The Dorset Cernunnos and Catherine Way

South West England

You begin at St Augustine’s Well, or the Silver Well as some call it, with all its mysteries. It is said that a St Catherine’s Chapel was on the hill behind the well in the past, but some say it was called St Augustine’s Chapel. Then after the remaining ruin of the Abbott’s Porch of Cerne Abbey, you follow the course of the River Cerne to the view of Cerne Giant. Cerne is associated with fertility, as both Catherine and the Giant are – feminine and masculine. ‘Cerne’ is shortened from ‘Cernunnos’, a (male) Gaelic god of beasts and wild places, called the ‘horned one’. The Giant chalk carving may be newer than we think, having been put there in the 17th-century by the Dorset Clubmen – protesters for peace in the Civil War – but we still don’t know. Plausible given the Giant is holding a club…

From Cerne you move through the kind of Dorset valley (Church Bottom and Break Heart Hill) that you will become used to on this two day pilgrimage. Sydling St Nicholas follows, lunch at the Greyhound perhaps, and a visit to the village church where the wedding scene from ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ was filmed. Onwards past more of the distinctive earth formations of Dorset farmland before Maiden Newton church, where you can marvel at the oldest door in England. Next is the very remote end-of-the-road Saxon church of Toller Fratrum, which still retains a pure and palpable holiness.

Another cosy and intimate valley of Wynford Eagle (with a possible night’s rest at West Compton) before the majesty of Eggardon Hill, with its Iron Age hill fort, extreme beauty of shape and broad views of this beautiful West country. (Eggardon was also the scene of an important clash between Dorset Clubmen and the Parliamentarians). You descend though more sweeping hills to Litton Cheney, visit the gladed fairytale Chapel in the Woods, and walk up to Abbotsbury Castle hill fort, where you finally feel close to the sea, with views of the remarkable Chesil Beach and St Catherine’s Chapel in the distance.

Along the South Dorset Ridgeway you glide before descending into picturesque Abbotsbury, nestled in a green and pleasant landscape. Ascend finally to St Catherine’s Chapel on the Hill, which has been visible to you for a while now, and petition her (perhaps for a new husband?!) and then you have the option of returning to Abbotsbury or ending at the sea on Chesil Beach – a elemental expanse worthy of a finish.

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