A hillfort is a type of earthwork once used as a fortified refuge or defended settlement, located to exploit a rise in elevation for defensive advantage. Hillforts developed in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age, roughly at the start of the first millennium BC, some later used in the post-Roman period. The fortification usually follows the contours of a hill, consisting of one or more lines of earthworks, with stockades or defensive walls, and external ditches. Dorset is a county rich with a number of different examples.
Click on linked names for walks or bike rides nearby, as well as more detailed information.
Abbotsbury Castle is an Iron Age hill fort in south west Dorset, situated on Wears Hill above the village of Abbotsbury, seven miles west of Dorchester and the famous hill fort at Maiden Castle. It is a small fort of only 4.5 acres. Its location high up on the Jurassic coastline provides views from Portland to Devon.
Allington Hill rises to 89 metres above Allington village, near Bridport; it is managed by the Woodland Trust. Although unsure of its legitimacy of it being a hillfort, it’s name keeps cropping up in research. Earthworks are scarce but its landscape could arguably match a defensive settlement. Romano-British finds have been discovered, strongly adding to the possibility.
Badbury Rings is an Iron Age hill fort in east Dorset, between Wimborne and Blandford Forum. It’s circular earthworks are prominent, managed by the National trust and open to all. It was in the heart of the territory of the Celtic Durotriges. In the Roman era a temple was located immediately west of the fort, and there was a Romano-British town known as Vindocladia in the south west. Five Roman roads converge just to the north of the rings. The later addition of the Kingston Lacy Avenue runs along its western edge.
Banbury Hillfort, or Banbury Hill Camp, is a small Iron Age hillfort of approximately 3 acres, about 1.25 miles south of Sturminster Newton and 1 mile North West of the village of Okeford Fitzpaine in North Dorset. A small road turns just to the north east with two paths running either side of the rings. A Roman villa is recorded nearby in Fifehead Neville also Romano-British coins and burials have been found between Okeford Fitzpaine and Belchalwell.
Bindon Hill is an extensive Iron Age earthwork enclosing a coastal hill area on the Jurassic Coast near Lulworth Cove in south Dorset, about 12 miles west of Swanage, about 3.7 miles south west of Wareham. It is within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but also a military training area which restricts access at times. It sits right next door to Flowers Barrow.
The main rampart and external ditch run for over 2 km along an east-west ridge parallel to the coast. At the western end, an incomplete series of ramparts curve back to the cliffs of Lulworth Cove. At the eastern end, the main rampart reaches the cliffs on the north side of Mupe Bay. With the sea and coves bordering the rest of the land, the hillfort almost creates its own island. The total enclosed area is about 272 acres, which makes it much larger than the titled ‘biggest hillfort of the country’ – Maiden Castle; tiny in comparison at only 47 acres. However, the interior of the Bindon Hill, that also contains barrows, is yet to produce any evidence of settlement, suggesting it was primarily used for pasture and not as a strategic tribal hillfort. The earthworks, including a cross dike, at the western end suggest an attempt to construct a smaller defended enclosure possibly to become a more defensive hillfort, but it was never completed. A Roman grave dating from the first century AD was discovered on a nearby farm.
The monument includes a slight univallate hillfort known as Bulbury Camp, situated on a low south facing spur, overlooking Poole Harbour. It has no public access and the northern section of the fort has been developed into a farm and the southern section a golf course.
This Hill Fort lies on the end of a ridge (415 ft.), over ½ m. northwest of the church in North Poorton. The ground falls steeply to the south and west, less steeply to the north and is nearly level towards the east. The internal area is about 1 acre and the total area including the defences about 2½ acres. The spur is split by two streams, the hillfort looks over the valley where they combine to create the river Mangerton. Further downstream, in the village which gave the river its name, are remains of a Roman villa.
Buzbury Rings is an Iron Age hillfort about 2 miles east of Blandford Forum and 1 mile North West of the village of Tarrant Keyneston, in North East Dorset. The rings have been split by the main Wimborne to Blandford Road, east of which has been developed into a golf course. The hill fort may well have been connected to Badbury Rings in the south east and Hod Hill in the North West by a Roman road, although traces are scarce.
Caesar’s Camp is a univallate Iron Age hill fort to the north east of Tarrant Gunville, crowning Bussey Down before it slopes steeply to the west; the eastern slope is less severe. It takes its name no doubt from its close proximity to the the prominent Roman road – the Ackling Dike, linking it also to Badbury Rings. A Roman villa has also been discovered in the valley below.
- The Castle, Cattistock
Slight univallate hillfort called ‘The Castle’ and a bowl barrow 370m north west of Manor Farm in Cattistock. There is no public access to the site but footpaths circle the valley below. There is debate that this is a Hillfort at all.
Chalbury Hillfort is an Iron Age hillfort about 1 mile south east of the village of Bincombe, near Weymouth. Although situated on a high peak it is surrounded by larger hills, but it still is provided with an extensive views towards Weymouth Harbour and Portland in the south.
