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Dunstanburgh Castle (Northumberland)

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Dunstanburgh Castle is now largely ruinous although it rated at one time among the largest and grandest castles in the north of England. Dating from the 14th century, the castle was protected on two sides by the sheer cliff face and the sea. Craster, Alnw

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    • More +
      07.11.2009 19:05
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      One of the most beautiful ruined castles in England

      Dunstanburgh castle is one of the most romantic and dramatic castles that I have ever visited. It is a beautiful ruin, high up on a crag above the crashing waves of the North Sea, with the remains of the tower rising up into the sky, defying gravity as it perches on a thin remnant of remaining wall. It can only be reached on foot, and this makes the setting and atmosphere even more authentic, as there is no sign of modern life at all once you get there. No huge car park to spoil the view, no tarmac roads- in fact, if you look in the right direction and squint, you could have been transported back 100 years.

      ~~Getting there~~

      The views along the 1 ¼ mile walk from Craster were harsh and dramatic, as only Northumberland can be - and really added to the enjoyment. It took about 20 minutes to walk along the flat and grassy cliff, alongside white topped waves that crashed against the black rocks. There was a fairly steady stream of tourists walking in a straggly line out to the castle gates, with seabirds wheeling overhead. The walk was not difficult for anybody in average health - can be taken as slowly or as quickly as you want. We did see a land rover driving over the grass to and from the castle, and wondered if this could be providing transport for those with a disability. Unfortunately we did not get to confirm this.

      It is also possible to walk to the castle from the village of Embleton - a very slightly longer coastal walk of 1 ½ miles. We chose to park at Craster and spend some time looking around this charming little seaside village, with it's harbour, smokehouses and fishermen's cottages.

      ~~history~~

      Once one of the largest and grandest fortifications in northern England, Dunstanburgh Castle was built between 1313 and 1316 by the powerful, Earl Thomas of Lancaster, nephew to King Edward I.

      He built it as a stronghold to protect himself from the wrath of King Edward II, to whom he was openly hostile, but the huge area within the castle also enabled local people to shelter there with their animals during Scottish Raids. The huge scale of the castle was also a symbol of his opposition to the King, and features such as the innovative gatehouse openly competed with the new royal Welsh castles.

      Earl Thomas' rebellion was eventually defeated, and he was executed by the King. The castle then passed into the hands of John of Gaunt, who considered the castles' defences inadequate against the might of the Scots, and made considerable changes to strengthen the structure, mainly by converting the great twin towered gatehouse into a keep. The focus of fierce fighting during the Wars of the Roses, it was twice besieged and captured by Yorkist forces (1455 - 1485), but by 1550 sources were describing it as in "wonderfull great decaye" after it had suffered heavy damage from cannons, leaving the castle in ruins. It continued to deteriorate locals began to take the stone to build their own houses.

      The last private owner was Sir Arthur Sutherland who donated the castle to the Ministry of Works in 1929, by which stage there was little left. In 1930 a journalist wrote: "Dunstanburgh is morose: it stands welded to the wild outcrop of whinstone, Northumberland's most neglected castle". The castle is now owned by the National Trust and in the care of English Heritage - the ruins have been preserved and turned into an atmospheric, eerie monument to power and warfare. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Grade I listed building.

      ~~the castle~~

      The castle can be seen from the very beginning of the walk from Craster. At first it appears as a tiny thing, silhouetted on the horizon, but as you get closer and closer the grandeur of the gatehouse creeps up on you as you start to understand its huge proportions.

      The entrance to the castle probably provides the most fun and excitement for younger visitors. The gatehouse keep has several floors still intact, with ramp crossing over open spaces from one staircase to another. It is possible to climb up inside the towers of the gatehouse to re-live past battles as you look through arrowslits and down latrine holes. Climbing up to the top of the towers, you can look eastwards across the flat plains, as well as westwards, down the cliffs to the sea - and appreciate exactly why the castle was built in this unassailable location. There is enough left intact in this part of the castle for children to imagine and enact the battles that once took place here.

      The castle walls encircle 11 acres of headland, and walking around them proved some lovely views up and down the coast. At the most northerly end the largely intact Lilburn Tower looks up the coast to Bamburgh castle. For me, this tower brought a true flavour of life in the 1300s, as a sign told us that it was built so that it was very visible from Bamburgh, where the King was often in residence. Earl Thomas hoped that by making this tower so large and visible to his enemy, he would create constant thorn in King Edward's side. I stood at this tower for some time - it is a fairly isolated part of the castle with steep very steep cliffs looking down onto the rocks on two sides. Although I was standing among ruins, the sense of history and the connection with the past was strong. This would have been the area where the locals took their animals for shelter and protection, and I could not only feel the strength and reassurance that the castle provided, but also see the threat as I looked up to Bamburgh.

      ~~
      I found Dunstanburgh one of the most atmospheric castles in England. The isolation combined with the location, high up on the cliffs gives it a very special feel. Locals rumour that it is haunted, and I can well believe it - the feeling of melancholy and nostalgia that came upon me as I wandered round could well have come from the souls of those who had died in its defence.

