Maiden Castle - Walk along the outer ramparts
After I had explored the interior parts of Maiden Castle for more than an hour I was very tired and tried to make my way back to the car park. I ended up on a part of the outer ramparts and walked along them a little, and when I found that I was walking away from the car park, I decided to continue because I liked this walk so much. Parts of these ramparts are about six metres high, and it was all just impressive. I cannot really describe the atmosphere - on the one hand the beauty of the high green banks and deep ditches, and the views on the surrounding green hills and fields, on the other hand the feeling to walk on such an old historical sight, to walk where people already walked thousands of years ago... I really got goose bumps from it!
This walk took me another hour to complete and I was quite exhausted when I finally reached the car park, but it was absolutely worth it. The walk around the whole fort had really given me another impression of the grandness of this construction, and I was completely stunned that the iron age people had been able to build something as big as strong as this!
Maiden Castle is an Off The Beaten Path destination in the south of the town centre which is not visited by that many tourists (at least there were non at all when I visited), but to my mind it is a real must see if you are travelling to Dorchester.
The term "castle" is somewhat misleading, though, as it is an iron age hill fort and not a medieval castle. And what a huge hill fort it is! It was the first one I visited, and I was absolutely impressed by its size and grandness. In fact, Maiden Castle is the largest iron age hill fort in Europe, so it is no wonder that I was overwhelmed!
It covers an area of 47 acres, the banks surrounding it are more than 500m long. Its size is as big as 50 football pitches! The process of building began around 3000B.C., but the present construction dates from 450 - 300m when the fort was fortified and enlarged, and ditches and embankments were added.
The name of the fort was Mai Dun, meaning "Great Hill", and the people living there when the Romans arrived were the Durotriges. The Romans invaded the area in 43A.D. and after a battle and short period of Roman occupation, the hill fort was abandoned. The remains of a Roman temple can still be seen, but unfortunately I did not find them!
I bought a leaflet with two guided walks and a map of Maiden Castle in the Dorset County Museum, but unfortunately I did not have any orientation and neither the map nor the description of the walks worked for me. After I searched around and tried to find the right way for quite a long time, I simply gave up and just enjoyed walking around the large area. Although I certainly missed some things (like the Roman temple) I liked it very much and just admired the size and grandeur of the construction, and the fascinating atmosphere. I met no people with the exception of a few locals who walked their dogs here.
If you plan to go to Maiden Castle by public transport, please read my tip on how to get there by bus. Please note that in order to properly visit the castle, a lot of walking and even a little "hiking" up the ramparts is involved.
Picture 1: A view of the hill fort when I arrived there
Picture 2: Another view from further afar
Picture 3: This picture was taken near the entrance
Picture 4: Taken from a place further up on the hill
Picture 5: The large area in the centre of the fort
No admission fee!
Open all day, all year
Address: Maiden Castle Road
Directions: About two miles south of the town centre
I had never heard about Maumbury Rings when I came to Dorchester, but the lady in the tourist information centre told me about it when she heard that I was interested in prehistoric and Roman history.
Maumbury Rings was originally a neolithic henge, constructed at about 2500B.C.
After the Romans had established their town of Durnovaria, the henge of Maumbury Rings was converted to an amphitheatre. They took earth from the centre of the henge to enlarge the outer rings. It was one of the largest amphitheatres in Britain, but it already went out of use in 150A.D., after only one century.
In the middle of the 17th century Maumbury Rings were suddenly in use again: The construction was fortified and remodeled to be used as an artillery fort during the Civil War.
It is now sometimes still used as a theatre, and public performances and festivals are held here.
I find it fascination how such an old construction has been used again and again over the centuries, and is still in use today!
No admission fee!
Open all year, all day.
Adress: Corner Weymouth Avenue & Maumbury Road
Directions: Maumbury Rings are located in the south of the town centre, only a short walk from Dorchester South railway station.
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
Maiden Castle - Burial Mounds
Having climbed Maiden Castle, I saw a couple of burial mounds that looked quite big to me. It was hard to take pictures because they were so far away.
The burial mounds are from the Bronze Age and are located north of the hillfort, they can clearly be seen when you climb up from the car park.
There is another huge burial mound from the neolithic period which runs almost three quarters along the length of the hill fort in its interior - I did not know which of all those earth embankments it was, though, and could not distinguish it. This mound is the longest burial mound in Britain.
There is a smaller one from the Bronze Age in the western part of the interior. I could not find it though and the leaflet says that it is much damaged.
My picture shows one of the burial mounds north of the fort.
