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Megaliths, Mênhirs and Stone Circles of West Dorset

Abbotsbury Castle

Iron Age Hill Fort, Bridport

Grid reference SY555866

Map

Map showing Abbotsbury Castle

Abbotsbury Castle, Bridport

Abbotsbury Iron Age Hillfort in Dorset is a triangular enclosure of some 1.8 hectares. Its two ramparts are separated by single ditch. The defences expand to 4 ramparts and larger ditches at the more vulnerable southeastern end. This bivallate hillfort was developed from a simpler univallate one, and the ramparts appear to have been constructed in a hurry with loads of soil dumped on the banks. Incidentally, the trig-point at the top of the hillfort is 215 metres above sea-level making it the highest point for quite some distance, and offers unrivalled views over the surrounding landscape. To the west lies a hill featuring several burial mounds, known as "The Knoll". To the south-east lies Abbotsbury with St Catherine's chapel sitting on the summit of its tor-like hill. To the north east is the Kingston Russell stone circle and the Grey Mare and her Colts long barrow. There are also impressive views of Chesil Beach and the Fleet stretching down to the Isle of Portland in the distance. Access: It is possible to park on a small lane immediately to the east of the hillfort, although there is room for only a few vehicles - turn north from the B3157 road at the top of the steep hill above Abbotsbury. This hillfort would have been strategically important as the first sightings of an invasion could be notified to the other neighbouring hillforts. The probable builders of the hill fort were likely to have been the Durotriges - a Celtic type tribe.

Image (c) Nigel Mykura

Bincombe Down Barrow Cemetery

Bronze Age Barrow Cemetery, Weymouth

Grid reference SY689847

Map

Map showing Bincombe Down Barrow Cemetery

Bincombe Down Barrow Cemetery lies on top of a hill overlooking Preston, and the Upwey/Littlemoor parts of Weymouth. Otherwise known as the Bincombe Bumps.

Black Down Barrow Cemetery

Bronze Age Barrow Cemetery, Dorchester

Grid reference SY604879

Map

Map showing Black Down Barrow Cemetery

Situated beside a road between Littlebredy and Portesham. Its setting is quite picturesque in Spring and early Summer and is a level walk from the road.

Bronkham Hill

Bronze Age Barrow Cemetery, Dorchester

Grid reference SY626868

Map

Map showing Bronkham Hill

A number of round barrows situated on Bronkham Hill in Dorset. The hill is part of the Dorset ridgeway and the barrows are scattered all along the length of the ridge. Impressive today they would have been really spectacular when first built.

Cerne Abbas Giant

Post Roman Hill Figure, Cerne Abbas

Grid reference ST666017

Map

Map showing Cerne Abbas Giant

Cerne Abbas Giant, Cerne Abbas

The well known image of the Cerne Abbas Giant is of unknown date and origin. It is a large turf-cut figure inscribed into the chalk of Giant Hill It indicates an ancient naked male brandishing a club. Various anatomical features have been boldly depicted. The figure is thought to depict Hercules but this has not been definitively proven. In 1980 a geophysical survey of the figure and its surrounding area was carried out with one anolomaly suggesting that the figure formerly had a cloak of some description thrown over his left arm. The figure has been repaired over the centuries making accurate dating impossible. The land on which the Giant stands was given to the National Trust in 1920 by the Pitt-Rivers Family.

Coney's Castle Hillfort

Iron Age Hill Fort, Lyme Regis

Grid reference SY372975

Map

Map showing Coney's Castle Hillfort

The Iron Age enclosue is approximately 700ft above sea level and is dated around 300-500BC. Coney's Castle was one of several Iron Age forts in the area built by the Durotriges tribe to maintain their borders and has very steep earthwork ramparts.

