Dorchester, the county town of Dorset, is a cultural hub with one foot in the past and the other firmly in the future. The surrounding countryside is rich in evidence of prehistoric human settlement, most famously Maiden Castle, a large Iron Age hill fort just over a mile south-west of the town. Considered one of the most powerful settlements in pre-Roman Britain, Maiden Castle is believed to have been inhabited by various tribes from 4,000 BC, including the Celtic Durotriges tribe, who were defeated by the Romans around 70 AD. Preserved evidence of the Roman occupation of Dorchester – then named Durnovaria – remains visible throughout the town, from a section of the original town’s perimeter wall at Top o’ Town Roundabout to the Grade I listed ruins of a Roman town house in Colliton Park.
Today, Dorchester offers a vibrant mix of shopping and culture. The pretty town centre offers a range of independent and national shops, boutique bars and cafes, traditional pubs, a well-loved cinema and more than five museums. To the southern end, opposite the site of the traditional, bustling, weekly market and just steps from one of Dorchester’s two train stations is the exciting retail and residential redevelopment of Brewery Square, where further shops, eateries and a second cinema await. In the north-western corner, tranquil, leafy riverside walks can be enjoyed along the River Frome, and there are further opportunities to enjoy the outdoors in beautiful Borough Gardens and at the Neolithic henge of Maumbury Rings, adapted by the Romans for use as an amphitheatre.
Though his legacy can be felt throughout Dorchester, famous Dorset novelist Thomas Hardy is ever-present at Max Gate, the house he designed in 1885 and lived in until his death in 1928. Situated on the outskirts of the town, the house was bequeathed to the National Trust by Hardy’s sister in 1940 and is now a museum open to the public. Most other buildings surrounding the town centre are residential, grouped into different areas, each well-regarded and with their own distinct history, personality and sense of community. An excellent selection of high-performing schools serve the town, securing Dorchester’s reputation as a truly desirable place to live.