Cerne Abbas

Known as the Rude Man, this chalk carving of a naked, club-wielding, 180-foot giant dominates the landscape no matter which direction you approach from.

Travellers along the A352 are treated to a very unusal and surprising sight – the 180-foot-tall chalk carving of a naked man known as the Cerne Abbas Giant. He is also known as ‘The Rude Man’, for reasons (actually one very obvious reason) that become apparent when you look at him from the roadside viewpoint. There’s a good chance that the postcards of the Rude Man in his birthday suit are the county’s best-sellers.

There is far more to Cerne Abbas than the giant, though – it is a captivating village with a mixture of architectural styles evoking different eras, from medieval to Georgian. It grew up around a Benedictine abbey founded in AD987 but largely destroyed after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century.

What little remains of the abbey is now part of a private house at the top of Abbey Street but can be visited for a small fee: the Abbot’s Porch, built as the entrance to the abbey in the early 1500s, and the abbey guesthouse, a rare surviving example of a monastic guesthouse.

As you walk up Abbey Street towards the abbey ruins, you will pass an attractive duck pond and just beyond it a gate leads into a burial ground believed to date from the time of the abbey. Looking a little out of place among the gravestones is the medieval Preaching Cross, a stone shaft set into a squat hexagonal base, which travelling priests would have used to give communion to local residents.

If you follow the wall on your right as you go into the burial ground you will come to St Augustine’s Well. Also known as the Silver Well, this is another of the few relics remaining from the days of the abbey. According to legend, St Augustine of Canterbury (died AD604) visited Dorset and met some shepherds in the then uninhabited Cerne Valley. He asked if they would prefer beer or water to quench their thirst. When they replied ‘water’, the saint struck the ground with his staff and the spring started to flow. Some cynical folk have suggested that the Benedictine monks of Cerne Abbey fabricated the story to attract pilgrims.