Although it is now about a mile inland, when the early fortress of Dunster Castle was built on the hill in Saxon times, the sea actually lapped around the mound on one side, creating a natural defence. When the sea receded in the 15th century, the Luttrell family created a deer park which can still be enjoyed today.
Visiting Dunster Castle by train
Perhaps the most fun way to spend a day at Dunster Castle is to arrive by steam train from Bishops Lydeard or one of the other small stations along the 20-mile route. This restored steam train runs throughout the summer on Wednesdays and Saturdays and tickets include the one-hour steam train journey and entrance to Dunster Castle. There is also a complimentary heritage bus service to transport visitors from the station to the castle.
Dunster Castle itself is quite impressive, dominating the landscape from its wooded hillside location. Now owned and run by the National Trust, this fine castle stands on the site of an earlier building dating back to Norman times. It was built by William de Mohun, sold to Lady Elizabeth Luttrell in 1376 and remained in the family until 1976.
The castle's fortunes have waxed and waned with time. In 1571, the castle was so dilapidated that the Luttrell family had to live elsewhere. Sir George Luttrell began restoring the castle in 1617 but after a lengthy siege in 1645-46 during the Civil War the main defences were demolished to avoid further uprising against Parliament.
All that remains of the original fortifications are the impressive gatehouse and the ruins of two towers. Most of the existing castle dates back to the 18th century with renovations including a castellated roofline, towers and a huge gateway as a nod to the earlier role of the castle.
Visitors can take a tour of the castle interiors, now laid out as a homely Victorian residence furnished with beautiful 18th century antiques.
Ghostly goings-on in Dunster Castle
Tour guides will tell of supernatural occurrences such as items in the Gift Shop mysteriously falling and a sticky brown substance appearing without cause. The shop is in part of the original stables which are apparently haunted by a man dressed in green. The most haunted room at Dunster Castle is the Leather Gallery where leather wall hangings depict the story of Antony and Cleopatra. Mens voices, footsteps and banging are thought to belong to a royalist soldier who died in the castle grounds. The Blue Kitchen also has some strange tales to tell!
The gardens surrounding Dunster Castle are very pleasant to explore with sub-tropical plants on the terraces. Walk around the grounds enjoying views to Bristol Channel or follow the Family Trail. The estate is pleasantly littered with odd follies. Other highlights to look out for are the oldest lemon tree in England and a collection of strawberry trees.
On special days you may find the castle hosting falconry displays or a re-enactment of a battle as it was under siege by the Parliamentarians during the Civil War.
The charming Exmoor village of Dunster
The village of Dunster is little more than a small village which developed to service the castle in times past. It now has 200 listed buildings which make it a charming place to poke around.
Now cashing in on the number of visitors that flock to Dunster Castle, the village hosts a number of special events. Look out for the Exmoor Country Fair and the Exmoor Food Festival which are held in Dunster along with the Winter Steam Festival and Archery Week. If you are visiting Dunster in spring, a trip to Snowdrop Valley at Wheddon Cross is a real delight.
Dunster High Street is well worth a stroll to admire the characterful cottages, tea rooms, quaint antique shops and historic buildings such as the Old Yarn Market and the Luttrell Arms. There is also a Doll Museum and a working watermill.
Have you visited Dunster Castle or do you live in Dunster? We'd love you to share your local experiences of the village of Dunster and the castle with others ‐ especially if you have experienced some of the ghostly happenings!