Still officially on a blog break, I swear. But there is more to tell about my trip to Dorset, so here is part two of my weekend with The Silent Eye (for part one click here).
Saturday morning arrived early. There was a lot planned, as there usually is on these weekends, so there was no time to lie in my (very comfortable) bed. Not that I was complaining – I was looking forward to exploring the village and surrounding area, as well as seeing what else might happen in the course of the day.
The village of Cerne Abbas is ancient – the hotel in which I stayed started life as a hall in the 12th century, and was expanded by a prosperous owner in the 14th century. It is called the New Inn, despite its age, and its warren of rooms felt somewhat like a puzzle box, layers upon layers of history all held in one place. The nearby Giant, however, may be older still.
We had driven past him the previous evening, on our way to the village, stopping to take in the view from below. He is best seen from the air, oddly enough, though the view from across the valley is not too bad. There are several theories to the Giant’s history and significance – some say that he is a Celtic god figure, thousands of years old, others that he is a later, Roman, depiction of Hercules. Still others state that he is political satire, a figure made to represent Oliver Cromwell during the Civil War – however, it seems a great effort to make in a out-of-the-way village, nor does it explain the Iron age earthwork just above him on the hill, or the long-standing fertility traditions associated with him.
After breakfast, I joined the group, our meeting place just a short walk away. There was something special taking place this morning, and I felt honoured to be part of it. We wandered along picture perfect streets, past ancient timbered houses and a doorway so perfectly garlanded with flowers it looked as though it had been decorated for a wedding. Perhaps appropriate, considering our destination later that morning…
But first there was a visit to a sacred spring, and a ceremony. While rabbits danced in the nearby field, leaves rustling and water falling, one of the companions took the next step on their journey. While this is not my story to tell, I will say that I held the role of scribe, and was very taken with the solemnity and emotion of the ceremony. Sue has written about it in more depth here, if you’re interested.
Once events were concluded, we set off through an ancient graveyard. It had once been attached to the Abbey which gave Cerne Abbas both its name and much of its wealth, until it was dissolved in 1539 by Henry VIII. Not much remains of the Abbey, but the graveyard holds some interesting tombs, including this one marked with Catherine wheels, an icon we had also seen at the nearby spring, and one which echoed other symbols we were to encounter several times over the weekend.
Now it was time to visit a giant. A gate out of the graveyard led us almost to the foot of the great hill where he rampaged, his club raised, manhood erect. Archaeological evidence suggests that there were originally more details, now lost to time, including what may have been a cloak or animal skin on his outstretched arm and, possibly, a severed head in his hand. He is certainly anatomically correct – so much so that, in Victorian times, his phallus was removed from tourist images so as not to offend delicate sensibilities. A maypole used to be set in the earthwork above him, where childless couples would dance in the hopes of conceiving and it is said that, if the deed is done on the Giant himself, infertility may be cured. However, while there may have been some jokes among the group about the strident masculinity on display, all we planned to do that morning was climb the hill, as we’d been told there was a crop circle in the meadow below the Giant, and were very keen to take a look.
Not everyone decided to make the climb, and so it was a party of four who started along the pathway that ran through a small woodland before ascending, quite steeply, to the top of the hill.
…There was no string to pull her aloft here, the way difficult at times. But worth it, as the landscape unfolded around her, the swelling mound of the hill beneath her feet, the giant rampant to one side…
We took the ridge at the top of the hill, past the ancient earthwork, the pathway lined with orchids and brambles, cinnabar moths with their distinctive bright green and red markings fluttering around. The view was wonderful, the landscape opening up around us as it had at Cadbury.
The Giant is fenced off, though not in such a way that you couldn’t gain access should you want to. We chose, however, to respect the fence, leaving the Giant to the sheep who clung to the steep hillside. Up close, he was nothing more than a series of ridges in the soil, making us consider once again how he was supposed to have been viewed, and by whom.
Sadly, when we reached a point where we could see the meadow below, there was no crop circle. Slightly disappointed, we half-walked, half-slid down the narrow chalky path running alongside the giant, meeting the rest of the companions further down the slope. As we skirted the base of the figure…
…‘Can you feel the heat?’ she asked her companion. ‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘I can.’ The side of her closest to the giant felt warm, as though near to a fireplace or furnace. Something was brewing, midsummer only a few days away…
At the base of the hill we paused for a short while to reflect on the giant and what, possibly, his significance may have been…
Then we wandered along the river that ran past his feet, clear water laughing as we took the green-garlanded path back to the village. It was almost lunchtime and we had a long way yet to go. This was one of those days where time would stretch and twist upon itself…
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Ah, so good to be taken back there. I’ve been thinking about our giant quite a lot… 🙂
Ooh really? He was quite a powerful figure, wasn’t he? 🙂
Yes, he is, and seems to be more there than meets the eye, doesn’t there? I keep seeing him headless, and the possible symbolism around that and the markings on his chest, which do seem rather feline…
Ooh, that’s so interesting, Alethea, especially with the whole severed head theme that ran through the weekend (which sounds gruesome, doesn’t it?) Also interesting that his manhood is much larger and more prominent (ahem) than his head – makes you wonder about his significance.
It does seem to hint at a more primal nature, doesn’t it? There’s much to ponder about this fellow 😉
There is indeed… 🙂
Reblogged this on Not Tomatoes and commented:
Helen recounts her experience during our visit to Cerne Abbas with the Silene Eye School
Thanks for sharing, Alethea 🙂
Reblogged this on The Silent Eye.
Thanks for sharing, Sue 🙂
Thank you, Helen, for sharing you impressions of the weekend 🙂
Time does seem to be on our side for these weekends 😉
It amazes me every single time 🙂
Us too 🙂
Reblogged this on Stuart France.
Thanks for sharing, Stuart 🙂
Reblogged this on Where Genres Collide.
Thanks for sharing, Traci! 🙂
You’re welcome, Helen!
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This just brings the whole trip together, thank you for sharing 💜
Thanks, Willow 🙂 It was a fab weekend – more to come…
More to come? The blogging break’s working then… Good to read, though, Helen
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What a magical journey! Loved every bit of it.
Thanks, Anne! It was a wonderful weekend 🙂
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Isn’t there a great white horse rock formation around Oxfordshire somewhere? Again, only completely visible from the sky. So yes, does make one wonder who was meant to see these structures. Perhaps valley to valley? Perhaps as an intimidating warning for invading tribes who came over the next hill looking for plunder. Perhaps they would see this mighty warrior brandishing his club–and all male, lol–and think better of coming any closer.
Yes, there is – the White Horse at Uffington. It’s not too far from me, actually – we glimpsed it across the fields when travelling to Avebury Circle a few years ago. The sacred landscape around there is amazing! And I do wonder about the whys and wherefores of how such a thing was made…
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