Dorchester:the county town: birth date 6000 years ago

Dorchester, whilst not the biggest town in Dorset is the county town and therefore deserves attention.

high west street dorchester

The town has good access by both road and rail.

There are two stations one ,Dorchester South, with direct services to London Waterloo and the other to Bristol.There is also a National Express bus service which runs from London Victoria via Bournemouth. A change at Bournemouth is sometimes required otherwise straight through.Go to the National Express bus website here for times and to make a booking.

If you are coming by car there are several car parks the big ones being on Acland Road which can be accessed off High Street East,the main street of the town.

Once in the town the best starting point would be the Tourist Information Centre Antelope Walk DT1 1BE which is open all the year round though closed on Sundays which seems a bit odd.But hey they gotta rest.

You can reach them on 01305 267992

By the way, if you are hungry there is great shop also in Antelope Walk serving hot Cornish Pasties.It's called The Celtic Kitchen.Really good veggie ones too.

The tourist office can help you with booking accommodation providing maps and making recommendations on what to see and do.

A good way to take in the town is to do one of the four walks recommended by them that reveal various aspects of Dorchester's history.

I did part of the Roman Walk which you can start by going up High West Street until it reaches The Grove.Turn right here.This street marks Roman wall which surrounded the town,when it was known as Durnovaria.

Follow this road down the hill until the you reach a right turn into Northernhay.Walk along here for about 50m until you come to a gate that is the entrance to the Roman Town House. roman house dorchester This is one of seven buildings excavated in 1937 when the land was acquired by the County Council to build new offices.The plans were changed to accommodate this house which later revealed extensive Mosaic

The mosaic has incredible detail preserved even after thousands of years, with the bordering of one having 8200 tesserae (cube shaped tiles) per square metre.

The outline of the house is still visible.To protect the mosaic a roof and glass walls have been erected to keep out the weather and people.Plans are in hand to improve the facilities at the site using Lottery Funding.

The only disappointing aspect of the site is it's domination by the adjoining County council offices.Like all council offices they are ugly and spoil the site's setting.


Moving on from here go back out onto Nothernhay, cross the road and see Hangman's Cottage with it's beautiful thatched roof and garden.This was the home to the Town's executioner, who would have despatched prisoners on the orders of Judge Jefferys.,

hangmans cottage

The Judge, who lived at 6 High West Street,(now a restaurant that bears his name) presided over the Bloody Assizes.These were trials of followers of the Duke of Monmouth who had attempted to overthrow James II a Catholic.

Many prisoners were transported to Australia, but some were hung drawn and quartered ,a gruesome form of execution which I would prefer not to go in to. This is a family website.

Passing the cottage on your left you will come to the river Frome which you can follow back to the main street.Crystal clear water a few ducks and fish though once back to High East Street the effect is somewhat spoilt by an ugly boarded up building that was once the White Hart pub.

Still, leave that behind and cross the street to Salisbury Street There you will find the Teddy Bear Museum (!) or continue up the High Street to No 25 and you will find the Terracotta Warrior Museum displaying replicas of the Chinese Army figures.

Still further up the High Street on the corner of Alington Street is the Tutankhamun Exhibition.Still not museumed out?Then try the Dorset County Museum on the other side of High West Street and the Dinosaur Museum in Icen Way

Finally there is the Military Museum at the top of the High Street which was originally the gatehouse for the Dorsetshire Regiment but is now a museum of the area's military past.

All these museums are signed posted from the main car parks.


Poundbury

Whilst in Dorchester you must visit Poundbury and Maiden Castle which are located to the west of the town Centre.

poundbury

Poundbury is well known and quite controversial due to it's connection to the Prince of Wales.

This 70 hectare piece of land is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall set up to create an income for the heir to the throne,hence his involvement with Poundbury.

The site is controversial in that it reflects the Prince's vision of the integration of urban living and country life.This has been made possible by the Duchy having such a large land holding.Few private developers would have the resources to assemble such a site.

I wonder if this site could have achieved planning consent if it were not for the who is behind this project.It seems to me that the site was once agricultural and to get consent for commercial and residential development on a site this size would be tricky to say the least.

As to the village itself it still has a raw feel about it given it is so young.There are narrow streets and wide boulevards.The best place to start would be at the Dochester end of the village which is the most developed and has a lived in feel about it.

There is a market in Pummery Square under Brownsword Hall with all the usual organic meat,pies and cheeses are sold.I would recommend the organic cheddar produced by Godminster Farm near Bruton.Very yummy & £4 for 200g.And it comes in heart shaped packets.

At the western end of Poundbury the area is still being developed which a large residential and commerical plot being developed.Business mixes with residential.Dorset Cereals have their factory here.Their products I also endorse.

As a large building site Poundbury does stand out a bit too much though it is somewhat hidden from the Dorchester by pass by heavy earthworks.Still the masterplan does not see an end to the development until 2025 so it is too early to pass judgement.

I will leave it to you to decide if property is reasonable or expensive but a six bedroom detached house is on the market now at £500K.Cheaper than Bournemouth that's for sure.


Maiden Castle:the original Dorchester

A much older settlement outside Dorchester is Maiden Castle the largest Iron Age Fort in Britain.

The term castle is a misnomer as no castle was ever built but refers to the 6m high earhtworks created to defend the site.

maiden castle

Follow the Weymouth Road A354 out of Dorchester and look for a a right turn to the castle which is signposted by a cemetary.Drive along this road for about a mile past a school and you reach a car park at the base of the castle.The road goes no further.

It is a ten minute walk from the car park up to the Western Entrance

This end has an elaborate series of winding corridors dug out of the earth and designed to confuse an enemy as it approached.

The first inhabitants came here during the Neolithic period and enclosed part of the hill top.This was later expanded during the Iron Age to encompass the whole area we see today.

On top of the hill is a long mound some 500 metres in length.The exact purpose of the mound is not certain though it could have some symbolic or religious significance,

The fort was inhabited until AD43 when the conquering Romans moved the population to Durnovaria their new town for the area.

The Romans did occupy the fort themselves and a temple was built at the eastern end of the fort to worship a number of gods including Diana.

The footprint of this temple can still be seen.

The site delivers some great views back towards Dorchester,so please stay awhile,do at least one lap of the castle, and finally ponder Poundbury in the distance,Charles would like that.

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