Culliford Tree Barrow Cemetery

Bronze Age Barrow Cemetery, Dorchester

Grid reference SY687863

Map

Map showing Culliford Tree Barrow Cemetery

Also known as the Came Wood Barrow Cemetery, Culliford Tree Barrow Cemetery dates from the Bronze Age. It exhibits bell-shaped and bowl-shaped barrows and extends east from the wood, across the hill top. It has fine views of the coast as well as of the neighbouring Chalbury Hill Fort and Bincombe Barrows. The eastern section of the cemetery share their alignment with the Neolithic Broadmayne bank barrow. Culliford Tree barrow at grid ref SY699855, is a bowl barrow locted between the lane to Whitcombe and the eastern edge of Came Wood. It has a diameter of 36 metres and stands almost 5 metres high. It has unfortunately had its summit largely destroyed by treasure hunters some time in the past. The barrow has provided artifacts from throughout history with cremations, Bronze Age pottery and medieval inhumations.

Eggardon Hill

Iron Age Hill Fort, Bridport

Grid reference SY542947

Map

Map showing Eggardon Hill

Eggardon Hill, Bridport

Eggardon Hill displays the remains of an Iron Age hillfort. The site has been excavated on two occasions, once in 1900 and more extensively in 1963-66. Finds date from the Neolithic onwards and the hillfort itself is crossed by older linear earthworks. Inside the fort finds date from the Early Iron Age to Late Iron Age and the interior also contains two Bronze Age round barrows and an octagonal enclosure which represents a former coppice.

Evershot Stones

Neolithic Menhir, Beaminster

Grid reference ST576046

Map

Map showing Evershot Stones

A group of three standing stones rather strangely made into a seat complete with concrete slab! Known locally as the 'Three Dumb Sisters' they are of unknown date.

Eweleaze Barn Barrow Cemetery

Bronze Age Barrow Cemetery, Dorchester

Grid reference SY648876

Map

Map showing Eweleaze Barn Barrow Cemetery

Eweleaze Barn Barrow Cemetery is on a north-pointing spur of Ridge Hill (part of the Dorset ridgeway). There are at least 11 round barrows roughly scattered along an NNW-SSE axis. The most southerly four barrows are very close together, making them possibly the only quadrupule bell barrow in England. These four barrows are about 12 metres in diameter and over 2 metres high with a common ditch enclosing them all.

Furzey Down Trackway

Neolithic Trackway, Dorchester

Grid reference SY654974

Map

Map showing Furzey Down Trackway

Furzey Down Trackway is an ancient trackway that starts on Batcombe Hill and runs in a SSE direction over Gore Hill and Ridge Hill to Crete Hill. It may at one time have continued on to the Grimstone Down settlement at SY 69 NW 38 before drpping down to the River Frome at Muckleford.

Great Hill Barrow Cemetery

Bronze Age Barrow Cemetery, Dorchester

Grid reference SY638868

Map

Map showing Great Hill Barrow Cemetery

Four round barrows are sited at 90 degrees to the main Ridge Hill barrows. They are aligned down the north facing slope of Great Hill. Widely and equally spaced apart they do not appear to have either ditches or banks surrounding them. Within a mile or so of this site there are a number of other interesting monuments including: Ridge Hill Barrow Cemetery, Bronkham Hill Barrow Cemetery, Eweleaze Barn Barrow Cemetery, Friar Waddon Hill Barrow Cemetery and Four Barrow Hill Round Barrows.

Grey Mare and her Colts

Neolithic Long Barrow, Abbotsbury

Grid reference SY584871

Map

Map showing Grey Mare and her Colts

Grey Mare and her Colts, Abbotsbury. Copyright image.
Copyright © J Champion

The Grey Mare and her Colts is a Neolithic chambered long barrow that stands at a height of 200 metres above sea level around 3 miles north of Chesil Beach. It is situated on a plateau of land just to southeast of the head of a dry valley whose stream would have flowed down into the River Bride while the stone circle of Kingston Russell stands about half a mile away to the northwest. Aligned southeast-northwest, the barrow mound is now about 24 metres long, although originally it would have been longer, and still survives to a height of about 1 metre. The collapsed burial chamber at the southern end still has 2 large uprights, and many human bones and pieces of pottery were discovered here during excavations in the early 19th century. Probably the finest chambered long barrow in Dorset, it lies in a field just off the SW side of the main footpath to Kingston Russell Stone Circle. The tomb consists of a roughly triangular mound measuring approximately 23 metres (75 feet). The sign at the site states that: 'The Grey Mare and her Colts dates from around 3000BC and has a single burial chamber made of sarsen stones. The Ridgeway hills that stretch east-west, north of the village, provided a natural causeway for Neolithic man (4500-2000BC), bronze age man (2000-500BC) and iron age man (500BC-50AD). This Ridgeway track, apart from facilitating communication and trade also provided a perfect vantage point from which to scan the surrounding countryside for enemies - especially necessary in order to organise a defence should a sea-born attack threaten. There are at least 22 tumuli (most probably the burial mounds of local chieftains) still existent within Abbotsbury Parish'.

