5 of Dorset's strangest myths and mysteries

When Rupert brought his Conker Gin distillery to Dorset, it was the start of a whole new era for Bournemouth and the surrounding area. But, with a history dating back to the Neolithic era, this beautiful part of the country has many mysteries worth remembering. Let’s take a walk through the Dorset of days past with these peculiar legends…

1. Maiden Castle UFOs

maiden castle ufo dorset

One of the biggest mysteries of Dorset is why the hill fort of Maiden Castle (located just outside Dorchester) seems to be a magnet for UFO sightings. For years there have been reports of strange crafts being spotted in the sky and the appearance of crop circles in the area. Some Forteans argue that these stories may be related to an old folk tale about Maiden Castle, where a piper stumbled into the castle – enticed by lively music – and was tricked by a band of faeries into piping for them for over a hundred years. This sort of encounter has its parallels with modern-day ‘abduction’ stories regarding UFOs, but this connection may be a bit of a stretch…

2. Singing Marys

singing marys

Along the Ridgeway between Weymouth and Dorchester is a set of long barrows, ridges in the hillsides that were used as burial sites in ancient times. According to reports, at certain times these ridges can be heard making strange sounds, or ‘singing’. No good explanation for this has ever been given, but the phenomena has occurred enough for locals to have nicknamed the long barrows the ‘Singing Marys’!

3. Mer-Chicken of Portland

rooster dorset

One of the areas more whimsical legends, this one dates back to Holinshed’s Chronicles from 1457. In his chronicles, Raphael Holinshed describes a creature that is half chicken, half person, with legs ‘halfe a yarde long’ and a great red beard, that rose up from the seas of Portland. The giant chicken was said to have stood on the water, crowed four times, bobbed his head in all four directions and then retreated back into the sea. Sounds ridiculous? It very may well be.

4. Cerne Abbas Giant

cerne abbas giant dorset

One of Dorset’s most important folkloric figures, the Cerne Abbas Giant is a 55m carving of a naked man in the white-chalk rocks of Cerne Valley. Experts have had a hard time dating the exact history of the figure, as news and land surveys don’t acknowledge its existence until the late 17th century; but it is possible that it dates back to Britain’s Iron Age. It has been suggested that the Giant is an ancient Saxon deity, a Celtic god, or Hercules – the latter being the most generally agreed upon resemblance. Archaeologists have discovered old lines that suggest the Giant once held a cloak and a decapitated head in his arm, further increasing the resemblance to Hercules.

5. Tarrant Gunville Vampire

St Mary Church Tarrant Gunville

In 1845, men working on rebuilding a church in the village of Tarrant Gunville supposedly came across an eerily well-preserved corpse. Local legend deemed it to be that of William Dogget, the steward of a grand manor who shot himself in the 16th century after being unable to repay his massive debts. The ghost of ‘Old Doggett’ had been haunting the town for decades, according to reports; in those days, it was believed that suicide was cursed and that those who committed it were doomed to roam the earth for eternity as ghouls or vampires. After discovering the corpse (complete with vampire teeth, apparently), the body was disposed of in the "accepted way" for a vampire and the hauntings in the village ceased.