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Dunstanburgh

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Dunstanburgh Castle lies on a spectacular headland on the coast of Northumberland in northern England, between the villages of Craster and Embleton.

There is no road to it and the easiest approach is along a glorious grassy path from Craster, a distance of about a mile. The track is close to the rocks and the sea all the way till the last slight climb to the headland. The main ruins are in sight all the way. The way from Embleton is about two miles down a small road and along a golf-course with the view on this side of the 100 ft.cliffs on the seaward side. The track then skirts round the base of the hill and climbs up to the entrance from the south.

In this photograph the Lilburn Tower is towards the centre.
At the right is the keep (which is also the gatehouse),
and to the left the cliff drops away suddenly.

The castle is the largest in Northumberland and the site has shown traces of much earlier occupation before the erection of the castle was started in 1313 by the Earl of Lancaster[?].

Approaching the castle from the south, there are signs of medieval rig-and-furrow on the slope leading up to it probably to grow food to provide sustenance for the inhabitants and inside there are the remains of an oven, there is a well and foundations of what was possibly a farm. The site has its own natural defence in the mighty basaltic cliff and the curtain wall encloses the rest. At the southeast corner is the Egyncleugh Tower, also known as Queen Margaret's Tower as she was said to have escaped from a siege by being lowered to the sea. The wall west from there gives way about half-way along its length to the Constable's Tower then reaches the main entrance set between two gigantic semi-circular towers used as the Keep. A lot of the structure survives in this area and it is possible to climb the stairs in one of the towers where the overall view is wonderful. At one time it was possible to visit a dungeon and the excitement of climbing down was increased by the fact that the custodian at that time was a Craster man with a hook in place of one hand and he used to hang his oil-lamp on the hook whilst he related the history.

The wall continues from the Keep, turns along the west side past John o' Gaunt's gateway (a later addition) to the Lilburn Tower and the adjoining postern gate. It then goes along the north side till it reaches the great cliff where it is not needed. Another section goes along the east side till it returns to the Egyncleugh Tower.

Like all good old castles, this one has its ghost known by the name of Sir Guy the Seeker and one version of the story tells of him trying to help a damsel in distress and failing to make the right moves. He never did rescue her. The castle was not always fenced in and it could be an eerie experience to walk over the inner ward on a dark night, particularly scary when a sheep sheltering in the ruins might dash suddenly across the grass.

The castle did not play a significant part in the border warfare against Scotland. In the Wars of the Roses it was a Lancastrian stronghold, changing hands once or twice and suffering damage when besieged. It gradually fell into ruin,a report in 1538 quoting it as being a "very reuynus howsse and of smalle strength" and another source in 1550 describing it as in "wonderfull great decaye" It continued to deteriorate and it was robbed of stone for the building of other places in the area. But it still stands.

This photograph shows more clearly the isolation of the castle
on its raised and mostly cliff-surrounded site.

It is now owned by the National Trust and in the care of English Heritage.

External links

  • This excellent aerial photo (http://www.northumberland.gov.uk/vg/images/duncas.jpg) of the site shows very clearly the layout and the relationship between the fortifications and the cliffs. (Northumberland County Council, copyright)



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