A visitor’s guide to Cerne Abbas
PUBLISHED: 16:18 26 July 2019
It’s hard not to fall in love with Cerne Abbas’ unique character and charm – and with a history that can be traced right the way back to AD 987, there are plenty of stories to be uncovered here too
It's easy to see why Cerne Abbas was declared Britain's Most Desirable Village in 2008 by Savills estate agents; it ticks so many 'would love to live there' boxes. Set in the Cerne Valley, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this pretty village has a primary school, shops, a post office, tearooms, three pubs and a brewery.
The village grew up around Cerne Abbey, established in AD 987, and the Benedictine establishment ruled the roost until the Dissolution. A few remnants of the abbey remain, including St Augustine's Well and the parish church of St Mary's. Cerne Abbas became a thriving market town busily engaged in weaving, milling, tanning and brewing. By-passed by the arrival of the railway, the population plummeted and the village was sold by the Pitt-Rivers estate in 1919. But being left behind by progress has proved its salvation as Cerne Abbas remains unspoilt and is home to a thriving local community.
MOST NOTED FOR...
The 180ft priapic figure, sculpted into the chalk hillside above Cerne Abbas. With a Benedictine abbey in the vicinity, a pagan symbol like this would not have been tolerated. It is first mentioned in the late 17th century. The best viewing spot is from the Giant's View car park, or take the short walk up to the Giant's feet.
WHILE YOU'RE HERE...
Explore the Cerne Valley which follows the course of the River Cerne which rises at Minterne Magna and flows through Cerne Abbas and Godmanstone to Charminster.
Two miles north of Cerne Abbas is Minterne House, which is also well worth a visit. It has been the family seat of the Churchill and Digby families since 1620, and today its fabulous garden is famous for its collection of Himalayan specimens collected by plant hunters of the 18th and 19th centuries (minterne.co.uk). Rhododendrons, azaleas, Japanese cherries and magnolias thrive in a peaceful wooded valley where lakes, streams and waterfalls recreate the original environments of the plants.
BUT TRY NOT TO...
Miss Cerne Abbas Open Gardens. Held over a mid-June weekend, up to 25 private gardens open their gates to raise money for local charities.
The Cerne Giant is the most famous person in these parts. He has inspired some rather arresting biker leathers designed by Grayson Perry, and also promoted Movember, raising awareness for prostate and testicular cancer, when the National Trust added a temporary grass moustache. His outline appears on local food and drink products including Cerne Abbas Brewery beers.The Giant is the poster boy for Cerne Giant Festival, held during the two weeks leading up to May Day. Walks, talks, music and workshops explore our connection with the ancient landscape, culminating at the May Day celebrations on the Giant and dressing the Silver Well.
EAT AND STAY AT:
The New Inn
Why? This 16th century former coaching inn, with 10 bedooms, was awarded County Dining Pub of the Year in The Good Pub Guide 2019. The menu is a celebration of local surf and turf such as Lyme Bay scallops, Portland crab and lobster and grass-fed Aberdeen Angus beef. Local cask ales are from Palmers.
01300 341 349
Why? Their Giant cream teas, homemade cakes, biscuits and quiches, and offering a gluten free Dorset apple cake. The tearoom on Long Street also has five B & B bedrooms. Dogs are welcome in the pretty tea garden at the back.