      .~~practicalities~~

      Although all of the publicity had told us there were toilet facilities at the castle, we were less than pleased to be greeted by a large notice at the castle gates, telling us that there were no toilets available. It is wise to be prepared of this - and also the lack of refreshments after your walk. The ticket office sells a very small selection of cold snacks and drinks, but it is sensible to set out on yor walk with ample supplies in a backpack.

      ~~opening~~

      Opening hours:
      April - September, 10.00am to 6.00pm October, 10.00am to 4.00pm 1 November - 31 March, Wed Sun, 10.00am to 4.00pm.

      Parking: at Craster 1¹⁄₄ miles away

      Admission prices:£3.50, child £1.80. Free to National Trust and English Heritage members.

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      • More +
        07.10.2009 15:55
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        The largest and most remote castle in Northumberland.

        I am fortunate in that living in the North East of England, Northumberland is right on my doorstep. Despite visiting the castles and heritage sites of Northumberland regularly over the years, I had never visited Dunstanburgh Castle until last week.

        I had seen the castle on TV, photographs and paintings, but actually visiting the castle was most impressive, not only because it is such a dramatic ruin, but also because of its very remote setting on the coast. I read that Turner painted the castle many times, often getting up at the crack of dawn to do so!

        The castle occupies a prominent headland inbetween Embleton and Craster. From Craster there is a gentle slope towards the castle, and from Embleton the approach is much steeper, as the northern perimeter juts into Embleton Bay forming a 150ft cliff.

        Dunstanburgh Castle was built by the ruthless Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who began construction of the fortress in 1313. Thomas was executed in 1322 and by this time the castle was mostly completed.
        The new owner, John of Gaunt extended the castle, and it later became a Lancastrian stronghold and suffered enormous damgage during the Wars of the Roses.
        After this, the castle fell steadily into decay, and over the years continued to deteriorate. Stone was taken from the castle to build other places in the area.
        The castle was donated to the Minisitry of Works in 1929 by its last private owner and is now owned by the National Trust, and managed by English Heritage.

        I had read that the castle can only be accessed on foot and involved a walk along the cliff tops. I was advised by the Tourist Information Centre that the castle could be reached from the village of Craster. I later found out on my visit that it can also be reached from Embleton (again on foot only). I believe I must have been advised to access the castle from Craster due to it being the easier approach of the two.

        Whilst driving south along the coast to Craster I caught my first glimpse of the castle occupying the headland on a very lonely stretch of coastline.
        On arriving in Craster, you come to a car park before entering the village. We parked our car and set off walking the short distance into the village which owes its name to the Craster family who have lived in nearby Craster Tower since the early 15th century.

        Craster is a pretty fishing village with a thriving harbour and a history of being famous for its smokehouses, which remain to this day.
        Walking along past the harbour you come to a signpost at the end of a row of cottages pointing you in the direction of the castle which is visible in the distance. I must point out though that it is a 1.5 mile walk from this point up to the castle!

        Entering through a gate you follow the pathways along the coastline up to the castle. The walk is mostly flat until you are very near the castle, then it slopes upwards to the entrance.
        There were many people strolling up along the walk to the castle and back, as well as fishermen. Dogs are allowed, but they must be kept on a leash as there are cows in the field.

        As you are walking along and up towards the castle the scenery is beautiful, and the ruins of the castle sit majestically on the headland. I loved the remoteness of it all, and I think it is this lonely setting which makes it such an amazing place to visit.
        The fact you have to walk to the castle may be a disadvantage for some, but the fact it cannot be reached by car adds to the beauty of the place in my opinion.

        On reaching the castle you notice it is protected by a long wall with two rectangular towers, turrets and a massive gatehouse, which served as the principal residential block of the castle. Chambers furnished with fireplaces are found in the towers and the gatehouse. From here, the wall carries northwards to a turreted watchtower, known as the Lilburn Tower. There is a large amount of land in the middle of the castle which is said to have been a billeting area for troops.
        The castle is much larger than I imagined it to be, and I did not know prior to my visit that it is the largest in Northumberland. I found it very impressive.

        If you wish to enter the castle then there is a charge of £3.50 for adults and £1.80 for children.
        There are many folk who just seem to enjoy the 3 mile round trip walk to the castle and back without entering. Of course they may have visited previously, live in Craster, or be on holiday there. I know I will return and walk up to the castle again, but probably won't enter next time.

        I joined the many visitors taking photographs and because it was a dark, cloudy and humid day, the castle had an eerie feel about it. Very atmospheric!

        I thoroughly enjoyed my walk to Dunstanburgh Castle and can highly recommend a visit.

        There is a small gift shop selling souvenirs, postcards etc and hot drinks and snacks are also available.

        The castle is open seven days a week from 10am - 4pm from 1st April - 30th Oct. From 2nd Nov - 30th March it is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The last admission is 30 mins before closing time.

        For further information email dunstanburghcastle@nationaltrust.org.uk or telephone 01665 576231.

        Dunstanburgh Castle
        Craster
        Northumberland
        NE66 3TT

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