The “Discover Dorchester” route is the perfect way to take in great views, enjoy the inviting ambiance of the town, and visit a host of notable attractions along the way.
The route, which can be completed in about an hour, takes you along footpaths around the town centre and is accessible by wheelchair and buggies. On the way you will visit a Roman amphitheatre, find the last part of the ancient Roman Town Wall and learn about Dorset’s 4,000 years of history.
A good starting point for this historical walk is the Top of Town car park. Stroll down Cornwall Road until you reach the site of Maumbury Rings. This is the site of a giant Henge monument constructed at least 4500 years ago, probably by the inhabitants of Maiden Castle. Later the Romans adapted the same site creating an amphitheatre capable of holding 10,000 people. Maumbury Rings is still used today as the Romans intended, with occasional outdoor performances and historical re-enactments.
Head back toward the town centre along Weymouth Avenue and you will pass the old Thomas Hardy Brewery consisting of fine Victorian brick buildings that have been the home of Eldridge Pope since 1880. Beer is no longer brewed in this famous Dorset institution but the site, now known as Brewery Square, has been recently redeveloped to include a hotel, retail shops, restaurants and apartments. Opposite, on your left, is Fairfield Market home to Dorchester’s famous historic Wednesday market since the 19th century.
Head down Trinity Street and just after the Junction Pub, turn left along the ‘Walks’. The Roman Town of Durnovaria’s original walls no longer exist, though tree-lined ‘Walks’ trace their route around the town. Turn right and walk through the Borough Gardens where people relax outdoors and children play on the playground. Features of interest include the delightful bandstand and Victorian clock tower.
Leave the Gardens and walk towards Princes Street and here you will see the only remaining fragment of Dorchester’s Roman walls which once stood three metres high. Walk down Princes Street and you’ll pass an artistic sculpture commemorating the Roman aquaduct which brought water to the town, and the old hospital Victorian buildings. Cross the road and walk through Antelope Walk with its many tempting shops.
Turn left and cross the main road and past the old Corn Exchange toward Friary Hill. Join the River Frome and turn left along the riverside path. You can see the walls of Dorchester prison and it was here that people would gather to watch public executions. Continue walking along the riverside and you will come to the thatched ‘Hangman’s Cottage’. Turn right past Hangman’s Cottage and walk up the hill. You can now see the Roman Townhouse behind County Hall. It was discovered in the 1930s and is one of the best examples of Roman remains in the country. Walk behind the Roman Townhouse towards the crossroads.
Top of Town & Thomas Hardy
You are now back to your starting point at the Top of Town where there is a bronze statue of Thomas Hardy by Eric Kennington. Thomas Hardy wrote about the beautiful countryside and unspoilt landscape of his native county of Dorset. You’ll find many of the places he writes about within a short drive, walk or cycle of the town centre.
The Hardy Society has published tours and trails of the individual novels and poems with biographical detail. Why not visit the Dorset County Museum to learn more about Dorchester’s 4,000 years of history and see the main collection of Thomas Hardy memorabilia.
Dorchester’s Ratty’s Trail
A scenic alternative to the “Discover Dorchester” route, is Ratty’s Trail; a circular countryside route within the Frome Valley corridor. It was created in 2005 to encourage local people and visitors to explore some of Dorset’s beautiful countryside. It highlights the importance of the River Frome as a habitat for a wide range of wildlife, most particularly the water vole. The trail is 1.5 miles around easy grass farm track and takes 1 hour to complete. The nearest car park is Top of Town.
Dorchester has a large selection of quality places to eat and drink to stop for refreshments along the way.