Christoper Somerville’s Cerne Giant walk | 6.5 miles


This route, first published in The Times, was reproduced in the BV Magazine by kind permission of Christopher as guest editor of our monthly Dorset walk.

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.

Unadorned, he emanates the wildness, dignity and menace that his creators must have intended.

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 creators must have intended.

‘we were blown by an icy east wind along banks already thick with primroses’

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.

An armoured black oil beetle – see The BV’s wildlife columnist Jane Adam’s fascinating article on oil beetles in the UK here

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.

Banks littered with primroses with a view to the Cerne Giant

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.

Cerne Abbey’s equisite oriel window

Part of The BV Magazine’s monthly ‘Take a Hike’ series of Dorset walks – see them here 

All images © Christopher Somerville –


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