Fountain marking the Roman aqueduct
This fountain marks the end of the Roman aqueduct which was located in Princes Street. It is a pretty fountain in a somewhat "Roman" style. It is possible to see some remains of the original aqueduct between Poundbury Street and the River Frome about a mile to the northwest of the town centre, but I did not go there.
The aqueduct was nine km long although the water reservoir where it started was only 4,5km away - it was constructed in a winding manner because like that the water ran better. This was the water supply for the town of Durnovaria and especially its public baths.
The fountain was erected in 2003.
Address: Princes Street/Somerleigh Street
Direction: In the town centre
Despite its appalling name, this is a very pretty cottage that to me looked exactly like the ideal English cottage, including a pretty garden and a thatched roof! Adding to that, it is located closed to the Mill Stream, at the beautiful River Walk. However, it was the home of the town's executioner. The location where the hangings took place is only a few hundred metres away at the riverside.
The cottage is located close to the Roman Town House, just a few metros further along the street.
John White's House
This is a rather plain looking house in the town centre, but it is important because it was the home of the Reverend John White. He was the rector of St Peter's and Holy Trinity from 1606 to 1648 (a long time it seems to me!) and was called the Patriarch of Dorchester. He had a big part in rebuilding the town after the great fire of 1613, was responsible of the opening of three almshouses, and other improvements of social welfare. Dorchester enjoyed some very prosperous decades in the 17th century due to White's ideas and reforms.
He was also involved with the founding of the town of Dorchester in Massachusetts. One of the first large fleets of ships sailed to New England in 1630, and this was partly due to John White who had made many trips to London to gain funds and organise everything, and who had personally chosen many of the people who voyaged to the new continent.
I think it is a very interesting story, and the plaque on the historical building commemorates it.
Address: Colliton Street
Directions: In the town centre
- Historical Travel
Judge Jeffrey's Lodgings
This is one of the finest houses in Dorchester, located on High West Street. It is one of the oldest buildings surviving in town and was constructed in the 16th century.
George Jeffrey was the Lord Chief Justice who conducted the "Bloody Assize", a court trial held in Winchester, Salisbury, Dorchester, Taunton and Wells in 1685. The trial ended the Monmouth Rebellion, the plan to dethrone James II and make James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth, king instead. About 1400 people were found guilty during the assize. About 300 of them were hanged and about 800 sent to the West Indies.
For his services to the king in this trial, Jeffrey was appointed Lord Chancellor, but he later died in the Tower of London where he was imprisoned after the Glorious Revolution.
While the trial took place in Dorchester, Jeffrey stayed in this house which since then was called "Judge Jeffrey's Lodgings". It is now a restaurant.
Address: 6 High West Street
Directions: In the town centre, close to Antelope Walk and the tourist information
- Historical Travel
South Walks and Dorset Martyrs Statue
I arrived in Dorchester without a map and tried to find the town centre on my own when I left the train station, but first I walked into the wrong direction and walked east instead of north. It did not matter, though, because I discovered a very nice part of the town, the South Walks. This is a pretty avenue lined with chestnut trees that marks the southern border of the old Roman town. A very nice walk indeed.
At the end of the street there is the Dorset Martyrs Statue, a memorial to all the people who were killed in Dorset because of their religious beliefs. It was constructed by Elisabeth Frink and finished in 1986. There are three large bronze figures, two symbolizing the martyrs and one symbolizing death. I think it is very impressive and powerful. The figure of death reminded me of the depiction of medieval soldiers (see picture 4).
When I went back to the train station in the later afternoon I came here again to take some pictures in the evening sun.
Cenotaph & Victorian post box
On the way from the train station to the town centre you come across a very small square with two interesting features. The first is a cenotaph which was unveiled in 1921. It is made of portland stone and was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the famous architect who also designed the cenotaph in Whitehall in London.
The post box is located very close to the Cenotaph. It is pointed out in the Discover Dorchester map that you can get at the Tourist Information. I was curious to see it because I had only learned about the different post boxes very recently and was quite fascinated by it, as there is no tradition like that in Germany. The post box was placed here in 1866 and is a typical hexagonal box designed by Penfold. This design became known as the "Penfold Box", and the red colour became the standard a decade later. I must say that I just love discovering details like this that connect to history and show a long, unbroken tradition. Unfortunately the rubbish bin located directly beside the postbox does not really fit.
Address: Junction of Great Western Road, South Walks Road, Prince of Wales Road and Weymouth Avenue.
Directions: South of the town centre