First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The Cerne giant looked particularly rampant this morning, the low sun of early spring lighting up every detail of his splendid physique. No-one knows when this phallic wild man, brandishing a fearsome club and very clearly ‘pleased to see you,’ was cut into the chalk hillside above Cerne Abbas.
Plenty of fun has been had with the Cerne Giant over the centuries. Childless couples would couple on his mighty member to quicken their seed. Advertising agencies have clad him in jeans and a condom; he has been paired with a giant Homer Simpson wielding a doughnut, and has sprouted an outsize grass handlebar moustache during Movember. Unadorned, though, he emanates the wildness, dignity and menace that his originators must have intended.
We set out west from Cerne Abbas, blown by an icy east wind along banks already thick with primroses. Bees were bumbling there, and we spotted a great black oil beetle in jointed armour labouring up through the grasses. The wind whistled in the leafless hawthorn hedges and trembled the green spear-blade leaves of wild garlic up in Weam Coppice.
At the ridge we passed the medieval earth-and-flint bank of Park Pale, constructed to keep the hunted deer in Cerne Park. Beyond ran the Wessex Ridgeway, an ancient track, broad and green, hurdling the downs. We followed it north past holly and elder hissing with wind, looking west to where hedges and field shapes undulated together across the chalk valleys under a clear-cut skyline.
From Redpost Hill we cut east across big open fields jingling with flints, under the first lark song of the year sounding sweet and silvery in the upper air. A view opened ahead over the valley of the River Cerne, with the thatched cottages and old gabled manor at Up Cerne far below. South over the distant, unseen sea a long cloud bar formed, streaming slowly to the west.
In the hedge-banks along the lane to Cerne Abbas, violets made splashes of contrasting colour to the predominant yellow of celandines, primroses, dandelions and daffodils. Back at the village we climbed Giant Hill, circling round the great chalk man before returning by way of Cerne Abbey – abbot’s hall, tithe barn, guest house, and a tall porch hidden in a thicket, with an oriel window exquisitely carved.
Start: Giant View car park, Cerne Abbas DT2 7JX (ST 662016)
Getting there: Bus: X11 (Dorchester – Yeovil)
Road: Car park is signed off A352 (Yeovil-Dorchester)
Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 117): Cross A352; right around field edge to green lane; left. In 50m fork left; follow lane, then path (yellow arrow; fingerposts ‘Cerne Park,’ then ‘Weam Coppice’) up valley, into wood by gate (650013). In 50m fork right uphill. At top of trees (647013) dogleg right/left (‘Sydling Drove’), past radio mast and sarsen stone to Wessex Ridgeway (645013). Right; in 1¼ miles pass ‘Up Cerne’ fingerpost (639032); in 100m fork right, then right (fingerpost ‘Wether Hill’). Cross field; pass ‘Up Cerne’ fingerpost (642033); on, soon downhill to T-junction (653035). Right to pass Great Pond (655031); in 150m round left bend; in 50m right (655029) past end of trees to cross road by white gate (656027). On across field (fingerpost) to road (659023); ahead to A352 (661018); ahead to car park.
Giant Hill climb (strenuous): Ahead from car park (‘Picnic Area’); left on Kettlebridge Lane (663015); follow ‘Giant Hill’ and yellow arrows to climb wooden steps. Clockwise up and around Giant’s enclosure; returning, follow ‘Abbey’ signs to Cerne Abbey; back around to car park.