Wessex Attractions: St Catherine’s Chapel

St Catherine's is a 14th century chapel in Abbotsbury, Dorset. It was popularly believed up until the late 19th century that invoking St Catherine in prayer would help young women to find a husband. The south doorway contains three "wishing holes". Local women in the area would place a knee in one and a hand in each of the other two, and offer up a prayer to the saint. One can only assume that Dorset's isolated nature kept it safe from Protestant strictures against "popish superstition" so long after the English reformation.

The chapel is now managed by English Heritage, though church services are still held there a few times a year. It is free to visit. The satnav postcode is DT3 4JH, and it is served by buses 253, X53 and (on Wednesdays) 61.

Wessex Attractions: The Grange, Northington

The Grange at Northington in Hampshire is one of the finest examples of Greek revival architecture in England. Originally built in the Palladian style, it was radically transformed in the early part of the 19th century by architect William Wilkins at the behest of its owner, Henry Drummond, who had it rebuilt in the Doric style to resemble a Greek temple. Drummond disliked the result, however, and in 1817 sold the house to Alexander Baring, of the well-known Anglo-German banking family.

In 1964, the Baring family obtained planning permission to demolish the house, but it was saved by a public outcry, and taken into state ownership in 1975. Today, it is owned by English Heritage and used as a venue for opera performances. The Grange Festival takes place in June and July each year, and the house is open for exterior viewing the rest of the year.

Wessex Attractions: Old Sarum

Old Sarum is an iron age hill fort, dating back to c400 BC, that was the original site of what later became Salisbury. It was continuously occupied during the Roman period and a mint was recorded there in 1003. Its original cathedral was built shortly after the Norman invasion of England, as was a motte-and-bailey castle. It was at the latter that the Bastard gathered his nobles in 1086 to swear the Oath of Sarum, a loyalty oath which centralised power in his hands that had previously been delegated to local reeves.

According to legend, the site of the cathedral was moved in 1220 to another one two miles away after an archer shot an arrow into the valley to determine where it should be built. Two miles seems a long way to shoot an arrow, but one variation of the legend is that the archer hit a deer which then ran for that distance before finally expiring.

The Norman castle remained in use until the 15th century, after which Old Sarum was largely abandoned in favour of the newer town. It continued to send members to Parliament until the Reform Act of 1832, however, one of two so-called "rotten boroughs" in Wessex (the other being Newtown on the Isle of Wight).

Today, Old Sarum is maintained by English Heritage. Advance booking is recommended, via their website.

Wessex Attractions: Totnes Castle

Totnes is best-known as the landing site of Brutus of Troy in Geoffrey of Monmouth's origin myth for Britain. But it also houses one of the best-preserved Norman castles in England. After William the Bastard invaded in 1066, he ordered a string of castles built in order to subjugate the native English population. Saxon Totnes was a thriving market town on the River Dart, with a mint. The castle was thought to have been built by one Juhel de Totnes, a Breton commander in the Bastard's army, later passing to the De La Zouche family.

Today, the castle is owned by English Heritage. It is currently closed due to lockdown.

The postcode, for satnav purposes, is  TQ9 5NU.

Wessex Attractions: Stoney Littleton Long Barrow

Stoney Littleton is an example of an easily accessible neolithic long barrow near the village of Wellow in Somerset. Dating from around 3500 BC, it is a barrow of the Cotswold-Severn type, measuring around 100 feet by 40 feet.

The barrow was first excavated around 1760, though perhaps raided would be a better word. The landowner, a local farmer, plundered it in search of building stone. Sadly, most of the original contents have since been lost or stolen, but the barrow was restored to its original specifications in 1857.

The approach to the barrow takes the visitor over landscapes that remain largely unchanged since neolithic times. The postcode, for satnav purposes, is BA2 8NR. The nearest bus service is Somerbus service 757, which only runs once a week and drops you a mile away from the actual site.