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Friday 15th February 2013

Stonehenge, near Amesbury, Wilts

Entry £7.80

Maiden Castle, near Dorchester, Dorset

Free Entry

Maumbury Rings, Dorchester, Dorset

Free Entry

then, at 19.45

Wessex League Premier Division

HAMWORTHY UNITED 2 (Shovelton 26 43)

CHRISTCHURCH 3 (Cook 60 Osborne 65p Cornick 82)

Att 94

Entry & Programme £6

The roots of this lie in Hamworthy’s tenancy of the Dorset County Ground, just outside of Poole. An under-18 County Cup tie was scheduled for the Saturday, so with their fixture being a local derby, it was shunted backwards, affording me a finale to a day’s sightseeing! My friend Mike offered me a bed for the night nearby, so with a full tank of diesel, £50 in my pocket, and a headful of ideas, I had all the ingredients for a road trip!

With the counties of Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset being covered, there was no doubt I was going to be exploring Thomas Hardy country, but having visiting many of his haunts previously, I fancied something different, and dare I say, unworldly?

I don’t want to think too much how many times I’ve passed the monoliths of Stonehenge on the A303. I do wonder how many times cars have crashed, their drivers distracted by the prehistoric feat of engineering to the side of the road. Once you adhere yourself to the audio guide, you’re given still more reasons to stand and stare. The henge we see today was built 2500-1600 BC, but wooden henges existed prior to that, and the site started as an earth and ditch structure as early as 5000 BC.

The stones aren’t local, they’re bluestones up to 45 tonnes in weight transported from the Preseli Hills in South-West Wales. Let’s consider that for a moment, that’s 180 miles, with nothing more than wooden rollers, and brute human strength to transport the stones, then place them in exactly the right place to catch the sun at the solstice.

But why? The archeologists don’t think it was Druids, surprisingly. I’ve long since worked out that the best buildings tend to be religious, the glorification of a god seems to bring both the best and worst of people, but Stonehenge seems to have fulfilled a military need too. Again that’s not unusual, churches have towers so as to provide a place for a look-out and to defend the area if under attack, but the more you study, the more of a mystery the place seems to be! I do recommend the guide-book here, an absolute bargain at £5. The only quibble I can muster about the place is I could find absolutely nothing unworldly about Stonehenge. Maybe if I arrived at the solstice when the druids are chanting I would, but spirituality aside, it’s a fascinating place. Hardy clearly felt something spiritual here, as he used Stonehenge in Tess of the d’Urbervilles for the Tess’ final day of freedom, lying on the Alter Stone, with all the controversial (of the day) connotations that would produce.

From there it was an hour’s drive to Dorchester, or Casterbridge if you’re a Hardy aficionado (The Mayor of Casterbridge). I eschewed the delights of Hardy’s House, Max Gate, mainly because only a room or two is ever open, and opted for Maiden Castle, to the south of the town. It’s an Iron Age hill fort, dated around 600BC, and be warned it’s quite a hike to climb to the top, but worth the effort! It was expanded, tripling in size around 450BC making it by some definitions the largest in Europe. The views over Dorchester and the suburb of Poundbury, designed by Prince Charles are spectacular.

My last site was the smallest, but had the most varied history. The Maumbury Rings, started life as a henge, a smaller version of what I’d seen earlier. Their location, near the centre of Dorchester has meant they’ve changed use frequently over the centuries. In Roman times they were converted to an amphitheatre for the people of Durnovaria (Dorchester), before being converted once again to a fort during the English Civil War (1642-1649).

In 1685 after the Monmouth Rebellion the Rings were converted back to an amphitheatre. This time the “Entertainment” was public executions, as The Bloody Assizes saw Judge Jeffreys sentence 80 of the rebels to be executed here. Soon afterwards, in 1705 saw the odd case of Mary Channing, which Hardy based his poem The Mock Wife on.

Mary came from a well-to-do family in Dorchester, and received an education commensurate with her status. The problem was she took a liking to the male population of the town, several of them! Her despairing parents decided the best solution was to marry her off quickly so as to avoid a scandal, so Thomas Channing from nearby Maiden Newton was found, and despite neither party being at all keen they were married.

It’s fair to say the marriage wasn’t a success. With in 4 months of the nuptials, Mary bought a vial of Mercury and poisoned Thomas, him living just long enough to disinherit her. She was quickly caught, tried, and sentenced to death, the execution delayed due to her successfully pleading her belly, and the wait for her child to be born. Eventually her son arrived and soon after she was strangled then burned at the Rings.

Writing this I’m struck at the similarities between the Channing case, and that of Mary Blandy in Henley-on-Thames.


Perhaps every town has a Mary Channing or a Mary Blandy whose ghost haunts its past?

I drove east to the outskirts of Poole for the evening’s game, and the whole ambiance changed, from the historical to the modern. From the harbour, with the Sunseeker powerboats propped up for sale in dry dock, to the modern harbour bridge with its blue Krypton lights showing you the way.

The County Ground is a fine home for Hamworthy, and could easily stage games at a higher level. There’s generous cover behind one goal, but the undoubted star of the stadium is the main stand. It’s beautifully maintained, and painted in club colours. It was a pleasure to watch a game with that as a backdrop.

And what a game it was! Christchurch came into the game with a defensive injury crisis and it showed as Hamworthy raced into a 2 goal lead at the break with Joseph Shovelton applying the coup de grace on both occasions. But if you can’t defend then you may as well attack, and Christchurch did exactly that in the second half.

AFC Bournemouth have just signed teenage winger Harry Cornick, but loaned him back to Christchurch for the rest of the season, and he tormented the defence. His cross found Russell Cook for the first and he was fouled for Ben Osborne’s penalty. His reward was a goal, showing composure to slide the ball home from an angle.

It was an entertaining coda to a busy day, even if I’d found nothing that was remotely unworldly today. With a busy itinery for Saturday though, there was still opportunity.