Whilst Dorchester may hold many of the same charms of other English towns, it can boast of being the gateway to the largest Iron Age hill fort in Britain. Known as Maiden Castle, this hill fort encompasses an impressive 47 acres just two miles south of Dorchester town centre.
You cannot help but be impressed by the immense size and construction of this fort; viewed from the air you clearly see the rings that make up this famous landmark. It is easy to be taken in with the sheer size of Maiden Castle, but don't let the walk up from the car park stop you from exploring this place of rich history; simply throw on your walking shoes, grab a backpack with some lunch and water, and you will be ready for a day of exploring.
Located just off the A345 Maiden Castle has plenty of free parking, so you and your car will be easily accommodated during your visit.
Maiden Castle is one of several hill forts that used to occupy the area, but many are either too small to be clearly seen or have been destroyed over time. The Castle stands alone as the largest and most impressive hill fort in Britain, originally constructed around 600 BC but was not nearly as large or impressive back then. Originally Maiden Castle was only about 16 acres in size with a single, simple ditch and bank reaching a height of around 9 feet. This was all good and well for a while until the inhabitants, like most folks, decided it was time their little town underwent some improvement and expansion. Around 450 BC, Maiden Castle was enlarged to encompass an area of 47 acres with new defences rising to 11 feet and several new ditches in excess of 23 feet.
The population fluctuated but remained primarily agricultural in nature during this time, but the site of Maiden Castle started to establish itself as a very important iron producer in Southern Britain in the late Iron Age. Although the local area lacked few natural resources to create their own metal, it is thought that there was a great deal of trade amongst the forts and towns of the area.
By the time of the Roman occupation, about 43AD, the population of Maiden Castle had dwindled and was focused mainly in the eastern section of the hill top area. A small cemetery on the site indicates that there were at least some inhabitants over the next few hundred years, but the population did not grow by any great number. Around 367 AD a Romano-Celtic temple was erected. If you look carefully whilst you wander on the top of the hill you can make out another area that is thought to be the location of a shrine for the temple. This temple was probably the last great thing to take place at Maiden Hill; from the 4th century on, the site fell into disuse and was resigned to use as pasture or farm land.
In the 1920-30 Maiden Hill was rediscovered by archaeologists, who have since dedicated much time to unfolding the story of Maiden Castle and other Fort hill forts in the area. In the past 20-25 years, efforts have been made on behalf of Maiden Castle to restore it to its original state and discovering new facts about this historical location. As a protected site, Maiden Castle is open, year round, for public visiting.