Maiden Castle and Stonehenge

On the way back from Dorset we decided to stop off at Maiden Castle. which is one of the largest and most complex Iron Age hillforts in Europe. The sheer scale of the earthworks and defensive ditches is huge, apparently you can get 50 football pitches inside the walls, however finding a photograph that looks anything other than a grassy mound proved impossible. Maiden Castle’s earthworks are thought to date from around 600 BCE, although the site was first occupied in the Neolithic period around 6000 years ago.

Foundations of Roman Temple, Maiden Castle

When the Romans overran Maiden Castle in AD 43 they moved the local tribespeople to a new town Durnovaria, on the site of modern Dorchester, where they could keep an eye on them. However being the practical folk they were they built a temple in the castle grounds absorbing the Celtic holy site and gods into their own portfolio brand of paganism. Maiden Castle is just two miles south of Dorchester and free to explore.

Crossing over the county line into Wiltshire we stopped off at Stonehenge before heading for home. For my money Stonehenge is one of the most marvelous ancient sites in the world. When you consider the design and engineering that went into the construction it’s far more impressive than say the Pyramids (I’m not knocking them. but pyramids are simple structures to build) and all this was created by people with stone tools.

Stonehenge

Before we visited the stone circle we had a bite to eat at the snack bar, which used to be really good. Unfortunately it’s been taken over by Digby Trout restaurants, so the food is now a bit homogenized and pricey. We also had some guests.

Jackdaw

who came looking for crumbs.

Starling

The stone circle was packed with coach parties of American and Japanese tourists from London, but that didn’t put off this fellow from enjoying a strut.

Rook Stonehenge

As English Heritage members we have free access to Stonehenge, normal admission is £7.80.

Weymouth Ho – A Bit of Victoriana, a Bit of Art Deco and Some Old Bangers

After leaving Abbotsbury it was a short drive to the seaside town of Weymouth where we were booked into the Seafront Premier Inn (Lodmoor Country Park). Weymouth became a fashionable tourist resort when the Duke of Gloucester built a residence there in 1780 and his cousin George III spent several holidays in the town. A welcome shower and a change of clothes were followed by a stroll along the seafront into the town centre with its Georgian and Regency terraces.

One Art Deco building you won’t see Poirot entering.

On the way we passed this Art Deco building that houses a Chinese restaurant upstairs and an amusement arcade below. We happily wasted a few coppers trying to dislodge the piles of coins in the machines before venturing further. There are two war memorials on the sea front, one to the men of the town and the other to the ANZAC forces that passed through Weymouth between the evacuation of Gallipoli and being sent to the Western Front and Palestine during the Great War. During the Second World War over 500,000 allied troops departed Weymouth for the beaches of Normandy.

There is also a very fine clock tower.

Weymouth Clock Tower

A local subscription raised the funds for the clock tower back in 1887 to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. So as the day was drawing in we headed back to the Premier Inn for the night.

The following morning the car park was filling up with classic cars.

Classic Riley

It was the start point of the  Weymouth Vehicle Preservation Society’s Dorset Tour. There were some really exquisite vehicles on show, including, Jaguars, Rileys, Saabs, MGs and even a Ford Capri and an Austin Allegro!

Classic Jag

I liked this Wolseley

Wolseley

It reminded me of the police cars that I used to see on TV cop shows back in the 1960, sadly I could not find a suitable clip but this Robbie Coltraine spoof does the trick

Swanning Around in Dorset

Intending to take full advantage of the glorious weather forecast for the weekend, we packed the car and set off for the Dorset coast on Saturday morning. Windows down with a bit of Headcat, Imelda May and Ian Drury on the stereo we made good time around the M25, boggling at the tree skimming approach of a BA 747 on its way into Heathrow, before we hit the M3 on our way south.

Our destination was the town of Abbotsbury and it’s famous swannery.

The Swans at Abbotsbury

The swannery is home to a huge colony of nesting mute swans (Britain’s only resident species of swan) and was established by the Benedictine monks of the local St Peter’s Monastery, in the 1140s. Don’t get any ideas about the monks thinking the swans were pretty, they were on the menu. In fact because they spent a lot of time on the water and the flesh of the young birds tasted a bit fishy, they could be by the twisted logic of medieval theological thinking be counted as fish and eaten of Fridays. It reminds of the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where Carol Cleveland confesses to being a witch when she weighs the same as a duck.

After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 the swannery passed into the hands of the Ilchester family and to this day the swans here are some of the few in the UK’s open waters that do not belong to the Queen.

At this time of year the swans are busy breeding.

Mute Swan Egg

These soon become these.

Mute Swan Cygnet

And before too long they are in the water with mum and dad,

Two day old cygnets

looking for eel grass and other delicacies.

The swans are not the only creatures with family I saw this little fellow in the marshland.

Moorhen chick

And there were plenty of these little cuties on the pasture.

Where’s Baa Baa Ra?

And not all of the swans are mute, there are a few Australian immigrants.

Feral Black Swan, an ornamental breed gone wild.

And then there are always folk on the lookout for a free meal

A Rook discovers there is such a thing as a free lunch, so long as you know where to eat

About a ten minute walk from the Swannery is Abbotsbury Children’s Farm, it’s based around Abbotsbury’s old tithe barn that the monks built-in the  1390s. The price of admission was included in out Abbotsbury Passport (£11.50 adult, £8.50 under 16s) aside from some kind of pirate activity centre for the younger children, there were plenty of animals to see, including ponies, pigs, chickens,

Cock a doodle doo

alpacas, guinea pigs, rabbits, tortoises, goats, sheep and ducks. Although as we were there during the hottest part of the day most of the animals were wisely taking shelter inside.

Tufted Ducks, Abbotsbury Children’s Farm

Also included on our passport was Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, which was a short drive away. Established in 1765 by the Countess of Ilchester, her descendents have filled the gardens with exotic plants like camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas from all over the world. I was lucky enough to spot one of the more exotic feathered inhabitants too,

Lady Amherst Pheasant

before it was time for an Orchard Pig cider in the Colonial Restaurant and then on to out hotel in Weymouth for the night.