Volunteers restore Cerne Abbas giant to former glory

Makeover was needed to restore mysterious chalk figure on Dorset hill that inspires local legend




(The image in the printed version had three guys ministering to the head of his dick, and another bowing in awe at the base of the shaft)

The scene could hardly have been more quintessentially English. As buzzards circled above and butterflies darted across the flower-dotted slopes, dozens of volunteers were digging and scraping at a huge figure carved into the steep hillside.
The Cerne Abbas giant has loomed large above this Dorset valley for centuries, but 11 years after he was last spruced up, he and his impressive nether region were beginning to look a little faded.
So on Wednesday an intrepid bunch of National Trust rangers, volunteers and archaeology experts clambered up the hill to help restore him to his former glory.
“Isn’t he wonderful?” said Diana Kimber, a Cerne villager who was lending a hand. “He’s an important symbol for our area. We wouldn’t lose him for anything.”
The history of the 55m (180ft) figure is lost in the mists of time, but Kimber reckons he has been there in one form or another for thousands of years. “I don’t know exactly what he stands for, but I think he may be the god of an ancient tribe that lived here many centuries ago.
“It’s right that we honour him by maintaining him. It’s a real thrill to be here close to him among the butterflies and the flowers. And you get a better workout than at the gym.”
The task is, indeed, very tough.
Sheep do the donkey work most of the time, chomping away at the grass to keep the giant visible, but for centuries every decade or so humans, fuelled by tea and cake, re-edge the figure, dig out the faded chalk and replace it.
The whole process is done by hand with picks, shovels, brushes, tampers and some lung-bursting scrambles. It took 60 people nine days to finish the job in 2008 and about 20 tonnes of chalk will be used this time to make the giant visible for miles around again.
No wonder Michael Clarke, the area ranger for west and north Dorset, urged volunteers to pace themselves. “Take your time, don’t go mad,” he said. “It’s hot, sweaty work.”
Martin Papworth, a National Trust archaeologist, was on hand to run through some of the theories behind the figure. Some, like Kimber, believe he may be many hundreds of years old and represent an ancient god. Candidates include Hercules, who is often shown naked with a club in his hand and a lion skin draped over his other arm. The club remains and it may be that the lion skin has vanished over time.
Another school of thought has him as a Celtic god who once clutched a severed head, but many now believe he is much more modern, perhaps a caricature of Oliver Cromwell, pointing out that no reference is made to the figure in the many medieval documents that survive from nearby Cerne Abbey. “In truth, nobody really knows who he is,” said Papworth.
It is hard not to fixate on the figure’s manhood, which has led some people to see the figure as a fertility symbol, inspiring a steady flow of courting couples to leap the fence and set up camp on or close to his private parts.
Papworth produced a copy of the first image of the figure, dated 1763, in which the appendage is not as large. “In the 1950s and 60s contractors maintained the figure,” said Papworth. He suggested that a gang of them might have thought it would be a lark to make him more impressive.
Another villager, Rupert Valpy, said the debate about the private parts was a “bit of fun” that the locals enjoyed. “One of the lovely things about it is that nobody knows exactly why and when he appeared here,” he said. “But from the village’s point of view he’s a very good asset. The shop might not be able to carry on if it wasn’t for the giant. He’s certainly a good thing.”
The scene may look like something out of Thomas Hardy, but modern problems impinge even here. Natalie Holt, the countryside manager for the National Trust, said tweaks to the way the giant is cared for may have to be made because of the climate crisis.
“Should we experience more frequent and severe rains, it may mean it requires more frequent chalking,” she said. “We may also have to alter the timing, duration and number of sheep grazing the hillside in order to keep the grass short enough so the giant can be seen. This could be a tricky balance to find.”

https://www.theguardian.com/culture/...o-former-glory