Volunteers helped National Trust rangers in Dorset give the Cerne Giant its annual haircut

The Romano-British Cerne Giant, thought to be Hercules, carved in chalk in the hillside at Cerne Abbas in Dorset (c)National Trust Images

 

Mild, wet autumn weather has resulted in above-average grass growth on the hillside, near Dorchester, threatening to obscure the Giant.

Rob Rhodes, National Trust Countryside Manager for West Dorset, said: “Record grass growth meant that the Cerne Giant was looking a bit sorry for himself. The sheep that graze the hillside throughout the year needed a bit of help from our ten volunteers and five rangers.” Continue reading…

How much would you pay for a body like the Cerne Giant?

A novel way to let visitors contribute to the care of the country’s most famous chalk giant has been set up by the National Trust.

(c) National Trust Images

The Cerne Giant

 Visitors snapping photos of themselves near the Cerne Abbas with their smartphones will now also be able to text a donation to support the upkeep of the well endowed giant.

The fund raising campaign will help to pay for the care of the Giant – who has to be rechalked every seven to 10 years. The last time the work was done was in 2008 and it costs £1 for every metre of his figure to be chalked.

The 55 metre (180 feet) tall chalk giant is the most famous of his kind in the UK. Carved into the grassland of a hillside close to the village of Cerne Abbas in Dorset, there is some controversy over whether he is thousands of years old or a more recent creation – a youthful few hundred years old.

As well as looking after the appearance of the Giant, the National Trust looks after the wildlife on the chalk down which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The field is grazed with sheep for a few weeks in Spring and Autumn to keep the grass short but allow wildflowers to bloom and encourage butterflies which include Adonis and Chalkhill Blue, Small Copper, and Large Skipper. 

Rob Rhodes, the National Trust’s West Dorset Countryside Manager, said: “He is a hugely popular figure with many people stopping off at the car park to see him, take a few photos.

“We don’t have collecting boxes at Cerne Abbas but we wanted to give the Giant’s fans a chance to make an electronic donation, while they’re taking their photos. All they need to do is to text GIAN11 £1 to 70070 to make a donation of £1. It is a new idea for us and we’ll be interested to see what sort of response we get from it.”

The new scheme is the first of several being tried at different sites across the South West to give people the chance to support the National Trust’s conservation work through text donations. Another is being set up in a Bluebell woodland on the Kingston Lacy estate which is popular in the Spring.

It is expected to be a few years before the chalk on the Giant needs refreshing again. Each time a layer of the old chalk is removed and new chalk is brought into to be packed into the Giant’s body, refreshing and brightening his appearance.

The origin of the giant is still hotly debated. Some believe he resembles an ancient god and is over 1500 years old while another theory says he is a 17th century cartoon of Oliver Cromwell.

Some theories for his origins suggest he might be the ancient Saxon god Heil, the Iron Age god Cernunnus and most popularly the Roman god Hercules who is usually shown naked with a club in his right hand a lion skin draped over his other arm.

Others think the giant may be even older and represents a Celtic god who once clutched a severed head – a mound below the giant’s left hand may once have represented this.

The more modern argument is derived from the lack of references made to the giant in a wealth of medieval documents surviving from Cerne Abbey. He is first recorded in the Cerne Abbas church wardens’ accounts of 1694.

In 1774 Rev. John Hutchins published a censored copy of a drawing of the giant by William Stukely who, he said, he was told in 1735 by the local steward that the giant was ‘a modern thing’ cut by Lord Holles, a former owner of the hill from 1642 until 1666 and an ardent critic of Oliver Cromwell.