If Iron Age man had decided to spend generations designing, digging & building the perfect picnic spot, he couldn’t have done a better job than Coney’s Castle.
Located high above the Marshwood Vale, with sweeping views over the Char Valley down to the sea, it boasts some of the most spectacular panoramas in West Dorset. It was probably (there is a lot of ‘probably’ involved in the history of hill forts) built to work as a border post between the local Durotriges and Dumnonii tribes, along with its much larger neighbour, Lamberts Castle. The name probably comes from the Old English word for rabbit, as it was used as a rabbit warren in the Middle Ages.
Located on a lane between Marshwood and Wootton Fitzpaine, there is a National Trust car park, and access is easy either from the car park or the lane.
I particularly love Coney’s Castle partly because of its size: much smaller and more enclosed than many other, more down land style hill forts, it has a much more secret feel to it. Encircled by a ring of ancient beech and oak trees it offers glimpses of the whole Marshwood Vale below, and a walk along the bottom of the ditch between the ramparts has the feel of an ancient hollow way or green lane. At this time of year, it is absolutely carpeted with bluebells, and birds love the open woodland feel.
The centre is a beautifully enclosed ring of peaceful, timeless turf and wild flowers, and is the ideal spot for an evening picnic, watching the sun go down and soaking up the atmosphere.
Being a fairly tiny hill fort with no climb, it is more a gentle amble than a vigorous stomp, but if you want to make a proper walk of it, you have several options. Parking at Lamberts Castle (NT car park off the B3165) is free, and you can easily do both hill forts in one walk. Alternatively, you could park in Wootton Fitzpaine or Abbotts Wootton and walk up (it is A LOT of up!) or park at The Bottle, walk over or around Lamberts, over to Coney’s and back to The Bottle for a CAMRA award winning pint in the beer garden.
Whichever way you get there, you are in for a treat. There is something about Coney’s Castle that makes you feel you are the first person to discover it since Iron Age man last walked there, and with bluebells and the sound of skylarks, it is a jewel in the Marshwood Vale’s crown.