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Cerne Abbas Giant: Preserving an icon
The Cerne Abbas Giant (Photo: National Trust)
The giant needs regular maintenance to ensure its preservation

It is one of the country's most recognisable landmarks and is known all over the world.

The Cerne Abbas Giant is a 60 metre (180 feet) chalk figure brandishing a club, but his exact origins remain a mystery.

The giant is owned and managed by The National Trust.

And as an important part of Dorset's landscape, the giant is about to get a spring clean, and a team of volunteers is needed to help out.

'Give him a brush'

Head warden for the National Trust in West Dorset, Robert Rhodes, said: "The bad weather of the winter has quite a bad effect on the giant.

"The rain and frost causes the chalk to move down his body and it gathers in his feet.

West Dorset National Trust Head Warden Robert Rhodes
National Trust Head Warden Robert Rhodes says the giant is 'iconic'

"So [for the 'spring clean'] we carry out some weeding, clean the giant's edges and give him a brush.

"We also bring back some of the chalk that has washed down, and pack it back into the giant.

"It's usually a day's work for five or six people."

Involving the villagers

Robert is keen for Cerne Abbas villagers to become involved in caring for the giant.

"The history of the giant goes back a few hundred years and it always mentions that the community helps out."

This 'spring clean' begins a cycle of annual maintenance, which includes a further two days in the summer and a final 'tidy up' in the autumn, ahead of winter.

But every seven years the giant receives a major clean up when it has its chalk replaced.

It was last done in September 2008.

The Cerne Abbas Giant's foot
The giant is 60 metre high. This is a close up of its left foot.

Robert said: "The re-chalking was a huge project. A team from the National Trust and a group of volunteers carried off 17 tonnes of chalk, by hand, and then had to bring 17 tonnes of new chalk back up the steep hill."

Chalk

The special chalk, from Wiltshire and mined from deep in a quarry to ensure it is sterile, took a year to find and was one of the project's biggest challenges.

Robert believes the hard work is worth it.

He said: "The giant attracts a lot of attention, and some people find him quite amusing.

"But there's a great mystery to him as well, and it's good to have that myth."

Origins

There are several theories to the Giant's origins.

He could be an image of the Roman god Hercules, or of an Iron Age god, or even a depiction of a giant that was said to have come to the area, ate some sheep and then slept off his feast.

Robert said: "Perhaps the most feasible is that it's a caricature of [radical puritan] Oliver Cromwell .

A Homer Simpson figure was placed next to the giant in 2007
A Homer Simpson figure was placed next to the giant in 2007

"There's no record of the giant before 1694, and the landowner here at the time, Lord Denzil Holles, was against Cromwell's ideas, so that fits."

Homer Simpson

The Giant attracted attention in the summer of 2007 when a temporary chalk figure of cartoon character Homer Simpson was drawn next to it, to promote The Simpsons film.

The figure, placed on land which is not owned by the National Trust, upset some local people who believed it to be disrespectful.

Robert said: "If you believe that the giant is a caricature of Cromwell then Homer Simpson fits in with that in a way, as they are both depictions of a modern day man."

The fact that it attracted so much attention is an indication of its iconic status, and a reason why its preservation is so important.

Robert said: "He's so iconic. I think the giant is as important an icon as Stonehenge and St Paul's Cathedral."

For more information on volunteering with the National Trust contact its West Dorset office on 01297 489481.




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