Wednesday, 23 September 2015

We visit the largest Iron Age hill fort in Britain and see a crop circle

Puddletown is our base for the next ten days and we are now pitched up
on the Caravan Club CL campsite of South Admiston, having arrived on Monday afternoon. It's a working cattle farm which was originally built in 1845 as part of the estate of Athelhampton. The small grass field is somewhat the worse for wear due to the rain and we did turn up during a shower. Actually we had rain pretty much all the way from Huntisbeare and even fog for part of the journey. Drivers were still zooming past with no lights on even with visibility down to practically nothing. South Admiston has just electric hook-up, water and waste, and is £12 a night or £14 if we decide to put our awning up. We have been issued with a huge folder of leaflets and booklets advertising Dorset attractions so have our fingers crossed for nice weather to see as much as we can at its best.

After a late lunch of slow-baked wholemeal bread, jam and cheese (have
Path through earthworks to the western entrance 
you all tried out the bread recipe yet?!), we decided to make the most of a break in the weather. Our first choice of the Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum turned out to be closed on Mondays so we set out for the largest Iron Age hill fort in Britain instead. Maiden Castle is believed to have been first laid out around 600BC and was built over an existing Neolithic settlement that was in use some 6000 years ago. English Heritage maintain Maiden Castle so there are several helpful information plaques about although one had been 'vandalised' and we spotted the culprits in the process of damaging another - the signs' lower corners are just the right height for sheep to scratch their backs under! The site and its car park are free to enter and we spotted a couple of sturdy bicycle hoops too which is great as National Cycle Network routes run close by.

Apparently the size of fifty football pitches, Maiden Castle has an awe-
Roman temple remains 
inspiring series of ditches and ramparts surrounding its central plateau. Some ditches are over six metres deep. The defences were added to over several centuries with the western entrance in particular becoming positively baffling! Pathways are mown to show where Iron Age inhabitants would have walked and the aforementioned sheep are responsible for grass cutting on the rest of the site. We found the remains of a small Roman temple which is believed to have been dedicated to the goddess Minerva. Romans took over Maiden Castle during their great invasion in AD43 (my recent read Skin by Ilka Tampke describes life in Celtic Britain immediately before this period) but we were told that the temple wasn't built until some two hundred years later. This was long after the hill fort had been abandoned which I found very bizarre.

Ditches and ramparts at Maiden Castle 
There are long views in all directions from Maiden Castle so it was easy to imagine why the site was chosen. Archaeological excavations in the past uncovered thousands of slingshot pebbles transported there from Chesil Beach, and the discovery of a mass grave led to speculation about the circumstances of the burials. We were intrigued by small steel circles inset into the earth over wooden bases. Dave wondered whether they were some form of erosion markers? We also spotted a kestrel hovering and diving, although it didn't seem to catch its prey, and I was delighted to see a crop circle - or where one used to be anyway. Are they still called crop circles when the crop has been harvested?

Crop circle below Maiden Castle 

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