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Summer Madness: Hill fort spectacle
HISTORY lovers can roam the ancient grounds of Maiden Castle this summer, one of the largest Iron Age hill forts in Britain.
Maiden Castle sits two miles to the south of Dorchester and dates back to 600BC when it was laid out over the remains of a Neolithic settlement.
During the centuries that followed, the fort was extended and additional defences were added around it.
The word ‘maiden’ comes from the Celtic ‘mai dun’, meaning ‘great hill’, and this great hill can be seen today with the huge earth walls rising up to six metres high.
Its multiple walls protect an area the size of fifty football pitches and the site was home to hundreds in the Iron Age, a time between 800BC and 43AD.
The castle was not the first development on the hill, as excavations reveal occupation on the hilltop began more than 6,000 years ago.
In 43AD it was taken by the Roman army and its inhabitants moved to the new town of Durnovaria, today called Dorchester.
A number of items found at the site are on display at the Dorset County Museum.
Those standing at the top of the historic castle are provided with sweeping and spectacular views across Dorchester.
Visitors can access the site by a short but steep trail to the right of the car park, which leads through the original Iron Age entrance to the hill fort. Another trail leads across the hill fort defences and involves some steps.
Maiden Castle has provided inspiration for composer John Ireland and authors Thomas Hardy and John Cowper Powys.
In the 1930s, archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler undertook the first archaeological excavations at Maiden Castle which raised its public profile.
The site is protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and maintained by English Heritage.
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