We visited Maiden Castle on the way back from Poole yesterday. It is an huge and amazing Iron Age Hill fort just outside Dorchester. It is owned and managed by English Heritage and is open all year round – access is free. See here for more details.
The site originally dates back to the Neolithic (c 5500 years ago) when a small settlement was located on the top of the hill at the eastern end. However the huge ring ditches which characterise the site were constructed by Iron Age people around 800BC. At that time several hundred people lived on the site.
In 43AD the Romans came and defeated the inhabitants and set up a new town where the Iron Age people were moved to – Durnovaria – now called Dorchester.
The site is huge – English Heritage say that the area inside the ring ditches is the size of 50 football pitches.
I have always wondered at sites like this and the bronze age settlements on Dartmoor where the water came from for the inhabitants and their stock to drink. Maiden Castle is on the top of a chalk hill and there are no obvious streams or springs. Anyone know the answer to this? Did they have special ways of water harvesting which we no longer use or know about?
I also wonder whether the Romans simply blockaded the Castle and waited for the inhabitants to surrender? Maybe that is how they managed to relocate them to Dorchester. It seems to me that a huge battle around Maiden Castle would have led to huge loss of life and it is hard to imagine Roman Centurions scaling the ditches ….
Update via Simon Cranmer …. I was quite wrong about this…. apparently there was rather a large battle – see here.
In many ways Maiden Castle is as amazing as Stonehenge but unfortunately it is almost completely unknown and little visited except by local dog walkers. There are no facilities and very little information – in these days of austerity it will no doubt remain that way perhaps for the better. Nevertheless the place is on my list of England’s Great Wonders.