Grimstone Down Settlement

Bronze Age Settlement, Dorchester

Grid reference SY646957

Map

Map showing Grimstone Down Settlement

A large site in the parish of Stratton northwest of Dorchester. The site is huge, covering almost 100 acres with various ancient sites within. The settlement on Grimstone Down exhibits remains of Celtic field boundaries best seen at the centre of the area. Located between the field banks several hollowed tracks converge on a series of smaller enclosures. The whole area is rich in ancient structures. Within a one mile radius lies the following monuments: Grimstone Down Barrow Cemetery at SY644955; Jackman's Plantation Bowl Barrow at SY64929604; Lawyer's Plantation Cross Dyke at SY64949606; Jackman's Cross Bowl Barrow at SY64559623; Coronation Plantation Bowl Barrow at SY65159620; Howde's Barrow Plantation Bowl Barrow at SY65509574; Crete Hill Field System at SY651968 and Forston Settlement Ancient Village at SY658953.

Heedless William's Stone

Roman Menhir, Dorchester

Grid reference SY732913

Map

Map showing Heedless William's Stone

This standing stone is situated at the side of a minor road linking Stinsford and Tincleton about 2 miles east of Dorchester. Quite possibly an old boundary stone, it may well be prehistoric and re-worked by the Romans when they built a road close by. It stands 1.5 metres high with a circumference of about 1.2 metres. The name is thought to come from an old folk tale which tells of a coachman whose reckless driving caused his coach to leave the old coach road to plunge into the pond in the adjacent field. He, his passengers and his horses were all drowned.

Kingbarrow Stone Circle

Neolithic Stone Circle, Fortuneswell

Grid reference SY6907772745

Map

Map showing Kingbarrow Stone Circle

Otherwise known as Sawmill stone circle, this ancient monument is often missed by many who come to Portland and is widely unknown to even most residents. It is a small stone circle only some 3 metres across. It consists of sones just over one metre high at best and is located on the grounds of an old limekiln. The stone circle itself is located in an old Roman quarry which used to be a large burial site.

Kingston Russell Standing Stone

Neolithic Menhir, Dorchester

Grid reference SY574915

Map

Map showing Kingston Russell Standing Stone

This Standing Stone near Kingston Russell is also known as the Helstone. It lies in a dry valley beside the busy A35 Dorchester road.

Kingston Russell Stone Circle

Neolithic Stone Circle, Dorchester

Grid reference SY5778387824

Map

Map showing Kingston Russell Stone Circle

The Kingston Russell stone circle is situated on the flat top of a chalk ridge, overlooking the Bride Valley to the north, and with views westwards to Abbotsbury Castle and the sea. The 18 stones are arranged in a near-circular formation, roughly 30 metres in diameter, and are of sarsen or conglomerate. It is assumed that the stones have fallen, or been moved, since recumbent circles are not usually found in this part of the country. Curiously the Kingston Russell circle isn’t mentioned in Aubrey Burl’s comprehensive guide to stone circles in Britain, even though it is larger and in better condition than the nearby Hampton Down circle. It is believed to be a genuine (although maybe interfered-with) prehistoric stone circle; English Heritage, which owns the site, describes it as being of Late Neolithic or Bronze Age date. There are other prehistoric features in the vicinity of the stone circle. There some similar sized stones in the hedge immediately to the south, possibly standing stones that were moved there when land was being cleared for farming (no photos of these yet). There is also a bowl barrow 75 metres NNW of the circle's centre, 15 metres in diameter but less than half a metre high. Access: The circle lies on a confluence of footpaths and bridleways, most notably one running from the Grey Mare and Her Colts less than a mile to the south east. The site is marked on OS-sourced road atlases, although such maps will be of little use in finding the circle. If visiting by car then parking is only possible on the verges of "nearby" minor roads (one or two miles distant). Try either to the north around Long Bredy or Little Bredy, or to the south on the Bishops Road to Abbotsbury. Resist the temptation to drive down or park on the farm access tracks as you may get into trouble!

