The railway from Wareham to Dorchester runs through the heart of that great wild tract that under the general name of Egdon Heath forms a picturesque and often gloomy background to many of Mr. Hardy's romances. These heath-lands are a marked characteristic of the scenery of this part of the county. Repellent at first, their dark beauty, more often than not, will capture the interest and perhaps awe of the stranger. Much more than a mere relic of the great forest that stretched for many miles west of Southampton Water and that in its stubborn wildness bade fair to break up the Saxon advance, the heaths of Dorset extend over a quarter of the area of the county.

Wool is five miles from Wareham and is the station for Bindon Abbey, half a mile to the east. The pleasant site of the abbey buildings on the banks of the Frome is now a resort of holiday-makers, adventurers from Bournemouth and Swanage, who may have al-fresco teas through the goodwill of the gatekeeper, though it would appear that they must bring all but the cups and hot water with them. The outline of the walls and a few interesting relics may be seen, but there is nothing apart from the natural surroundings to detain us. The old red brick Manor House, close to the station, and in plain view from the train, was a residence of the Turbervilles, immortalized by Hardy. Of much interest also is the old Tudor bridge that here crosses the Frome.

At Wool the rail parts company with the Dorchester turnpike and soon after leaves the valley of the Frome, traversing a sparsely populated district served by one small station in the ten miles to Dorchester, at Moreton. Here a road runs northwards in four miles to the "Puddles" of which there are several dotted about the valley of that quaintly named river. Puddletown, the Weatherbury of the Wessex woods, is the largest and has an interesting church, practically unrestored. The Athelhampton chapel here contains ancient effigies of the Martin family, the oldest dating from 1250. The curiously shaped Norman font, like nothing else but a giant tumbler, will be admired for its fine vine and trellis ornament. The old oak gallery that dates from the early seventeenth century has happily been untouched. Athelhampton Manor occupies the site of an ancient palace of King Athelstan. Though certain portions of the present buildings are said to date from the time of Edward III the greater part is Tudor and very beautiful. Affpuddle, the nearest of the villages to Moreton Station, has a perpendicular church with a fine pinnacled tower. The chief object of interest within is the Renaissance pulpit with curious carvings of the Evangelists in sixteenth-century dress. Scattered about the heath-lands in this neighbourhood are a number of "swallow holes" with various quaint names such as "Culpepper's Dish" and "Hell Pit." At one time supposed to be prehistoric dwellings, they are undoubtedly of natural formation.

Bere Regis, rather farther away to the north-east, is the Roman Ibernium. This was a royal residence in Saxon days and a hunting lodge of that King John of many houses; very scanty remains of the buildings are pointed out in a meadow near the town. Part of the manor came to the Turbervilles, or d'Urbervilles, of Mr. Hardy's romance. The church, restored in 1875 by Street, is a fine building, mostly Perpendicular with some Norman remains. Particularly noteworthy is the grand old roof of the nave with its gorgeously coloured and gilt figures, also the ancient pews and Transitional font. There are canopied tombs of the Turbervilles in a chapel and some modern stained glass in which the family arms figure. Bere Regis is the "Kingsbere" of Thomas Hardy, and Woodbury Hill, close by, is the scene of Greenhill Fair in Far from the Madding Crowd. Here, in the oval camp on the summit, a sheep fair has been held since before written records commence. These fairs, several of which take place in similar situations in Wessex, are of great antiquity. Some are held in the vicinity of certain "blue" stones, mysterious megaliths of unknown age.

It is doubtful if any town in England has so many remains of the remote past in its vicinity as Dorchester. Probably the Roman settlement of Durnovaria was a parvenu town to the Celts, whose closely adjacent Dwrinwyr was also an upstart in comparison with the fortified stronghold two miles away to the south; the "place by the black water" being an initial attempt to establish a trading centre by a people rather timidly learning from their Phoenician visitors. The great citadel at Maiden Castle belonged to a still earlier time, when men lived in a way which rendered trade a very superfluous thing.

