Explore Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire
For many, DORCHESTER, county town of Dorset, is essentially Thomas Hardy’s town; he was born at Higher Bockhampton, three miles east, his heart is buried in Stinsford, a couple of miles northeast (the rest of him is in Westminster Abbey), and he spent much of his life in Dorchester itself, where his statue now stands on High West Street. The town appears in his novels as Casterbridge, and the local countryside is evocatively depicted, notably the wild heathland of the east (Egdon Heath) and the eerie yew forest of Cranborne Chase.
The real Dorchester – liveliest on Wednesday, market day – has a pleasant central core of mostly seventeenth-century and Georgian buildings, though the town’s origins go back to the Romans, who founded “Durnovaria” in about 70 AD. The Roman walls were replaced in the eighteenth century by tree-lined avenues called “Walks”, but some traces of the Roman period have survived. On the southeast edge of town, Maumbury Rings is where the Romans held vast gladiatorial combats in an amphitheatre adapted from a Stone Age site.Read More
One of southern England’s finest prehistoric sites, MAIDEN CASTLE stands on a hill southwest of Dorchester. Covering about 115 acres, it was first developed around 3000 BC by a Stone Age farming community and then used during the Bronze Age as a funeral mound. Iron Age dwellers expanded it into a populous settlement and fortified it with a daunting series of ramparts and ditches, just in time for the arrival of Vespasian’s Second Legion. The ancient Britons’ slingstones were no match for the more sophisticated weapons of the Roman invaders, however, and Maiden Castle was stormed in a massacre in 43 AD.
What you see today is a massive series of grassy concentric ridges about 60ft high, creasing the surface of the hill. The main finds from the site are displayed in the Dorset County Museum.
Cerne Abbas giant
Cerne Abbas giantThe village of CERNE ABBAS has bags of charm, with gorgeous Tudor cottages and abbey ruins, but its main attraction is the enormously priapic giant carved in the chalk hillside just north of the village, standing 180ft high and flourishing a club over his disproportionately small head. The age of the monument is disputed, some believing it to be pre-Roman, others thinking it might be a Romano-British figure of Hercules. Either way, in view of his prominent feature it’s probable that the giant originated as some primeval fertility symbol. Folklore has it that lying on the outsize member will induce conception, but the National Trust, who now own the site, do their best to stop people wandering over it and eroding the 2ft-deep trenches that form the outlines.