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Hambledon Hill, Dorset

Hambledon Hill courtesy National Trust The spectacular Hambledon Hill is one of the finest Iron Age hillforts in Dorset.

Built over 2,000 years ago, the massive earthwork defences overlie one of the most significant early Neolithic landscapes in Western Europe, dating back almost 6000 years and is a place that half of British butterfly species call home.

Designated a National Natural Reserve in 1992, twenty-eight species of butterfly, including the Adonis Blue, Dark Green Fritillary and Green Hairstreak, have been recorded here. This nationally important chalk grassland site is also home to at least five species of orchids, such as the Autumn Lady’s Tresses, glow worms, brown hare and a good population of kestrels and meadow pipits.

Standing at almost twice the height of the White Cliffs of Dover and taller than the Gherkin in London, Hambledon Hill occupies an area of land the size of 50 football pitches. From the summit of the hillfort you can see across three counties – Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire – and get a real sense of its prehistoric strategic importance.

National Trust archaeologist Martin Papworth explains why Hambledon Hill is such a special place for the story it tells of the British Isles over thousands of years: “Dorset is internationally renowned for its hillforts. Hambledon Hill is of pre-eminent significance and only challenged by Maiden Castle for the successive phases of Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age archaeological features contained within its ramparts.

However, Hambledon’s archaeological earthworks and buried features are far better preserved and more clearly visible on the ground than at Maiden Castle because they haven’t been ploughed.

Hambledon overlies part of an exceptional complex of Neolithic causewayed enclosures, used by academics and experts to illustrate the nature of our earliest farming societies over 5,500 years ago.

Hambledon’s remains include evidence for communal occupation, feasting, conflict, exhumation and burial. Finds of polished axes from the Lake District, Wales and Cornwall demonstrate its wide-ranging importance for trade and exchange at this time.

The continuing significance of Hambledon for burial is demonstrated by the Neolithic long barrow (around 3500-3000BC) that occupies the crest of the hill and the five Early Bronze Age round barrows (around 2200-1600 BC) that lie around it.

The visual impact of the site is enhanced by the drama of its massive sinuous ramparts and ditches. They follow the contours of the hill, replacing a Late Bronze Age (around 1000-800BC) settlement enclosure.

Throughout the Iron Age, this imposing landscape statement developed as a complex of defensive earthworks with additional ramparts and gateway outworks added at various times from around 600BC. Within the defences are the terraces for over 300 round houses enabling visitors to walk down streets and visualise a thriving community.

Today’s stunning views across the Blackmoor Vale into Wiltshire and Somerset offer an immediate understanding of the prehistoric advantage of this strategic place.

Hambledon is the northern archaeological partner to Hod Hill which shares this chalk outlier defined by the rivers Iwerne to the east and Stour to the south and west. Hod has little occupation evidence from early prehistory but becomes increasingly dominant from around 300BC. Hambledon holds the evidence for earliest British prehistoric settlement and Hod continues the story up to the Roman Conquest.

Hambledon and Hod are two halves of a whole and are of such importance that joint conservation ownership and management offers the best conservation protection for these exceptional sites.”

Information courtesy National Trust
Photo courtesy and copyright National Trust

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