The county town of Dorset, DORCHESTER still functions as the main agricultural centre for the region, and is liveliest on Wednesdays – market day. Fanning out around a pleasant central core of mostly seventeenth-century and Georgian buildings, the town has strong historical and literary associations. The surrounding area also has its share of ancient sites, notably at prehistoric Maiden Castle and Cerne Abbas, whose enormously priapic chalk-carved giant, seven miles north, is the county's most photographed site.
For many, Dorchester is essentially Thomas Hardy's town; he was born at Higher Bockhampton, three miles east of here, his heart is buried in Stinsford, a couple of miles northeast (the rest of him is in Westminster Abbey), and he spent much of his life in Dorchester itself, where his statue now stands on High West Street. The town appears in his novels as Casterbridge, and the countryside all around is evocatively depicted, notably the wild heathland of the east (Egdon Heath) and the eerie yew forest of Cranborne Chase.