Dunster by Candlelight is one of the most magical December events you can imagine. Set in a quaint mediaeval village, Dunster by Candlelight traditionally takes place on the first Friday and Saturday in December.
I have to confess we've strayed just over the border into West Somerset for this wonderful event, but it really is worth the visit. If you have enjoyed visiting Dunster and its famous castle during daylight hours, you can appreciate that when this preserved village turns its back on modernday trappings and lights its streets with candles and lanterns, it is absolutely enchanting. The floodlit castle can be seen on the hill above the village and adds to the amazing setting.
Dunster by Candlelight starts on the Friday evening from 5pm to 9pm and then resumes on the Saturday from 4pm to 9pm. The best way to plan your visit is by purchasing a programme of what's happening and where. You can buy one from local shops and the Exmoor Visitor Centre from October onwards. They cost £1 with all proceeds going to St Margaret's Hospice.
Although the event feels like a continuation of a centuries-old event, it was actually started in 1986 by Hannah Bradshaw and the local traders. The event is now organized by the Candlelight Committee with the aim of boosting trade, having fun and raising funds for the local hospice in Taunton.
Park and ride for Dunster by Candlelight
Eleventh century town planners unfortunately didn't have hordes of motor coaches and cars in mind when West Street, the oldest street in the village, was built. Consequently parking and access is limited to pedestrians only on the Candlelight evenings.
Visitors have to use the Park and Ride buses which run continuously from Minehead, Watchet, Wheddon Cross and Porlock. Parking is free and the return bus fare for adults is around £3. The buses also stop to pick up residents from various villages along the way such as Williton, Washford and Timberscombe, but there is no prearranged car parking for visitors.
Entertainment and music at Dunster by Candlelight
So, after the hassle of getting to Dunster, what should you expect to see and do? The Friday evening starts with a Lantern Lighting procession about 5:30pm and the procession goes down the street lighting all the candles and lanterns in a ceremony straight from a Dickens novel. Most of the procession are local families and children who turn out in all sorts of fancy dress and mediaeval costumes. They are accompanied by stilt walkers in fabulous costumes who come in very handy for lighting the higher lanterns!
The whole village is abuzz with carol singers, morris dancers, hand bell ringers, an old fairground organ pumping out merry music and choirs performing in the Parish Church. It is really exciting and puts a smile on everyone's faces, from the youngest to the oldest visitor.
Shops and restaurants in Dunster
Most of Dunster's lovely shops are open and decorated for Christmas. It's a great place to find arts and crafts, leather goods, crystals, jewellery, purses, accessories, preserves and deli items.
If you specifically want to buy something Christmassy, there's Dunster Christmas Shop which is open all year round, but really comes into its own in December. It sells luxury decorations, hand painted baubles and beautiful Christmas wreaths so you can really deck your home out with some lovely things.
The Garden Shop also has decorative indoor and outdoor items for the season and the deli is piled high with local cheese, cured meats, preserves and gourmet food gift items along with cider and wines. I also spotted some twinkling fairies and angels in the 5Quarters on the High Street.
During Dunster by Candlelight the High Street is also lined with stalls of crafts and food. Alternatively, pop into one of the tea rooms or pubs and enjoy a glass of mulled wine, hot spiced cider and a plate of comfort food. You will definitely need to book ahead if you want to enjoy a meal at the Stag's Head or the Yarn Market Hotel.
Have you been fortunate enough to attend Dunster by Candlelight in previous years? We'd love you to add your comments and impressions in our comments box below.