Modern Dorchester is a delightful, one might almost say a lovable, town, so bright and cheery are its streets, so countrified its air. But it is probably true that nearly every one is disappointed with it at their first visit. Historical towns are written of, and written up, until the stranger's mind pictures a sort of Nuremburg. Dorchester is a placid Georgian agricultural centre. In fact there is very little that antedates the seventeenth century and yet, for all that, it is one of the most interesting towns in the south. Its loss of the antique is due to more than one disastrous fire that swept nearly everything away. It is when the foundations of a new house are being dug that the past of Dorchester comes to light and another addition is made to the rich store in the museum. Describing "Casterbridge" Hardy says: "It is impossible to dig more than a foot or two deep about the town fields or gardens without coming upon some tall soldier or other of the Empire who had lain there in his silent unobtrusive rest for a space of fifteen hundred years." It is needless to say that "Casterbridge" and the town here briefly described are identical. To the limits laid down by the Roman, Dorchester has kept true through the ages, and until quite lately the town terminated with a pleasant abruptness at the famous "Walks" that mark the positions of the Roman Walls. The so-called Roman road, the "Via Iceniana," Roman only in the improvement and straightening of a far older track, passed through the town. This was once the highway between that mysterious and wonderful district in Wiltshire, of which Stonehenge is the most outstanding monument, and the largest prehistoric stronghold in England - the Mai dun - "the strong hill," south of Dorchester.

The South Western station is close to another fine relic of the past, though this cannot claim to have any Celtic or pre-Celtic foundation. The great circle of Maumbury Rings was the original stadium or coliseum of the Roman town; the tiers of seats when filled are estimated to have held over twelve thousand spectators. The gaps at each end are the obvious ways for entering and leaving the arena. In digging the foundations of the brewery near by, a subway was found leading toward the circus, which may have been used by the wild beasts and their keepers in passing from and to their quarters. Maumbury was the scene of a dreadful execution in 1705, when one Mary Channing was first strangled and then burnt for the murder of her husband by poison, though she loudly declared her innocence to the last. On this occasion ten thousand persons are said to have lined the banks. It is difficult at first to appreciate the size of the Rings. If two or more persons are together it is a good plan to leave one alone in the centre while the others climb to the summit of the bank. By this means a true idea of the vast size of the enclosure may be gained.

The "Walks" are the pleasantest feature of modern Dorchester and run completely round three sides of the town, the fourth being bounded by the "dark waters" of the Frome. They are lined with fine trees planted about two hundred years ago; the West Walk, with its section of Roman Wall, is perhaps the best, though the South Walk with its gnarled old trees is much admired. They all give the town an uncommon aspect, and there is nothing quite like them elsewhere in England. The contrast on turning eastwards from the quiet West Walk into bustling High West Street is striking and bears out the claim that Dorchester still keeps more or less within its ancient bounds, for turning in the other direction we are soon in a different and "suburban" atmosphere. High West Street is lined with pleasant eighteenth century houses, the residences or offices of professional men intermixed with some first-class shops. Once these houses were the mansions of county families who "came to town" for a season when London was for several reasons impracticable. The chief buildings are congregated round the town centre; here is the Perpendicular St. Peter's church, a building saved during the great fire in 1613 when nearly everything else of antiquity perished. Outside is the statue of William Barnes, the Dorset poet, whose writings in his native dialect are only now gaining a popularity no more than their due. The bronze figure represents the poet in his old fashioned country clergyman's dress, knee-breeches and buckled shoes, a satchel on his back and a sturdy staff in his hand. Underneath the simple inscription are these quaint and touching lines from one of his poems ("Culver Dell and the Squire"):

  "Zoo now I hope his kindly feaece 
  Is gone to vind a better pleaece; 
  But still wi' v'ok a-left behind 
  He'll always be a-kept in mind."

The speech of the older Dorset folk is the ancient speech of Wessex. It is not an illiterate corruption but a true dialect with its own grammatical rules. But alas! fifty years of the council school and its immediate predecessor has done more to destroy this ancient form of English than ten centuries of intercourse between the Anglo-Celtic races.[2]

[2] A good example of the Dorset dialect is contained in the message sent to the King by the Society of Dorset Men at their annual banquet in London.


    Sire - Dree hunderd loyal men vrom Darset, voregather'd at th' 
    Connaught Rooms, Kingsway, on this their Yearly Veaest Day, be 
    mindvul o' yer Grashus Majesty, an' wi' vull hearts do zend ee 
    the dootivul an' loyal affecshuns o' th' Society o' Darset Men 
    in Lon'on. In starm or zunsheen thee ca'st allus rely on our 
    vull-heart'd zympathy an' suppwort. Zoo wi'out any mwore ham-chammy 
    we ageen raise our cyder cups to ee, wi' th' pious pray'r on our 
    lips that Heaven ull prosper ee, an' we assure ee that Darset Men 
    ull ever sheen as oone o' th' bright jools in yer Crown. I d' bide, 
    az avoretime, an' vor all time, Thy Vaithful Sarvint,

    SHAFTESBURY (President o' Darset Men in Lon'on)."

