Maiden Castle - PHOTOGRAPHER COMMENT
Panorama taken from the middle of Maiden Castle hill fort in Dorset. The image, taken on 27th December 2009 during a brief break in the weather, shows the central enclosure of the fort. The outlying structure and ramparts are clearly visible on the satellite view of the Google map of Dorchester.
Maiden Castle - FURTHER INFORMATION
Maiden Castle - Dorchester visitor guide showing a virtual tour of 'Maiden Castle' linked to an interactive map with local and travel information. 360° panoramas from Dorset.
Maiden Castle, near Dorchester in Dorset, is one of the largest and most complex hill forts in Europe. The site has been occupied since the Neolithic times, and the castle ramparts constructed around 800BC. Maiden Castle is now mamaged by English Heritage and is one of the tourist attractions around Dorchester. Entrance to the site is free, and there is a good display of the history and archaeology of the hill fort in Dorset County Museum.
Brief History of Maiden CastleIn around 4000BC an oval Neolithic causewayed enclosure was constructed on the site. Not defensive in function, this enclosure may have been symbolic, and 2 Neolithic graves have been found. In about 3,350 a 456m long barrow bank was built over the enclosure site, but not used for burials. During the Bronze Age, Maiden castle was, for a short time, used to grow crops, but the soil soon became depleted and the site abandoned.
Proper construction of the ramparts around the hill fort occurred in the Iron Age, with the first ramparts being erected in around 600BC. This enclosed a 6.4-hectare (16-acre) site with a simple 8.4m high rampart and ditch. Uniquely for hill forts in England, Maiden Castle has two entrances, one to the east, pictured here, and another to the north. Sometime later the ditch was deepened and further defences built around the eastern entrance. This panorama was taken from the top of the remains of the western ramp.
In around 450BC, Maiden Castle was enlarged to cover 19 ha (47 acres), expanding westwards towards Hog Hill. Again the new fort was surrounded by a single ditch and rampart. Soon after this further ramparts and ditches were added to the fort. Four ditches and ramparts were built along the southern side of Maiden Castle, but only three along the steeper, northern slopes. The eastern entrance was further developed. This final expansion phase has resulted in the general layout of the castle we have today.
There is evidence within the castle of small, four post structures. They are thought to be too small for housing, and may have been used as granaries, which would have given Maiden Castle control over the surrounding area. The site also contains a number of Iron Age roundhouse remains, aligned in rows. Among the remains various bronze objects, pins, rivets and jewellery have been found on the site.
There is also some evidence suggesting the Romans may have attacked Maiden Castle. A number of bodies on the site showed signs of violent death, and many Roman artefacts have been found near the eastern entrance. The story of Roman attack is not conclusive. Whatever the cause, Maiden Castle was abandoned 100BC at the time when nearby Durnovaria (Dorchester) rose in prominence. Sometime after 367AD, a Celtic-Roman temple was built at the eastern end of Maiden Castle, though this quickly fell into disrepair and the site then used during the following centuries for pasture.
Visiting Maiden CastleToday, Maiden Castle is open to the public. It is managed by English Heritage, who recently installed a number of descriptive placards around the site giving an interpretive guide to visitors. The hill fort can be approached via paths leading to both the west and east side, which run through the impressive ramparts.
In the middle you will often find sheep grazing. There are stunning panoramic views of the surrounding area from the top of the ramparts. This image, taken from the western wall of the early enclosure, shows a view over the central area of Maiden Castle. To the north is Dorchester, and to the south is Corton Down, which is covered with tumuli.
TRAVEL DIRECTIONS AND GETTING THERE
Car: Maiden Castle is about 2 miles south of central Dorchester. Take the B3147 south turning right where signposted onto Maiden Castle Road. There is car parking at the end, then walk to the hill fort. If coming from further afield, take the A35 or A354 to the A35 / A354 roundabout and follow signs to Maiden Castle. It is about 10 miles north of Weymouth.
Train: Dorchester South and Dorchester West stations.