For some of the best views of Dorchester and the central Dorset countryside, you can’t beat a Maiden Castle walk! This 5-mile (8km) circular route starts at the heart of Poundbury, crossing picturesque farmland and passing Bronze Age barrow cemeteries to reach the enormous Iron Age hillfort at Maiden Castle.
Poundbury is an experimental urban village built on Duchy of Cornwall land on the outskirts of Dorchester. This walk starts and ends in the town’s lively central hub of Queen Mother Square, where you’ll find ample free parking.
Quickly enough, you’ll leave the urban scenes behind and find yourself in rich farmland, with rolling hills in the distance. Crossing the fields and following public footpaths will bring you to Maiden Castle, where you can walk the circumference of the hillfort to admire the undulating ridges of its outer defences. Not to mention the stunning views of Poundbury and Dorchester to the northeast, and the glorious Dorset countryside to the south and west.
Poundbury to Maiden Castle Walk – Details and Map
- Distance: 8.14km / 5 miles
- Time: 1.5 hours
- Highest Elevation: 128m
- Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
- Accessibility: Several stiles, lots of off-road paths (mud/dirt tracks and uneven ground). For a more accessible walk park at Maiden Castle and head up the wide path up a gentle slope to reach Maiden Castle. There is a chalk/stone path uphill, a gate, then a flat grassy field at the top – so should be relatively accessible.
- Parking: Free parking at the Queen Mother Square carpark, as well as plenty of road parking nearby.
To make this Maiden Castle walk easier, why not use my GPS trail route on Wikiloc? It’s a free app where people can share hiking, biking, and other routes! You’ll probably still find my instructions below helpful, though.
Maiden Castle Walk Instructions
Start opposite the statue of the Queen Mother in Poundbury’s Queen Mother Square. This is the central hub and heart of Poundbury. Cross the road and walk in a straight line past Poundbury Garden Centre.
Walk across the small playpark and head down the road opposite until you reach the Buttercross, a distinctive hexagonal building at the top of the square known as the Buttermarket. If you need a coffee or snacks for your walk, pick them up at Finca, which is a lovely independent coffee shop housed within the Buttercross building.
Continue on through the small square, then head down Wadebridge Lane. At the end of this road, there is a ten-metre-high stone obelisk crafted by students of The Prince’s Foundation. Walk down the steps and cross over Middle Farm Way. Facing you are two footpaths heading uphill.
Take the right-hand footpath up. Turn right when you reach the top to walk along a short footpath between two hedgerows. You will shortly come to a left hand turning which slopes down to the very busy A35. The public footpath continues on the far side of this road.
Cross the road very carefully, then climb over the stile and follow the signpost for Martinstown. A narrow, muddy pathway leads diagonally across the field.
There is an electric fence in the middle of the field which you will need to step over, there is padding over the wire but do be careful. The following field is usually full of sheep but they will most likely walk away as you approach them. If you have a dog with you you must keep it on a short lead. This field is often very muddy, especially after it rains, so take care.
Continue in a diagonal line, with the hilltop Hardy Monument ahead of you in the distance, until you reach the far west corner of the field, where a gate leads out onto Mallards Green road.
Go out through the gate and follow the road for a few short paces, then take an immediate left turn down a public footpath signposted for Maiden Castle. This is a wide dirt track that skirts along the fields towards the castle in the distance.
Follow the trail past two large fields, enjoying views of Hardy Monument through the trees and hedgerows to your right. The second field on your left contains a large round barrow, several metres high. It’s a Bronze Age bell barrow burial mound, part of a barrow cemetery.
At the corner of the burial mound field, you will come to a 4-way crossroads connecting with the Tour de Manche bike path and bridleway. On your return from the castle, an alternative (and shorter) route is to follow the bike path back to this crossroads and return to Poundbury the way you’ve just come. For now, continue straight uphill. You will be able to see Maiden Castle carpark across the field on your left.
At the top of the hill, the path bends to the left, heading slightly downhill again, then S-bends sharply down a short hill before connecting with the public bridleway leading from the castle car park to Maiden Castle itself.
Go through the gate in front of you, and connect with the main path that runs in a straight line from the car park up to the top of Maiden Castle. Turn right onto this gravel path and continue uphill through another gate, until you reach an information board about Maiden Castle.
Turn left here and head uphill, keeping the fence on your left, as you weave between the various ridges of the ancient hillfort. If you want to explore for longer there are various turn-offs leading into and around the fort’s exterior ridges. If not, continue following the fence until you reach a gate at the top of a chalk path.
Go through the kissing gate and you will be in the centre of Maiden Castle hillfort. Turn right, and you can follow a worn grassy track that leads past another entry gate. Beyond this gate, you can climb up the short slope of the innermost ridge of the hillfort, in order to follow this right round the castle’s circumference for some of the best views of the local area.
The walk at this point is very obvious, so you can explore Maiden Castle at your leisure. The wide field at the centre of the hillfort is an excellent place for a picnic or a rest. You can walk the full circuit around the exterior, or head out into the outer ridges to explore a little further.
For my walk, simply follow the inner ridge of the castle around the exterior in a circle. The views out towards the South Winterborne river and the rolling hills beyond are particularly lovely when viewed from this highest ridge.
When you return to the northeastern edge of the castle, with a view of Dorchester and Poundbury ahead of you, keep following the ridgeway trail until you reach a wooden stile. Turn right to head over the stile and down a steep set of muddy wood-and-stone steps into the exterior ridge. Then follow this narrow path up and over the various external ridges of the hill fort.
The path is narrow and can be quite steep and slippery in places – especially after rain. Be careful for loose stones underfoot. If you prefer to avoid this route, you can instead head back to the first gate that you entered Maiden Castle though, and turn right to head down a wide, gentle path to the car park. However, the steep steps up and down the ridges offer a unique perspective on the various outer defences of the fort.
Once you have gone over the outermost ridge, the path will slope left and downhill, before opening out onto a wider track between two fences that bends around to the right. Follow this and go through the gate, then head downhill to the car park.
Walk through the car park and join the single lane country road heading back toward Dorchester. At this point, you have two options. Shortly down the road, you’ll find a left turning onto the Tour de Manche bike path mentioned earlier. If you take this, you will connect back up with the path that you approached on, and can head directly back to Poundbury the same way you came. If you prefer to make this a circular Maiden Castle walk, keep following the road instead.
Eventually, the country track opens out into a two-lane road. Follow this over the bridge, then turn immediately left through a small metal gate across a narrow path and through another larger metal gate. Follow this down the hill and turn left onto a tree-lined path.
Just before the first corner of the Dorchester Rugby Club, turn left onto a tree-lined dirt track heading slightly uphill. Continue walking between the trees, curving to the right with the rugby field on your right, until you come out into the Holmead Walk park and play area. Cut diagonally across the green and turn left onto Holmead Walk, following the road round past a veterinary clinic on your left to reach Middle Farm Way.
Turn right and follow the path alongside the road to the roundabout. Go straight over at the roundabout to find yourself facing Poundbury Great Field. This is another great spot to pause for a rest or a picnic, but you’re near the end of the walk now, so if you prefer you can simply press on to Queen Mother Square.
Keeping the Field on your right, follow Peverell Ave up towards the distinctive tower in the distance. Stay on the road until you find yourself back at the Queen Mother statue where you started from.
The Duchess of Cornwall pub on your right is an excellent place to finish this Maiden Castle walk off with a well-earned drink or meal.
If you have any questions about this walk please feel free to get in touch! I’d love to hear from you.