In the porch of the church lies the "Patriarch of Dorchester," John White, Rector of Holy Trinity, who died in 1648 and who seems to have kept the town pretty well under his own control. A Puritan, he incurred the hatred of Prince Rupert's followers, who plundered his house and carried away his papers and books. He escaped to London and was for a time Rector of Lambeth, afterwards returning to Dorchester. He raised money for the equipment of emigrants from Dorchester to Massachusetts and thus became one of the founders of New England. Inside the church the Hardy tablet to the left of the door is in memory of the ancestor of both that Admiral Hardy who was the friend of Nelson and the great novelist whose writings have been the means of making "Dear Do'set" known to all the world. The monument of Lord Holles is remarkable for a comic cherub who is engaged in wiping his tears away with a wisp of garment; the naivete of the idea is amusing in more ways than one. Another curious monument, badly placed for inspection, is that of Sir John Williams. The so-called "crusaders" effigies are thought to be of a later date than the last crusade; no inscriptions remain, so that they cannot be identified. The curfew that still rings from St. Peter's tower is an elaborate business. Besides telling the day of the month by so many strokes after the ten minutes curfew is rung, a bell is tolled at six o'clock on summer mornings and an hour later in the winter. Also at one o'clock midday to release the workers of the town for dinner.

Holy Trinity Church was destroyed in the great fire. Another conflagration in 1824 removed its successor. The present building only dates from 1875 and is a fairly good Victorian copy of Early English. All Saints' was rebuilt in 1845. It retains the canopied altar tomb of Matthew Chubb (1625) under the tower. The organ here was presented by the people of Dorchester, Massachusetts, for the founding of which town John White, the rector of Holy Trinity, was mainly responsible.

The County Museum, close to St. Peter's Church, should on no account be missed. Here is stored a most interesting collection of British and Roman antiquities found in and around Dorchester, and also of fossils from the Dorset coast and elsewhere, together with many out-of-the-way curiosities. "Napper's Mite" is the name given to the old almshouse in South 1615 with money left for the Robert Napper. It has a queer open gallery or stone verandah along the street front. Next door to it is the Grammar School, which owes its inception to the Thomas Hardy who is commemorated in St. Peter's, and whose benefactions to the town were many and great. Of equal interest, perhaps, is a house on the other side of the street that was once a school kept by William Barnes, surely the most serene and kindly schoolmaster that ever taught unruly youth. Barnes, in addition to his other literary work, was secretary of the Dorset Museum, but his incumbency at Whitcombe and the small addition to his income obtained in other ways did not amount altogether to a "living" and he was forced to take up schooling to make both ends meet. The poems were never a financial success, though they always received a chorus of praise and appreciation and led many literary lions to meet the author. After years full of sordid cares Barnes was granted a civil list pension and the rectory of Came. Here, in the midst of the peasantry he loved so well, this gentle spirit passed away in 1886.

The lodging occupied by Judge Jeffreys during the Monmouth Rebellion trials or "Bloody Assize" (1685), when seventy-four were sentenced to death on Gallows Hill of dreadful memory, and 175 to transportation to carry westward with them the bitter seeds that bore glorious fruit a century later, was in a house still standing nearly opposite the museum. This almost brings the list of historical buildings in Dorchester to a close. The County Hall, Town Hall and Corn Exchange, all unpretentious and quietly dignified, represent both shire and town. The few buildings left by the seventeenth-century fire seem to have included a highly picturesque group near the old Pump (now marked by an obelisk) and at the commencement of High East Street, where a dwelling-house went right across the highway. This was pulled down by a corporation filled with zeal for the public convenience. The improvement, regrettable on the score of picturesqueness, has given us the noble view down the London road. The other great highways that approach the town from the west and south do so through fine avenues of trees which give a distinctive note to the environs of Dorchester.

Fordington is usually described as a suburb of Dorchester; this is not strictly correct. It had always been a dependent village and was not simply an extension of the town. Its church is a fine one, with tall battlemented tower and a goodly amount of Norman work. A quaint old carving over the Norman south door is of much interest. It represents St. George as taking part in the battle of Antioch in 1098. Some of the Saracens are being mercilessly dispatched while others are pleading for quarter. The stone pulpit bears the date 1592 and the initials E.R. The late Bishop of Durham, Dr. Moule, was born at Fordington Vicarage.

Stainsford, about a mile from the Frome bridge, is the original of the scene in Under the Greenwood Tree. Several members of the Hardy family lie in the churchyard here, and the novelist was born at Higher Bockhampton, not far away. The carving of St. Michael on the face of the church tower should be noticed. Within the building are memorials of the Pitt family.

