I’d read a lot about Maiden Castle, watched documentaries and driven past many times, but had never actually found the time to visit. So, when driving back from a walk along the coast we decided to check it out. The site is free to enter and is looked after my English Heritage.
Situated on the outskirts of Dorchester, this is one of the largest and most impressive Iron Age hillforts in Britain, covering 47 acres of land.
We parked up in the gravel car park at bottom of the castle and made our way up the ramparts and ditches. It was surprisingly quiet, apart from the field full of sheep and lambs who we had to navigate our way past to get up the first rampart. Yes, I did end up standing in sheep poo!
Spiked wooden fences would have sat on top of the ramparts, and the entrances to the hillfort were not aligned making it difficult for enemy tribes to gain entry. Within the defences would have stood a busy settlement with round houses, granaries and store houses.
When the Romans invaded England in 44AD, the hillfort was occupied by a Celtic tribe called The Durotriges. After a bloody battle, the Romans took over the fort.
It’s not until you climb up the ramparts and reach the top of the fort you really see the scale of it. It’s huge!
The fort takes its name from the Celtic word ‘Maiden,’ meaning Great Hill.
When you reach the top, you’ll find the remains of a Roman temple. The fort was abandoned when the nearby Roman town of Durnovaria (now Dorchester) was founded at the end of the first century.
The temple was then built over 200 years later in the fourth century AD. During this time, a fuse between the native British and the classic Roman religions was becoming more common. It’s also not uncommon for these religious sites to be in rural settings, such as this one.
I really enjoyed exploring Maiden Castle and I could not get over the scale of it. I can’t wait to visit again.