Maiden Castle – more amazing than Stonehenge?

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.

Maiden Castle 2
Three ring ditches (defensive slopes) on the south west corner

Maiden Castle 4
The three ring ditches on the south east corner with sheep grazing the grass

Maiden Castle 1
The ditches are at least 30 metres deep

Maiden Castle 3
It is hard to comprehend how these ditches were dug without the aid of modern machinery.

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.


5 thoughts on “Maiden Castle – more amazing than Stonehenge?

  1. I was at the NT Rangers clay pigeon shoot at Prestonbury Castle on Friday. It is the first time I visited that site, and it reminded me of a small version of Maiden Castle – AND it is on Dartmoor, close to the Drogo Estate.
    It is on private land, but well worth visiting, if you can get permission from the landowner.

  2. Hello Adrian, I used to live about twenty minutes walk from Maiden castle when I was a student nurse at Dorchester and it is the most amazing and unknown (except maybe to locals) place, but I just wanted to share with you an experience I had as a student nurse. I was working with the community nurses and we did a home visit on the most amazing home of two of the original archeologists, when I expressed an interest in Maiden castle they explained how they had excavated the site in the 1930’s and brought out this amazing book of photographs etc, I think a lot of the relics are in the Dorchester museum. I wish I had been able to talk to them for longer but patient visits called. Anyway I really enjoy your emails and this made me nostalgic as I haven’t been back there for a long time. Funnily enough it’s how I got my husband into walking as I enticed him up there with the promise of seeing the most amazing castle! Luckily he was so taken with the views and the joy of the walk he forgave me my fibs even though he will remind me of it some 15 years later!! With best wishes Suzanne

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. I visited Maiden Castle as a child and was fascinated at the time. I believe the location was used in a scene in the sixties film of the Hardy novel, ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’. As to its defence, the place is so huge that it was estimated that it would take a force of over 100,000 to defend its entire circumference. An equally large force would have been needed to prevent inhabitants going out foraging under cover of darkness. So one might assume that a Roman force could have entered the fort without much difficulty and captured it without the need of a siege.

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