dating is not an option, and secondly the earliest written record of the giant that survives was from the 18th century.

Dorchester is the nearest town, 8 miles (13kms) south, and Maiden Castle a huge though simple iron age fort is one mile beyond that.

Getting to the Cerne Giant

The main road from Dorchester, is the A352. Dorchester is the nearest town, 8 miles (13kms) south, while Maiden Castle a huge iron age (i. e. earth and turf) fort, is one mile beyond that.
A small, temporary parking area from which you will get the best possible view of the Cerne Giant.

A bigger, nearer car park that is suited for those who intend to take a walk.

Shake a leg…Cerne Abbas village and start of the Giant Walk. Some of the village’s sights are: The remains of 10th century Cerne Abbey, some 16th century Tudor houses, Kettle Bridge – a stone and flint bridge, and the 13th century Church of St Mary and punishment stocks.

Stonehenge, Avebury and other ancient sites are not far away in Wiltshire, the next county north-east of Dorset while Maiden Castle is 30 minutes drive south..

Maiden Castle

Cerne Giant, Dorset, England. Photo Nilfanion

Maiden Castle is not a castle in the pointy-tower Disney sense. It contains no battlements, stone walls, dungeons, dragons or keep. It looks like a large, curiously flat hill at a distance and – at 45 acres – is the largest hill-fort in Britain.

The origin of the name was from the Celtic language, ‘Mai Dun’ meaning ‘Great Hill’ or possibly ‘Principal Fort’.

These hill-forts were an Iron Age development around 500 BC and there are hundreds in Britain, especially in the south of the country. Some – like Maiden Castle – were established over previous Neolithic settlements that had occupied the area for several thousand years.

Excavations at the eastern end of Maiden have revealed Neolithic defensive works dated from about 3,000BC.

It is thought that the concentric rings protected a powerful Celtic tribal settlement of the Durotriges who controlled the territory now partly known as Dorset.

Maiden Castle would have been the home of the Durotriges elite and their dependants, while commoners lived in farms around the hill.

Cerne Giant, Dorset, England. Photo Nilfanion

When was Maiden in use?

Cerne Giant, Dorset, England. Photo Nilfanion

Archaeological evidence of Iron Age man indicates usage of this hill from 3, 000BC, but Maiden Castle only became a serious fortification in 500 BC, expanding until the hilltop was fully occupied around 250 BC.

Although a potent defence against warring Iron Age tribes, Maiden Castle did not survive long against the sophisticated weaponry (catapults, leather armour, helmets etc.), training and tactics of a Roman Army under Vespasian. The Romans took control of the hill in 43AD in spite of defenders slinging a storm of 40, 000 stones at them.

The Romans appear to have treated the vanquished Celts with honour. A mass grave of defenders was found in 1937, all laid to rest with wine and meat to take on their last and greatest journey.
The remaining Durotrige tribespeople were moved to a new town, Durnovaria (now Dorchester).

Maiden Castle covers about 45 acres, surrounded by a couple of miles of 6m (20ft) earth/chalk walls.

Visiting Maiden Castle

The site is maintained by the English Heritage organisation and is open all day, every day and totally free to enter. The only on-site impediment is barbed wire fencing to prevent muppets from tumbling down slopes and damaging a few thousand years of hard labour.

Dorchester’s Dorset County Museum displays artefacts found on Maiden Hill such as flint tools and bronze age pottery, as well as the bodies of Durotrige warriors killed by the Romans.

Maiden Castle is in Dorset on the south coast of England. It is one mile from Dorchester, off the A354 and there is a car park adjacent; it never closes and entry is free.

Maiden Hill is a favourite exercise point for locals and is about 20 minutes walk or 5 minutes drive from Dorchester, which is just north of Weymouth and easy to get to from Bournemouth via Poole