Long Bredy Bank Barrow

Neolithic Barrow, Dorchester

Grid reference SY571911

Map

Map showing Long Bredy Bank Barrow

Long Bredy Bank Barrow, Dorchester. Copyright image.
Copyright © J Champion

A Neolithic bank barrow on Martin's Down oriented NE-SW, 195m long and 20m wide with parallel ditches either side. After the unusually long Maiden Castle bank barrow it is the longest long barrow in Britain. Bank Barrows are quite rare in the UK as currently fewer than 10 exist. Access: Parking is possible in a layby on the south side of the A35 trunk road; travelling from Dorchester towards Bridport this layby is immediately before the turning for Long Bredy.

Maiden Castle

Iron Age Hill Fort, Dorchester

Grid reference SY670885

Map

Map showing Maiden Castle

Maiden Castle, Dorchester

Maiden Castle is an Iron Age hill fort just under 2 miles southwest of Dorchester. The name Maiden Castle may be an anglicisation of the celtic 'Mai-Dun', meaning a "great hill." Although the monument is classed as an Iron Age hill fort, it has provided archaeological evidence from the Neolithic with a causewayed enclosure and bank barrow. It is also thought that the site was used during the Bronze Age, for growing crops before being abandoned. The main ramparts forming Maiden Castle were built in about 600 BC; the early phase was a simple and unremarkable site, similar to many other hill forts in Britain and covering 6.4 hectares (16 acres). Around 450 BC it underwent major expansion, during which the enclosed area was nearly tripled in size to 19 ha (47 acres), making it the largest hill fort in Britain and by some definitions the largest in Europe. At the same time, Maiden Castle's defences were made more complex with the addition of further ramparts and ditches. Around 100 BC habitation at the hill fort went into decline and became focused at the eastern end of the site. It was occupied until at least the Roman period, by which time it was in the territory of the Durotriges, a Celtic tribe. After the Roman conquest of Britain in the 1st century AD, Maiden Castle appears to have been abandoned, although the Romans may have had a military presence on the site. In the late 4th century AD, a temple and ancillary buildings were constructed. In the 6th century AD the hill top was entirely abandoned and was used only for agriculture during the medieval period.

Maumbury Rings

Neolithic Henge, Dorchester

Grid reference SY690899

Map

Map showing Maumbury Rings

A Neolithic henge. When excavated in the early twentieth century, a wide ditch was discovered inside the circular bank. Thought to be infilled deliberately, fragments of red deer skulls and carved chalk objects were discovered. The almost circular henge bank has a diameter of over 100 metres. It has a single entrance to the northeast, and formerly an upright stone stood at the henge entrance. The site is thought to have been adapted by the Romans into an amphitheatre, with further changes made during the seventeenth century at the time of the English Civil War. It was used at this time as an artillery fort, guarding the southern approach to Dorchester. Access: The earthwork and its surroudings are a scheduled ancient monument and public open space, next to Dorchester police station. Only a short walk from Dorchester town centre, and both Dorchester railway stations are nearby.

