The Giant and the Sun – The Great Hill

 

Our final site of the official weekend workshop was Maiden Castle, an enormous prehistoric structure just outside the Roman town of Dorchester. We gathered in the car park beneath the hillfort and began the climb to its gates.

The name, Maiden Castle, is of debated origin, with some scholars taking it to mean an impregnable or unconquered fortress, while others look to the old Brittonic language and see it as mai-dun, the great hill. Perhaps it is both, but for our purposes, the site was definitely well named and large enough to be the virginal bride of a Giant.

Aeriel view of Maiden Castle; image from photo of information board.

The human occupation of Maiden Castle goes back over six thousand years to the Neolithic era, when the hilltop was cleared of woodland and a causewayed enclosure was built. Finds suggest this was a place of gathering for ritualistic purposes, rather than a settlement at first.  There is evidence that stone axe heads were made and polished there and these axes were as much a part of ceremonial regalia and a mark of authority as a weapon. They are found as grave goods in important tombs and were traded across Europe.

The graves of two children were found within the low banks of the enclosure and it is thought the banks were more a symbolic separation, perhaps between the lands of the living and the lands of the ancestors. A little later, a huge bank barrow was built, over eighteen hundred feet long, but which is barely visible today. The barrow may have represented the presence of the ancestors within the community as well as acting as a dividing landmark.

 

In the Iron Age, a hillfort was built on top of the original structure and later extended to the west to enclose more than double the original area, until it covered more than forty-seven acres. The information board graphically illustrates the sheer enormity of Maiden Castle when it tells you that the summit alone is the size of fifty football pitches. It is the largest hillfort in Britain and one of the largest in Europe.

We entered via the maze… a complex arrangement of deep, steep ditches and high, blind banks. Worn by millennia of weather, the banks have eroded and the ditches have lost their original depth, yet it is still an incredible feat of engineering. Defensively, it is a fabulous way of intimidating, separating and confusing an enemy, but we wondered if that were its only purpose. As a processional way, the snaking progress of torches in the dark would look both impressive and magical as they climbed the hill through the coils of the maze.

Artists impression of Iron Age fort at Maiden Castle, showing the western ‘maze’. Image from photo of information board.

We began there… and all our plans, ideas and research went for naught, as our companions were drawn, this way and that, called to their own explorations and following their own visions and inner prompting. That is as it should be… anything we create for these workshop weekends is designed to encourage that inner voice, so we can hardly complain when our companions hear and follow.

A few of us began to walk around the ramparts, marvelling at the scale of what remains and discussing the history of the site. What began as a small settlement became the largest of its kind in the area, with many roundhouses built in a random pattern. Then, for a short while in its long history, the castle was organised and held under strong leadership. The old homes were demolished, and orderly streets of houses built. The ramparts were strengthened and the community reorganised. Little now remains visible of what was once there, but the inner eye sees beyond time and recreates the conical rooftops, the grazing of goats and kine and the slow swirl of many hearthfires. Where does imagination begin and end? When does conscious thought become unconscious vision? And where is the portal beyond which we cannot see…until we do?


The Giant and the Sun: Patterns in the landscape was the Silent Eye summer workshop weekend. These informal events are held several times every year and are open to all. You do not have to be a member to join us as we wander the rich landscape of Britain, visiting ancient, sacred and intriguing places. We seek out myth and mystery, exploring what the land and its stories can teach us about our own daily lives and our place in the intricate tapestry of human Being.

After each event, we publish an account of the places we have visited and share a little of what we have discussed during the course of the weekend to give a taste of what we do.

If you would like to join us for a wander through the mysteries and history of Britain, please visit our Events page.

33 thoughts on “The Giant and the Sun – The Great Hill

  1. Does anyone in the group have the ability to do photography with infrared photography? It is amazing what it can show. I wonder if any of the archaeologists who have worked on the site, or any other people have used it. I wish I could have seen the whole artist’s concept of what the layout of the roundhouses, etc. on the site looked like. I have a strong feeling about it just seeing what I can, but I am unable to see enough to be sure. Thank you all for another exciting visit. I am kind of puzzled about the hill and the way the rings around it go up. Not exactly a deterrent to those who would attack I suspect. Just a thought, but again, it is nothing I am sure of. Just a lot of fun looking and thinking about it.

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    1. No we don’t have infrared, Anne and the artists impression showed mainly the gates and maze. The depth of the banks and ditches and the steepness of the sides…which is almost impossible to capture on the small screen of a camera… would have been a highly effective deterrent as the banks are up to eighty feet high. and quite a sheer slope.

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      1. I understand, Sue. That is quite deceptive in the photos. They look like little hills. I guess some archaeologists would do numerous site photos with the infrared film and then piece the photos together. I used to climb up in the trees over our one site and take the infrared photos because no one else would do it, but then I was always good for the special jobs. My other major job was to chase the cows off of our site. We were on an Indian farmer’s land, and cows, being the creatures they are, want to be on one side when they are on the other side. Everyone else was afraid of the cows, but I, having learned the secret of the forked stick, knew how to handle them, so when they would come on site, I would just grab my forked stick (the same thing used for divining for water only backwards), and hold it out in front of me, and even the longhorns will move away from that. Well, not exactly related to our story here, but just a little levity today. I can use some of that. Thank you again one and all for this great journey via the computer.

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          1. I learned this skill from a lady rancher who owned a property full of longhorn steers. They are quite fearful in appearance, but overall they are docile. I was a child when i had to walk thru them to secure a shovel to help my father get the car out of the sand, where it was stuck up on top of a hill nearby. I was 9 or 10 and had my little brother, who was four or five with me, so a lot of responsibility. It was a good experience for now I am not afraid of the cows or even the bulls. It is sort of symbolic too that a tool used for divining can also be used for protection. This world is full of wonderful mysteries, isn’t it? I am still laughing from the thought that I would need to use a Kendall stick at the end of the year. Perhaps sticks hold some special symbolism for me; I am honestly not certain, but I know I have a great respect for sticks that goes way beyond the ordinary. I have several walking sticks that I have had for years, some natural and some carved. Perhaps it is not sticks, but wood in general, and we have seen a lot of that in our historic travels. Strange how these things keep popping up in my mind. Thank you all for this wonderful journey.

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      1. Btw Sue if you have time there is an interesting conversation going on over on today’s post kind of related to all this, I’d be interested to see your thoughts on it.

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  2. That place is amazing and huge. It’s interesting to learn how old it is and how it’s use changed over time. I can’t imagine the work that must have required. And in a way how beautiful and mysterious with the maze. I don’t think I could have resisted the urge to wander either. Fascinating post, Sue.

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