A short history of Maiden Castle

Tuesday 16 May 2017

Maiden Castle

When we are servicing the guest bedrooms at Aquila Heights, it’s always awe-inspiring to glance out of the windows over to the huge structure of Maiden Castle, enclosing an area the size of fifty football pitches. Behind the grassy ramparts, people started using this site over 6,000 years ago - to put that into context, that’s more than twice as long ago as the founding of Ancient Rome.  

The structure that remains today was the largest Iron Age hillfort in Britain and was built sometime later, a mere 2,800 years ago. The design and creation of such a large integrated structure, which was at one time filled with neat regimented rows of buildings, is quite incredible. To think that this was all done with nothing larger than primitive hand tools and all designed, organised and constantly maintained without anyone being able to write anything down…. you can see why it’s so awe-inspiring.

Maiden Castle Occupied

Sadly for us, the Celtic tribes built in wood, which just hasn’t been able to survive the countless centuries. Imagine what Maiden Castle would look like now if our ancestors had built in stone, as they did around the Mediterranean at about the same time. We could be gazing out of our windows across to something resembling the Athens acropolis – only larger!

Maiden Castle continued in use for longer than most other hillforts but, after centuries of dominance, it was finally defeated by the Romans. It’s romantic to imagine a massive battle worthy of a Hollywood epic, but there is no definitive evidence for this, and the handover may have been an altogether more peaceful affair. The Romans seem to have sensibly abandoned the castle in favour of the more sheltered spot down by the River Frome at what became Durnovaria and, later, Dorchester, but they did build a temple on the site some centuries later, and part of the foundations remain.

Anyone who has been up on the castle on a blustery day even in summer will know what a bleak place this must have been to live all year round, but there wasn’t much choice when defence was the No 1 priority. Once the Romans had secured the area, and with their more sophisticated defences including stone town walls, they didn’t need to stay in such an exposed location and moved down to the riverbank, which has made a comfortable home for the people of Durnovaria and Dorchester ever since.

The hillfort therefore fell out of use as a home, but has continued to be used for agriculture right up to the present day, when there are usually plenty of sheep to accompany the walkers, sightseers and historians. These days, Maiden Castle is primarily used for leisure and historical research. It’s looked after by English Heritage, who provide information boards at the castle, and with more information on their website for this open access free-entry site. There are no gift shops or cafes, but there are glorious views of the South Dorset Ridgeway and surrounding Dorset landscape and, if you use a little imagination, you can sense 6,000 years of history all around you.

You can see the castle from many guest rooms in Aquila Heights, but Room 2 and Room 3 have grandstand views. Book online here.

Maiden Castle View

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Guest Reviews

Visited Dorchester last weekend for a Christening and booked in to Aquila Heights without looking at reviews just on webpage description. The welcome, service, room and food were simply the best we have experienced. Thankyou Derek and Wendy - wonderful hosts. 

Steviebarley - via TripAdvisor
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