Dunstanburgh Castle

Nestled on a remote headland in Northumberland, Dunstanburgh Castle stands as a testament to medieval architecture and turbulent English history. Built on a magnificent scale, the castle has witnessed political strife, warfare, and centuries of weathering by the North Sea.

Historical Background

The construction of Dunstanburgh Castle began in 1313, spearheaded by Earl Thomas of Lancaster. During this period, tensions between King Edward II and his most powerful baron, Thomas of Lancaster, were at an all-time high. The latest archaeological research suggests that Lancaster's intentions for the castle were more symbolic than military. He aimed to create a fortress that represented his opposition to the king rather than merely a defensive stronghold.

Despite its grandeur, Lancaster's rebellion against the king was unsuccessful. He was captured before reaching Dunstanburgh and executed in 1322. The castle then fell into the hands of John of Gaunt in the 1380s, who fortified it against Scottish attacks by converting the great twin-towered gatehouse into a keep. However, the enhancements made by John of Gaunt, using substandard materials, deteriorated more rapidly than the original structure.

Architectural Significance

Dunstanburgh Castle was once among the largest and grandest fortifications in Northern England. Today, the ruins still evoke a sense of the castle's former glory. The great twin-towered keep is a focal point, offering panoramic views of the dramatic ruins and the rugged coastline. The castle's strategic position on the Great Whinn Sill, a rocky outcrop formed by ancient volcanic activity, underscores its defensive advantages.

Visitors can explore the imposing Lilburn Tower, which provides stunning views north towards Bamburgh Castle. The tower, unlike the typical circular towers of the era, features rectangular walls, possibly due to its elevated position where enhanced defence mechanisms were deemed unnecessary.

The Castle's Role in History

During the Wars of the Roses, Dunstanburgh Castle was a site of fierce conflict. It was besieged and captured twice by Yorkist forces, suffering considerable damage from cannon fire. Despite its strategic importance, the castle fell into decay as the political landscape stabilised and the threat from the Scottish border diminished. By the 1600s, the castle had been sold to private ownership and subsequently neglected.

In the 20th century, the castle found new life when Sir Arthur Sutherland placed it under state guardianship in 1930. During World War II, it served as an observation post, fortified with trenches, pillboxes, and barbed wire. Today, Dunstanburgh Castle is owned by the National Trust and maintained by English Heritage, welcoming visitors to explore its storied past.

Visiting Dunstanburgh Castle

Reaching Dunstanburgh Castle is part of the adventure. The castle is accessible via a scenic 1.3-mile walk from the village of Craster. This coastal trail crosses working farmland, offering breathtaking views of the Northumberland Coast. The walk not only provides a picturesque approach to the castle but also an opportunity to spot local wildlife, such as wading birds and sea urchins, and enjoy the coastal flora.

For those looking to extend their visit, several walking trails offer further exploration of the surrounding area. The Dunstanburgh Castle ghost walk, a short 3-mile trail, adds a spooky element to the visit, with tales of a 16th-century knight haunting the ruins. The Craster to Low Newton coastal walk, a longer 7.7-mile route, provides a more extensive experience of the stunning Northumberland coastline.

Wildlife and Natural Beauty

The area surrounding Dunstanburgh Castle is rich in wildlife. The coastline teems with birds like kittiwakes, oystercatchers, dunlins, and redshanks. The rock pools are habitats for sea creatures such as sea urchins and starfish, especially visible at low tide. The coastal flowers, including the vibrant purple bloody cranesbill and various grasses, add to the natural beauty of the landscape.

Local Delicacies and Further Exploration

After a day of exploring the castle and its surroundings, visitors can enjoy the local delicacy—Craster kippers. These traditional smoked fish provide a taste of the Northumberland Coast, a perfect end to a day of historical exploration.

The Castle's Haunting Legacy

Adding to its mystique, Dunstanburgh Castle is rumoured to be haunted. Legends speak of a hidden room within the gatehouse, waiting to be rediscovered, and the spectre of a knight who roams the ruins.

Key Highlights of Dunstanburgh Castle

  • The Twin-Towered Gatehouse: The most intact part of the castle, offering insights into medieval architecture.
  • Lilburn Tower: An observation post with unique rectangular walls, providing commanding views.
  • The Inner Bailey: A large area within the castle walls that might have been used for farming or livestock.
  • Stunning Coastal Views: The dramatic seascape and natural beauty surrounding the castle.

Dunstanburgh Castle, with its rich history, architectural significance, and natural beauty, offers a fascinating glimpse into England's medieval past. Whether you're drawn by the history, the haunting legends, or the breathtaking views, a visit to Dunstanburgh Castle is a journey back in time that also provides a serene escape from modern life.

You may also like...

Bamburgh Beach

Sandy beaches, a few rocks, large sand dunes and beautiful views of Bamburgh Castle and towards the Farne Islands. A area of true outstanding natural beauty.



the-haven-popDue to a cancellation
The Haven
is now available on the following dates:
Saturday June 25th for 7 nights
Please get in touch if you’re interested in booking