Above the short tunnel through which the Great Western line runs to the north, and about half a mile along the Bradford Peverell road, is Poundbury Camp. "Pummery" is an oblong entrenchment enclosing about twenty acres, variously ascribed to Celts, Romans and Danes, but almost certainly Celtic, with Roman improvements and developments. There is a fine view of the surroundings of Dorchester from the bank. It is only by the most strenuous exertions that the railway engineers were prevented from burrowing right through the camp. The cutting of this line brought to light many relics of the past, a great number of which are in the Dorchester Museum.

On the south-west side of the town, two miles away near the Weymouth road, is the greatest of these prehistoric entrenchments; Mai-dun or "Maiden Castle" is the largest British earthwork in existence. It is best reached by a footpath continuation of a by-way that leaves the Weymouth road on the right, soon after it crosses the Great Western Railway. The highest point of the hill that has been converted into this huge fort is 432 feet; the apex being on the east. The marvellous defences, which follow the lines of the hill, are two miles round and the whole space occupies about 120 acres. From east to west the camp is 3,000 feet long and about half that measurement in breadth. On the south side there are no less than five lines of ditch and wall. On the north the steepness of the hill only allows of three. Over the entrance to the west ten ramparts overlap and double so that attackers were in a perfect maze of walls and enfiladed so effectually that it is difficult to imagine any storming party being successful. On the east the opening, without being quite so elaborate owing to the steepness of the hill, is equally well defended. The steep walls on the north are no less than sixty feet deep and to storm them would be a sheer impossibility. What makes this splendid monument so interesting is the assertion made by nearly all authorities on the subject that these enormous works must have been excavated without spade or tool other than the puny implement called a "celt." Probably wall and ditch were elaborated and improved by the Romans, and while in their occupation the name of the hill became Dunium. Blocks of stone from Purbeck, used at certain points of the defence, were no doubt additions during this period.

A pleasant journey may be taken through the Winterbourne villages that are strung along the line of that rivulet, which, as its name proclaims, flows only in the winter months. It is on the south side of Maiden Castle. The first village with the name of the river as a prefix is Came, two miles from Dorchester. Here Barnes was rector for the last twenty-five years of his life. His grave is in the quiet churchyard quite close to the diminutive tower. Within the church is a fine carved screen and several effigies. Proceeding westwards we come to Herringstone where there is an old house once the seat of the Herrings and, since early Jacobean days, of the Williams family. Then comes Monkton, close to Maiden Castle. The church is Norman, much restored. St. Martin follows; a picturesque hamlet with a fine church, the last in the west of England to dispense with clarionet, flute and bass-viol in the village choir. On sign-posts as well as colloquially this hamlet is known as "Martinstown." Steepleton boasts a stone spire, rare for Dorset, and a curious and very ancient figure of an angel on the outside wall declared by most authorities to be Saxon. The last of the villages is Winterbourne Abbas, seven miles from Winterbourne Came. The whole of the low hillsides around the hamlets of the bourne are covered with barrows, some of which have been explored with good results, though indiscriminate ravishing of these old graves is to be deplored.

Another short excursion from Dorchester is up the valley of the Cerne. About a mile and a half from St. Peter's Church, proceeding by North Street, is Charminster, a pretty little place in itself and well situated in the opening valley of the sparkling Cerne. Here is a church with a noble Perpendicular tower, built by Sir Thomas Trenchard about 1510. The knight's monogram is to be seen on the tower. Within the partly Norman church are several monuments of the family, which lived at Wolfeton House, a fine Tudor mansion on the site of a still older building. Its embattled towers, beautiful windows and ivy-clad walls make up an ideal picture of a "stately home of England." Wolfeton was the scene of the reception in 1506 of Philip of Austria and Joanna of Spain, who were driven into Weymouth by a storm. (The incident is referred to in the next chapter.) This occurrence may be said to have founded the fortunes of the ducal house of Bedford. Young John Russell, of Bridport, a relative of the Trenchards, happened to be a good linguist, which the host was not. He was sent for, and so well impressed the royal couple that they took him with them to Windsor. Henry VII was quite as much interested, and young Russell's fortune was made. He stayed with the court until the next reign, and at the Dissolution got Woburn Abbey, a property still in the hands of his great family.

Continuing up the Cerne valley, Godmanstone, a village of picturesque gables and colourful roofs, is about four and a half miles from Dorchester. Here the valley narrows between Cowden Hill and Crete Hill. The Perpendicular church has been restored, and is of little interest. Nether Cerne, a mile further along and two miles short of Cerne Abbas, also calls for little comment, but "Abbas" (or, according to Hardy, "Abbots Cernel") is of much historic interest.

