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.