Mount Pleasant Henge

Neolithic Henge, Dorchester

Grid reference SY710900

Map

Map showing Mount Pleasant Henge

Mount Pleasant henge is a Neolithic henge enclosure. Sadly much of its former structure has been ploughed away over the centuries. The enclosure is egg-shaped, measuring 370 m along its long axis and dates to 2878-2470 cal BC. A geophysical survey in 1969 identified entrances to the henge enclosure and a smaller inner henge enclosure at the south western end of 45 m diameter. Excavation in the 1960s revealed little material in the henge ditch though some fragments of grooved ware and children's skeletons were found. The inner enclosure however contained large numbers of postholes. The holes were arranged in five concentric rings with a cross-shaped layout of aisles leading into the centre. Within the aisles were further holes interpreted as being for stones. This inner feature was similar to timber circle features at The Sanctuary and Woodhenge. A narrow, 2 m deep palisade trench was also found running around the inside of the larger henge. Consisting of large oak timbers placed at 50 cm intervals it would have served as a huge barrier to the middle of the site. Evidence that the timber posts that had stood in the trench were burnt was also seen. The excavator, Geoffrey Wainwright estimated that 1600 timbers had stood in the trench, enclosing an area of 45,000 m². Two entrances were found in the palisade, each only 1m wide. The timber enclosure was built around 500 years after the outer henge enclosure and caused the builders to remodel the enclosure earthworks. The henge enclosure is the type site for the Mount Pleasant Period of the later Neolithic. Information from: Wikipedia.

Portesham Stone Row

Neolithic Stone Row, Dorchester

Grid reference SY608871

Map

Map showing Portesham Stone Row

This is a possible stone row. A continuous line of fallen stones lie as the foundations of a more recent field wall. The stones are roughly one metre square. Other ancient monuments of note lie nearby including Hellstone Barrow as well as other megaliths suggesting the landscape was used in a ceremonial way. Access: The site lies along a footpath running from the Hardy Monument to Portesham Hill.

Poundbury Hillfort

Iron Age Hill Fort, Dorchester

Grid reference SY683912

Map

Map showing Poundbury Hillfort

The area that is now Poundbury Hillfort began life with a neolithic enclosure, followed by the construction of a Bronze Age round barrow, followed by the actual building of the hillfort in various stages. Below the northern rampart ran the seven-mile Roman aqueduct. The site was very nearly lost completely in the 1850's as the course of the Weymouth - Bristol railway proposed a giant cutting through it. Thankfully a tunnel was eventually built. To the east a large graveyard has been excavated, uncovering burials from late iron-age to late Roman, both pagan and early Christian.

The Hellstone

Neolithic Long Barrow, Dorchester

Grid reference SY606867

Map

Map showing The Hellstone

The Hellstone, Dorchester. Copyright image.
Copyright © J Champion

In nowhere near its original state, the Hellstone is an ancient chambered tomb or dolmen very poorly 'restored' in the past. The uprights now lie propped up against each other supporting a single capstone. The interior surrounds a space high enough to stand up in.

The Nine Stones of Winterbourne Abbas

Neolithic Stone Circle, Winterbourne Abbas

Grid reference SY61079042

Map

Map showing The Nine Stones of Winterbourne Abbas

This small circle has some huge stones and some tiny ones, ranging from 90cm to 3.4m. Trees have grown up around the circle almost obscuring it, giving a dark, melancholy air. Access: The monument is located right beside the very busy A35 Dorchester road. Parking is difficult and walking along the road dangerous, so take extreme care. The site is in the care of English Heritage.

Upwey Ridgeway Barrow Cemetery

Iron Age Barrow Cemetery, Dorchester

Grid reference SY663866

Map

Map showing Upwey Ridgeway Barrow Cemetery

Upwey Ridgeway Barrow Cemetery was discovered recently. The report really sums it up: 'A 2,000-year-old mass war grave crammed with up to 50 headless bodies has been uncovered by workers building a road for the 2012 Olympics. The Iron Age victims are thought to have been slaughtered by the invading Romans in about 43AD. The ancient burial pit was discovered on Ridgeway Hill near Weymouth, Dorset, close to Maiden Castle, Europe's largest Iron Age hill fort. The site is being dug to make way for the so-called Olympic Highway, an £87m relief road for the 2012 Olympics. Dave Score, project manager for Oxford Archaeology, which is managing the dig, said it was a "remarkable and exciting" discovery. He said: "We have counted 45 skulls so far, these are in one section of the pit, and several torsos and leg bones in separate sections of the pit." Archaeologists are waiting to carry out radio-carbon testing on the remains but believe the skeletons were local men, killed by Roman soldiers. The burial pit is around six metres in diameter. All of the bodies inside had been decapitated and some had their limbs cut off.' See the BBC report for more information.

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