What is Maiden Castle?
Maiden Castle is not a castle in the pointy-tower Disney sense. It contains no battlements, stone walls, dungeons, dragons or keep. It looks like a large, curiously flat hill at a distance and – at 45 acres – is the largest hill-fort in Britain.
These hill-forts were an Iron Age development around 500 BC and there are hundreds in Britain, especially in the south of the country. Some – like Maiden Castle – were established over previous Neolithic settlements that had occupied the area for several thousand years.
Excavations at the eastern end of Maiden have revealed 20 acres of Neolithic defensive works dated from about 3, 000BC.
The aerial graphic on English Heritage’s signboard (see above) shows how the concentric rings protected a powerful Celtic tribal settlement of the Durotriges who controlled the territory now partly known as Dorset.
Maiden Castle would have been the home of the Durotriges elite and their dependants, while commoners lived in farms around the hill.
Dorchester was founded by the Romans in 43AD, partly to corral the Celts defeated in the conquest of nearby Maiden Castle. Originally Dorchester was called Durnovaria.
A quiet rural town and seat of local government, Dorchester features in local Thomas Hardy’s novel ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ and was also the home of Britain’s most notorious ‘hanging’ judge, bloody Judge Jefferey.
Apart from a few pleasant Georgian buildings, Hardy’s home ‘Max Gate’ and the County Museum (Maiden Castle relics and Thomas Hardy’s study) there’s not much in Dorchester to keep a tourist interested, but it’s a good way station en route from the Stonehenge/Avebury area to Maiden Castle, one mile south and the Cerne Giant, eight miles north, or to Dorset’s ‘Jurassic’ Coast.
The Cerne Giant is a famously rampant, naked 60 metre man carved into the chalk hills about 8 miles (13kms) from Dorchester.