The national trust have removed the fences from around Badbury Rings to restore the natural downlands.
This offers a fantastic opportunity to see the site in a less obviously managed way, and completely opens up the landscape.
Over the next year until October 2011 the national trust will be monitoring the effect on grasses and wildlife from the removal of the fences.
This was my first visit to Badbury Rings. Despite the fact that I'd been to college in Bournemouth some 25 years before, and was now here for the day taking my eldest son to an interview at my old college, I'd never made it out here. It was one of those bitterly cold days when you're not sure quite what the weather is going to do - one minute snow showers, the next bright sunlight. The approach to the Rings is quite spectacular in itself as you come along the Blandford road through an amazing avenue of tall, mature beech trees bereft of their leaves at this time of year and then swing into the carpark past three of the large Bronze Age barrows to your right. It's only a short walk from the carpark to the Rings and as you progress up this fairly low hill you'll notice a fourth barrow on your right and beyond the ramparts away from the other three. It reminded me very much of Danebury in Hampshire which is also on a fairly low hill, multivallate and with a small wood planted within its enclosure. The entrance differs to that at Danebury, and to its enormous neighbour at Maiden Castle nearby at Dorchester, in that it goes straight in towards the centre instead of zigzagging, so you can imagine they must have had some formidable gates here to prevent an easy ingress. Having walked anti-clockwise around the inner rampart to the Northern side you can see a couple of hundred yards off what looks like a low bank running roughly SW/NE which I guessed to be either a fourth defence or boundary marker. This is infact the Ackling Dyke, a Roman Road which takes a turn to the left just North of the Rings and continues towards the Dorset Cursus. Another interesting thing on Google Maps is the cropmark of what looks like an echo of the Rings reflected in the line of the road. Does anyone else have a theory about this?
A lovely big hill fort, but so popular that there are obvious signs of erosion.
As others have said the trees on top aren't as bad as you might think. At first I scoffed when I saw a panoramic plate on the summit. But given a day with better visibility I imagine you could actually see quite a lot from here (including neighbouring hill forts), through the trees.
Two car parks available. The main car park is the signposted one at ST960033 and is open 9am to 8pm between April and October, and from 9am to 4pm between November and March. The car park is used for point to point races on a few days each year, when a charge is made, and it might get full. The three races for 2004 have all now been and gone, so I think visitors shouldn't find any problems for the rest of this year.
There is also a smaller car park, a bit further away at ST967023. This is on the south east side of the hill fort, next to the main road.
Or if you've just visited the Kingston Lacy Estate you could walk from there. It's about 2½ to 3 kms.
29th June 2003
Beautiful place, it goes to show how you can convert what is an essentially defunct way of life, into a necessity for the future. I am of course taking about the preservation of wildlife. Great countryside for a head-clearing walk after a boosey night in Winborne, and prior to a 350 mile trip home back to Huddersfield.
Whilst it is easy to be tempted to expore the rings from the car park I would strongly recommend completing the OS walk around the perimeter of Badbury and Kingston Lacy Park. Firstly it is a beautiful walk through fantastic Dorset country (with a few scattered barrows along the way). But secondly and more importantly your approach to Badbury from the rear is far more dramatic and rewarding. The final approach after a three hours walk is beautiful.
In a piece on Badbury Rings in the Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club (v11, 1890), Dr Wake Smart tells of the Roman coins and other artefacts found at and near the site (including a sword allegedly used as a 'cheese-toster' by its 17th century finders). He says:
"But all these treasures would be eclipsed if the golden coffin which the villagers believe is buried between Badbury and Shapwick were to be discovered! What a prize for Dorset Museum!"
A very straight road connects the well defended W entrance of the fort with the Stour River at Shapwick. Stands to reason it must originally be a Roman idea, surely. Iron age people would never have walked in straight lines. I could be wrong.
"Some years ago archaeological students, camping on the summit, were disturbed by the clash of metal, the sound of marching men and shouted military orders in a strange tongue. The camp is reported to have been abandoned in panic and one of the students suffered a nervous breakdown" (Wilks 1978, p66). There seems to be a stray member of this company, an old warrior with a twisted leathery face, gashed with wounds, who creeps up on people after dark, with a preference for scaring courting couples. The last sighting was in the autumn of 1977 (Coaster 12p5).
There is also a milder ghost, somewhat out of place amongst this archaic barbarity. The Dorset Evening Echo of 19 January 1979 interviewed a woman who had been walking on the site in the afternoon with her husband; he looked back and saw, standing on top of one of the banks, an old lady. "She wore a long blavk coat buttoned up the front and finishing in a little stand up collar. She wore one of those hats like Queen Mary used to wear". The husband turned round to say that they should help her down the slope, but when he and his wife returned to the area they found no such lady.
These ghosts are interesting in view of the popularity of the Rings among the Blandford and Wimborne people as a centre for day outings, picnics and so on. The warrior ghosts who frighten the modern visitor are in part a projection of historical musings on the fort, comparing its bloody origins with present tameness:the past is scary. The black lady, by contrast, is a realistic ghost, since little old ladies are quite common at the site on a warm afternoon."
Cuckoo Pounds and Singing Barrows - Jeremy Harte
Janet and Colin Bord (in 'Prehistoric Britain from the air') add that after his death, King Arthur lived on - lives on? - at Badbury Rings in the form of a Raven.*
According to an 'ancient chronicler' mentioned in the superbly illustrated 'Readers Digest Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain':
"Arthur carried the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ for three days and nights on his shoulders, and the Britons were victorious." (I assume that's a metaphorical cross or it would have got in the way of the fighting). The Battle was said to have given Britain 21 years of peace - until Arthur had to take up arms against his treacherous nephew Mordred.
*According to Westwood and Simpson ('Lore of the Land, 2005) this idea came from A H Allcroft, who in 1908 linked a passage in Don Quixote about Arthur and ravens to this particular site. They also mention the folklore current in the 1960s - that at midnight you might see King Arthur trotting around the hill with his knights.
Badbury Rings is supposed to be a candidate for the Battle of Badon Hill, where Arthur decisively beat the Anglo-Saxons. However, it is no hill at all, just the remains of a settlement with earth walls and ditches around it. It was called Durnovaria during Roman times, and 4 Roman roads meet here. The views are very beautifull, I can recommend a visit to anyone .
Sorry to be an utter pedant but Badbury was never called Durnovaria as is this modern day Dorchester , it was in fact reckoned to be Vindocladia , although there is some dispute as to the exact location.