Until July 2017, documenting the seasons of coastal Dorset. I'm a complete amateur so don't trust I'm always right. If ever you see I'm wrong - whether with identifications or in anything else - do say! Meanwhile . . . I've now moved to Halifax in West Yorkshire. Click on the link below to collect the new URL. Don't forget to follow there!

Saturday, 3 March 2012


I rely much on the internet for information. This time, I’ve come a cropper. Think back to the Iron Ages in southern Britain. Oh bother. What do I know of the Iron Ages? Which of its 843 years am I talking about?

The 800 gives a rough idea of time span. The 43 is because 43AD is when Romans invaded. New rulers. New conventions. New architecture. New roads! It didn’t happen over night but, given the overall sweep of history, it brought about some pretty abrupt changes and, in some parts of the country, we are still walking in straight lines. (The Romans liked safe, straight roads with empty wide bits on either side so you could see if anyone was coming at you). In some places, we are also walking around what’s left of what came before - the tumuli and hill-forts of the Ancient Britons (Celts).

Last year's leaf, still on a bramble.
One of the largest and most famous is Maiden Castle - and it’s right here in Dorset, almost part of Dorchester itself. You go through a housing estate and past a Junior School - and there it is.

Not that it has anything to do with Maidens. And it isn’t a castle as one would usually expect a castle to be. The fist time I went there, I was bewildered. I was expecting huge blocks of stone, towers and turrets. Instead, I was taken up a steep hill with its head shaved off to create a flat area the size of fifty football pitches on top.

A very English method of calculation this. We kept ‘feet’ when we dropped rods and bushels, and decided to use football pitches and tennis courts rather than the newly introduced 'hectares'. (Not that many people apart from farmers ever knew what an acre looked like!) And, nowadays, if we want to indicate surprisingly long distances we measure them by unravelled intestines. That’s when we’re not working out how far round and round a tennis court someone’s gut will go! We’ll be consulting entrails about the weather next!

And around it (that is, around Maiden Castle) is a series of ditches. And these ditches aren’t what I’d call ditches, any more than I’d call the hill a castle. They are deep, dug out gullies. (The amount of effort that went into creating all this must have been stupendous!) They make climbing the hill harder and  increase the distance from bottom to top - so invasion is more difficult than it would be otherwise. Maybe the people who lived there . . . (or fled there or whatever they did there apart from protect themselves and their cattle) . . . maybe they filled them with thorns or something. (Fire! ?) I don’t know. That’s what I would have done but I’m not going to find out whether they anticipated my advice because it’s not to the point. I’m wanting to talk neither about Maiden Castle nor about thorns in ditches - but about a thistle. And not even a thistle on Maiden Castle but on a mini-maiden-castle on another edge of the town - Poundbury Tumulus.

This is where the internet runs out. I can’t find anything about this other ‘hill’. (Which isn't to say there isn’t anything about it - just that I’m not spending the morning looking and looking when it’s sunny outside and we’re expecting rain for later.)

A Roman Road runs along the foot and it’s smaller and shorter than Maiden Castle but, otherwise, it looks just like it - and it has a tumulus (a burial mound) on top.

Come to think of it. It isn’t quite the same. On Maiden Castle, the huge, smooth area on top is exposed. Maybe there used to be a wooden fence or a stockade or something like that up there, if only to keep the wind out, let alone enemy tribes. (And Romans.) (Not that it did.) (The Romans were unstoppable.) But Poundbury Tumulus has a neat ‘wall’ of earth round the top, piled high and impacted. It creates a sort of amphitheatre effect.

Here we are on the top.
You can see the earthen 'ramparts' going off into the distance.

It was all last Thursday. I was on my way to meet Kit Berry (who writes the Stonewylde books). She was on her way to a World Book Day event and we were planning to find each other in a cafe at half-past-one. I had set out early, hoping to take photographs of the huge cranes which were looming out of the mist on a nearby building site. They looked very dramatic. Somehow, though, I got diverted and ended up walking round the ramparts of my new discovery. (Not that I am the first to have found it. There are gates and notices and a wheelchair entrance. (Wheelchair entrance!)