Cerne Abbey was founded in 987 by Aethelmar, Earl of Devon and Cornwall. Legend has it that the monastery originated in the days of St. Augustine, but of this there is no proof, though it is certain that a religious house nourished here for nearly a century before the Benedictine abbey was established. The first Abbot Aelfric was famous for his learning, and his Homilies in Latin and English are of much value to students of Anglo-Saxon. Canute was the first despoiler of Cerne, though he made good his plunderings tenfold when peace, on his terms, came to Wessex. Queen Margaret sought sanctuary here in 1471 with her son, the heir to the English throne. At the Abbey, or on the way thither from Weymouth, the courageous Queen learned of the defeat of the Lancastrian army at Barnet. From Cerne she went to lead a force against the Yorkists at Tewkesbury. There she was defeated, her son brutally murdered and all hope lost for the cause of her imprisoned husband, the feeble and half-witted Henry VI.

A most beautiful relic of the Abbey is the Gatehouse, a fine stone building that has weathered to the most exquisite tint. The grand oriel window and panelled and groined entrance are justly admired. The remaining ruins, however, are almost negligible. The Perpendicular church is remarkable for its splendid tower, on which is a niche and canopy enshrining an old statue of the Virgin and Child. Within is a good stone screen and a fine oaken pulpit dating from 1640. Cerne town seems never to have recovered its importance after the loss of the Abbey. For its size, it is the sleepiest place in Dorset and its streets are literally grass grown. The surroundings are beautiful in a quiet way, and the town and neighbourhood generally provide an ideal spot for a rest cure. North-east of the town is a chalk bluff called Giant's Hill, with the figure of the famous "Cerne Giant," 180 feet in height, cut on its side. "Vulgar tradition makes this figure commemorate the destruction of a giant, who, having feasted on some sheep in Blackmore and laid himself down to sleep, was pinioned down like another Gulliver, and killed by the enraged peasants on the spot, who immediately traced his dimensions for the information of posterity" (Criswick). An encampment on the top of the hill and the figure itself are probably the work of early Celts. The "Giant" is reminiscent of the "Long Man of Wilmington" on the South Downs near Eastbourne. An interesting experiment in the communal life was started in 1913 near the town. After struggling along for five years it finally "petered out" in 1918, helped to its death, no doubt, by the exigencies of the last year of war.

A return may be made by way of Maiden Newton, about six miles south-west of Cerne, passing through Sydling St. Nicholas, where there is a Perpendicular church noted for its fine tower with elaborate gargoyles. The old Norman font and north porch are also noteworthy. Close to the church is an ancient Manor-house with a fine tithe barn. This belonged in 1590 to the famous Elizabethan, Sir Francis Walsingham. Maiden Newton is a junction on the Great Western with a branch line to Bridport.

The beautiful churchyard is the best thing about Maiden Newton. The village had seen, prior to the late war, a good deal of rebuilding; relative unattractiveness is the consequence. This seems to be the almost inevitable result of the establishment of a railway junction. The church stands on the site of a Wrest Saxon building, and is partly Norman with much Perpendicular work. Cattistock, a long mile north, is unspoilt and pretty both in itself and its situation. It has a fine church, much rebuilt and gaudily decorated, with a tower containing no less than thirty-five bells and a clock face so enormous that it occupies a goodly portion of the wall.

If the railway is not taken one may return by the eight miles of high road that follows the Frome through Vanchurch and Frampton to Charminster and Dorchester. The first named village though pleasant enough, calls for little comment, but Frampton (or Frome town) is not only picturesquely placed between the soft hills that drop to the wooded banks of the river, but has also other claims to notice. The church, though it has been cruelly pulled about, has an interesting old stone pulpit with carvings of monks bearing vessels. A number of memorials may be seen of the Brownes, once a renowned local family, and of their successors and connexions, among whom were certain of the Sheridan family, of which the famous Richard Brinsley Sheridan was a member. Near Frampton in the closing years of the eighteenth century a Roman pavement was discovered, bearing in its mosaic indications of Christian designs and forms.

The straight and tree-lined Roman road that runs west from Dorchester is, except for fast motor traffic and a few farm waggons bringing produce to the great emporium of Dorset, usually deserted, for it has no villages of importance on the fourteen miles to Bridport. Winterbourne Abbas is more than four miles away and Kingston Russell, exactly half-way to Bridport, is the only other village on the road. This was once the home of the Russells who became Dukes of Bedford. Here was born Sir T.M. Hardy and here died J.L. Motley, author of the History of the Dutch Republic. The poor remnants of the old manor house are to be seen in the farm near the hamlet.