Chilcombe Hill hillfort is a univallate Iron Age enclosure of approx. 20 acres, shaped a like a squished pear. Located high up on the chalk hills to the east of Bridport. Significant agricultural activity has led to erosion over the years, with the best surviving features being on the northern and western flanks. The busy A35 passes its northern edge, parts of which are an old Roman Road.
Coney’s Castle is an Iron Age hill fort to the north of Wootton Fitzpaine, north of Bridport. The name Coney is from the Old English for rabbit (Latin cuniculus), suggesting a medieval use as a domestic warren, as at nearby Pilsdon Pen. Also nearby is Lamberts Castle. A road cuts straight through the rings.
At 248 metres, Dogbury Hill is one of the highest hills in the county of Dorset and is the site of a prehistoric hill fort. It is one of the lesser known hillforts as it is hidden under woodland in North Dorset on a spur between the source of the River Cerne and the Caundle Brook. To the east of Dogbury hill is another Hillfort, Dungeon Hill. The nearest village being Buckland Newton. The earthworks are hidden under thick vegetation and cut in two by a track. Nevertheless, the ground has still clearly been manipulated hugely to take full advantage of this perfect defensive location.
- Dudsbury camp
Situated on the north bank of the River Stour, the defences enclose a semi-circular area of about 3 hectares and consist of double ramparts and ditch on the west, north and east sides, with a steep slope to the river on the south side. To the north the large town of Ferndown has been developed.
Dungeon Hill is an Iron Age hillfort, about 1.25 miles north of the village of Buckland Newton. Although there is no access, a bridleway runs parallel to the east of the earthwork. However this lack of access has meant positive preservation of the area. A previous land owner inserted brick arches into the ramparts, while doing this he unearthed human bones, sword blades and roman coins. The summit is currently circled by trees.
One of the most remote and atmospheric of Dorset’s hillforts and one of the most obvious. It towers over the landscape to the west, providing awesome views of the coast and beyond to Devon. The to the north, west and south banks are steep, some of which have been destroyed by landslips. Eggardon Hill itself has never been excavated so little is known about the specifics of the fort other than those gleamed from alternate sites. A small road travels precariously along one of the northern ramparts, a real treat for the driver!
Flower’s Barrow is an Iron Age hillfort, built over 2500 years ago, above Worbarrow Bay on the Jurassic coast. It is thought that the cliffs were used as part of their defence, but natural erosion has now eaten away at the ramparts themselves. Like Bindon Hill, it is located in a military training zone and therefore access is sometimes limited.
A prehistoric hill fort near Child Okeford in the Blackmore Vale, five miles north west of Blandford Forum. The hill itself is a chalk outcrop, on the southwestern corner of Cranborne Chase, separated from the Dorset Downs by the River Stour. Its ramparts closely fit the contours of the hill making it curved in its shape. The views from the hill are immense, covering the whole of the Blackmore vale and into south Somerset. It is a clear landmark for those in the area.
In Iron Age Britain settlement on the Head was established and the headland was cut off from the mainland by the construction of two banks and ditches called the Double Dykes, similar to those found at Maiden Castle. Its spur sticks out into the English Channel directing the River Stour as it enters the sea.
Hod Hill (or Hodd Hill) is a large hill fort in the Blackmore Vale, 3 miles North West of Blandford Forum. The fort sits on a 143 m chalk hill of the same name that lies between the adjacent Dorset Downs and Cranborne Chase. The hill fort at Hambledon Hill is just to the north. The name probably comes from Old English “hod”, meaning a shelter, though “hod” could also mean “hood”, referring to the shape of the hill. The ramparts are square in shape making it one of the most formal designs of the Dorset hill forts. Within the enclosure is a smaller Roman earthwork. A Roman road possibly connecting it to Badbury Rings in the south east. With another possible Roman route cutting south to Dorchester.
The Iron Age hill fort, Lambert’s Castle is around 2,500 years old. It sits just to the North of Coney’s Castle, between the villages of Marshwood and Fishpond Bottom. It is owned and managed by the National Trust and access is open to all.
Situated just south of Broadwindsor, buried amongst trees, this hillfort is another that only can really be appreciated up close. Parts of the original bank and ditch are still visible although they have been disturbed by gravel quarrying and timber removal. Nearby is Waddon Hill, a Roman fort. Lewesdon hill is the highest hill in Dorset, Pilsdon Pen being the second, Bulbarrow, with Rawlsbury Camp, is third.
Maiden Castle is an Iron Age hill fort 1.6 miles south west of Dorchester. It is reputably the biggest Hillfort in Europe. Managed by English Heritage and open to the public, it is clear of trees and so its defensive ramparts are clear to see. Dorchester town is visible from its ramparts which was once a roman stronghold called Dunovaria. Excavations of the site have produced a number of finds including a spear embedded in a spine of a skeleton.