I could, of course, have gone straight into this big, open area in the middle - but the highest bit was too tempting. Not that I could pay attention to much once I was up there - I had to concentrate on not feeling giddy or slipping on the narrow path - until the way along it sort of petered out and I came back down into the big, grassy area in the middle - where I met a thistle.

The thistle is flat against the ground
- just beyond the yellow blob in the middle.

The mist had largely cleared by then - but the thistle was hanging onto the dew that had fallen from it and it shimmered white in the middle of the green grass. It was about a foot across and flat - and I’ve learnt (from other iSpot members) that it’s a Spear Thistle (Cirsium vulgare). In a place seething with military history (fifty-one decapitated Vikings were uncovered during preparation for a new road) - it's not a bad name!

(Unless, of course, it's a Woolly Thistle (Cirsium eriophorum) opinion is wavering!)

(Or a Musk Thistle (Carduus nutans) . . . waver, waver!)

Drawn closer to see what it is.

There was nothing around it but short grass (I don’t know how many football pitches worth!) and it was lovely. Absolutely, lovely. There were none like it nearby . . . it was just there - like a flattened crown that had been absolutely plastered with diamonds and embroidered with fine white feathers. Sorry to wax lyrical about a thistle but . . .

For 'A Weekend in Black and White'
click the bridge.

* * *
The Sub-section!
At the top of the post, a blackberry leaf dies.
At the bottom - new leaves are beginning to break.
There aren't many of these yet either -
but before long there will be acres
of brambles.
(Not sure how many football pitches!)

Tree Following

* * *

Down by the Sea
Tree Following 2

On the Edge
Beech Bark

Garden's Eye View
Ash Stump
(amongst other

Gardening Ways
(London Plane)

Lichfield Lore
Take a Bough

Willow's Woolly
Flowering Cherry

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Toffeeapple said...

That is a spectacular thistle, I hope you get a firm identification of it.

I was totally unaware of Maiden Castle and Poundbury tumulus they obviously didn't feature in my history or geography lessons at school in Wales...

Leovi said...

Very nice photos, I love these plants and especially the leaf of the first picture, a true work of art. Greetings.

Elephant's Eye said...

After it has read this post, it will definitely be a spear thistle!

Carver said...

Very interesting post and photographs.

NatureFootstep said...

we have that thistle too. At least I think it is the same. No place to go barefooted.
Interesting article. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

A very FLAT thistle!
I was on an archaeological dig at a Roman cemetery in Poundbury in the 1970s (the summer with the big drought). I think it's the same Poundbury, Dorchester.
Always loved Maiden Castle, too, up among the skylarks.
Keep up the good work :)

Donna said...

Great history there and that is one heck of a thistle...I wouldn't want to come across that in my garden.

~Willow~ said...

great blog! yes on holiday in Glocestershire M took me to a 'fort' which was just a big hill with a flat top the size of 100 football pitches (how big is a football pitch anyway?)... imagine my disapointment lol.
I came across one of those thistles in the frost in January... gorgeous aren't they?
blessings, Willow x

Mark Willis said...

We learn such a lot from your posts! A great mixture of history, and art. No need to apologize for the thistle. It is absolutely amazing and very beautiful Why does no-one grow them as garden plants?

Birgitta said...

Interesting and great photos!


Genie said...

L really enjoyed reading all of the interesting history you included with your photos. Quite a climb up there to the top. The thistles you are showing are very different from the ones I got stuck by in Ireland. It was awful. The things made me ill. Just say the word thistle and my heart starts pounding. Your is low to the ground where mine were tall bushes. Great post. genie

Appalachian Feet said...

Very glad to see thistles photographed like rock stars (allll the details). Also, your Iron Age comments remind me yet again of the youth of all of the "historic" districts near me.

Donna said...

Lucy just a few images of my ash trees and fab stump..


Forest Keepers said...

I love how it caught the morning dew more than anything else around it. Really makes it stand out. Wouldn't want to find that one while barefoot.

Down by the sea said...

That thistle is amazing and your photos of the ramparts are really good. I have been walking up at Poundbury Ramparts on many occasions, and hadn't noticed such big thistles before I will have to look at things more closely!

Lina Gustina said...

It's my first time to see it. Very lovely!