Mai Dun Hill Fort [Maiden Castle], Dorset

Mai Dun Hill Fort [Maiden Castle], Dorset. Photograph (2008) by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL.]

About 45 minutes' walk from the centre of Dorchester, the tourist can obtain something of the elevated view of the surrounding country that the archaeologists enjoy in Hardy's short story ""A Tryst at an Ancient Earthwork" in the English Illustrated Magazine (December 1893). The periodical treated the story as if it were a non-fiction account by receiving four grainy accompaniments provided by the professional photographer W. Pouncy of Dorchester, who sets the scene in a general way but does not realise specific moments in the story photographically. Pouncy's original black-and-white photos are quite as uninspiring as the view of the surrounding country (on a clear day) is spectacular. Founded about 6,000 B. C. as a Neolithic village, it was abandoned as a settlement by the local Celts shortly after the Claudian invasion of A. D. 43. Over the centuries it had acquired additional defensive dykes and walls, but proved no match for the engineering and military skills of the besieging Roman legions, who moved the survivors of the assault to the new townsite of Durnovaria, the basis for modern Dorchester. Maiden's multiple ramparts in concentric circles enclose an area equal in size to some fifty soccer pitches, and were home to perhaps as many as several hundred ancient Britons from 800 B. C. to 43 A. D. Today one approaches the site from the town side rather than from the Weymouth Road as in Hardy's boyhood, the eastern side now blocked by a modern motorway.

The site is perhaps the finest surviving Iron Age hill fort in all of Great Britain; Thomas Hardy used the gigantic earthen dyke-and-ditch fortress near Dorchester as the setting for the short story of 1893 and Henchard's cross-country run to warn Farfrae of the trouble at home in The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886). Maiden Castle, the named derived from the Durnovarian Celtic tribal place name "Maidon," is also the location in Mayor of Donald Farfrae's "trysts" with Elizabeth-Jane after the death of his first wife, Lucetta. Denys Kay-Robinson remarks of the locale:

As an evocation of place and mood this [description in the 1893 short story] is unsurpassed by any of Hardy's descriptions in the great novels. Safe under the protection of the Department of the Environment, Maiden Castle today [i. e., 1984] conforms to his word picture in every respect save one — there is no longer a notice board warning of prosecution for removing relics or cutting up the ground. [29]

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the site was overrun with rabbits but now is the haunt of skylarks and thousands of sheep, who do give give the lone pedestrian a vociferous rather than a friendly welcome.

Other Views


Kay-Robinson, Denys. The Landscape of Thomas Hardy. Photography by Simon McBridge. Exeter: Web & Bower; Salem House, 1984.

Last modified 19 April 2024