Mistleberry hillfort is hidden in woodland to the North of Sixpenny Handley and to the west of Woodyates. It is an oval univallate unfinished Iron Age enclosure which would have encompassed a little over 3 acres, if it had been completed. Placed on the Cranborne Chase, it is not far from the famous Bokerley Ditch and the later Roman Road – the Acking Dyke. The area is also known for its prehistoric activity, scattered with Bronze Age barrows.
A promontory hillfort in one of the more remote spots in Dorset. Close by is the Dorsetshire gap, a meeting place of five ancient trackways. The hillfort is formed by a double bank and ditch cutting across the hill called Lyscombe hill, leaving a twenty acre hillfort at the end. To the north is the village of Mapowder and to the south are the remains of the mediaeval village of Melcombe Horsey. Many cross dikes are also in the area, defending the site on the southern spurs.
Penbury Knoll Camp is a small, pear shaped Iron Age hillfort of around 3.75 acres, just to the South east of Pentridge. It is possibly unfinished, similar to its neighbour, Mistleberry. As it is also located on the Cranborne Chase it is easy to assume some association with a nearby prehistoric field system. The views are extensive, the skyline of Poole and Bournemouth visible in the south.
The hillfort is situated at the north end of the Marshwood Vale, approximately 4.5 miles west of Beaminster. It is Dorset’s second highest point and has panoramic views extending for many miles including vistas of the sea. At 277 metre high it is Dorset’s second highest hill. Owned and managed by the National Trust. Just to the south is Lewesdon Hill, Coney’s Castle and Lambert’s Castle visible to the east.
Poundbury hill fort is the site of a Middle Bronze Age enclosure. It is roughly rectangular and it is likely that it was designed to command views over the River Frome and the Frome valley to the north. The main entrance to the fort is on the eastern end. It overlooks the county town of Dorchester, now being slowly circled by the Poundbury development. Cutting through the northern edge are the Roman earthworks of a aqueduct that transported water into the Roman town of Dunovaria.
Rawlsbury Camp, a five acre Iron Age hill fort, is situated on a promontory of Bulbarrow hill. The remains of the camp include the twin embankments and intermediate ditch which surrounded it. The hill gets its name from the several barrows that adorn the hill. Additionally, a medieval trackway crosses the ridge, now a bridleway. The whole site is open access. The views stretch out to the west towards Nettlecombe Tout and to the north over the Blackmore Vale.
Shipton Hill is an undecided hillfort; there is evidence of Iron Age occupation, but differences of opinion as to whether it is a naturally scarped hill, or whether there has been modification for defences. Possibly an unfinished development. Situated just to the east of Bridport, the hill itself is a prominent landmark, footpaths running all around it for easy access.
Spetisbury is home to the Iron Age fortifications known as Spetisbury Rings or Crawford Castle, evidence suggests that it was destroyed by Roman advances in the first century A.D. The earthworks were a stronghold before the Romans came, and Romans and Britons were found lying side by side in graves. Spetisbury Rings is in a series of Iron Age earthworks – Hambledon Hill, Hod Hill, Buzbury Rings, Badbury Rings and Dudsbury Camp. The Iron Age port at Hengistbury Head forms a final Iron Age monument in this small chain of sites.
Sturminster Newton Castle is a medieval manor house that is said to have utilised the earthworks of an Iron Age hillfort. It is on private land and therefore cannot be visited. However, there is little remaining of the earthworks and nothing but a ruined wall remains of the castle. It would have been a good defensive location, as well as economic due to its proximity to the River Stour.
Weatherby Castle is an Iron Age hill fort that encloses about 17.5 acres on a spur of land about 0.75 miles south of the village of Milborne Port. Its structure comprises two concentric enclosures, though parts have been damaged by cultivation and ploughing. Pieces of Roman ware were found within the site in the 19th century. The fort is overgrown with trees and therefore cannot be fully appreciated from the road. Nevertheless, footpaths take you to the centre of the fort where the earthworks are met at the entrance and in the centre is an 18th century Obelisk erected by a local landowner.
The monument, situated just to the east of Bere Regis, includes a slight univallate hillfort, an adjoining area of ridge and furrow, and, within the hillfort, a holy well and medieval chapel, all on Woodbury Hill, a prominent ridge overlooking the Piddle Valley to the south, the Bere Valley to the west and the Winterborne Valley to the north. The ramparts are visible as the site is managed and is without the usual abundance of trees. There has been development within the centre and a track has been cut through the centre. Footpaths also increase the accessibility. It covers and area of about 12 acres. It has two original entrances to the north and south, with an additional rampart outside the north entrance to strengthen a weak spot. It was also used in some of Thomas Hardy’s Literature, along with Dogbury Hill.
Woolsbarrow Hillfort is a hillfort on Bloxworth Heath in the heart of Wareham Forest. It dates to the period from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age (8th–5th centuries BC) and is classed as an ancient monument. Despite the hillfort only being at an altitude of 220 feet, a dwarf in comparison to other hill forts, it still dominates the surrounding heathland. In 2020 it was victim of a massive forest fire that unfortunately damaged the areas immensely, thankfully it is recovering well.