Cerne, Corfe, Badbury & Alfred’s Tower: Legends in the Landscape

This is another from the NT SW pages and can be found on

Places have meanings and stories that are deeply rooted. These may not be backed up by written documents but tales are passed down through generations. Sometimes monuments are built to confirm the rumour of events that happened, of associations with famous people or to symbolise a sacred place. The National Trust cares for many of these mythical locations. Here are some in Wessex.

The Cerne Abbas Giant

First the Cerne Abbas Giant in deepest Dorset. Is he the celtic god Cernunnus, the Roman classical god Hercules, or a 17th century cartoon of Oliver Cromwell? There are strong backers for each theory. Should we date him? There is a method that could do it. Would it be better not to know and keep the mystery?

Looking down on the naked chalk figure of the Cerne Giant on the grassy hill

Cerne Giant 

Ancient naked figure sculpted into the chalk hillside above Cerne Abbas

Glastonbury Tor

Glastonbury is full of legends and the Tor stands like a beacon in the Isle of Avalon. Was Joseph of Arimathea here? Did he bring the Holy Grail and bury it at Chalice Well below the Tor? Many believe, and come to drink the spring waters.

A view across a field to Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, with the remains of the 15th century tower at the summit

Glastonbury Tor 

Prominent hill overlooking the Isle of Avalon, Glastonbury and Somerset

Corfe Castle

On the site of Corfe Castle in 978 it is said that young King Edward visited his stepmother, but she had him murdered to make her own son Aethelred the king in his place. Edward’s body was thrown down a well and a shaft of light located the place. Water from the well was said to heal the eyes. The legend is preserved on the Purbeck Estate by Edward’s Cottage towards Wareham.

Corfe Castle from the south seen through dawn mist

Corfe Castle, Dorset 

Dominating the village below it, the dramatic ruins of Corfe Castle hold many royal stories of intrigue, treachery and treason. In 978 King Edward, known as ‘the Martyr’, was believed to have been stabbed to death here, while visiting his step mother. In later years the castle became a royal prison to King John, before being reduced to ruins during the Civil War.

Badbury Rings

Badbury Rings hillfort, on the Kingston Lacy Estate, has been linked to the legend of Mount Badon. The place, where in the 5th century, Arthur led an army of Romanised Britains against the advancing Anglo Saxons and had a great victory keeping them from further conquests into Somerset, Dorset and Gloucestershire. Until AD 577 and the Battle of Dyrham.

Visitors at the Badbury Rings at Kingston Lacy, Dorset

Badbury Rings 

There’s evidence of Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman occupation at Badbury Rings, but it’s best known for the Iron Age hill fort with its three rings. There are Roman roads passing by, and Bronze Age burial mounds.

Alfred’s Tower

Places of great change, where history hung in the balance. Is Alfred’s Tower such a place? In 878, at Egbert’s Stone, on the boundaries of Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset, King Alfred rallied a scattered army near the edge of defeat and from there won a great victory against the Danish host. This happened a few miles away near the village of Edington beyond Warminster, Wiltshire.

In 1765, Henry Hoare had built a great tower on his Stourhead Estate where he believed Egbert’s Stone to be. Visit and climb his huge structure, built on the high escarpment edge, and take in the wide views of Wessex. Without this place, would we all be speaking Danish rather than English. Who knows, but the land is full of half forgotten stories. Enjoy the mystery.

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