Dunstanburgh Castle – The Mighty Ruins of Northumberland (History & Travel Tips)

-

As one of England’s most stunning medieval castles, Dunstanburgh enjoys an interesting history and is definitely an evocative site to visit. It’s protected under the “Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act” so if you’re a hardcore history buff or simply want to experience a nice cultural annotation to the area, then it’s a great place to visit. Let’s look at its history, current condition, and what it has to offer today:

There’s an interesting ghost story pertaining to Dunstanburgh, where there’s a secret room in the gatehouse that requires rediscovery.

Dunstanburgh Castle and its structure with green surroundings.
A closer view of Dunstanburgh Castle and its structure. Dunstanburgh Castle flickr photo by Tim . Simpson shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license
Advertisements

Frequently Asked Questions

FOR HISTORY | BEAUTIFUL IMAGES | INTERESTING FACTS | TRAVEL TIPS

Early History

History of the Lands (Pre-13th Century)

Before Dunstanburgh Castle was built as we see it today, the lands on which it sits belonged to Simon de Montfort – the owner of Kenilworth in Warwickshire. He died in the Evesham kerfuffle and his lands were passed on to Edward I – the father of Thomas Plantagenet, the mastermind behind Dunstanburgh Castle.

An 1838 artistic rendering of Dunstanburgh Castle.
An 1838 artistic rendering of Dunstanburgh Castle. Artist: T. Allom – Engraved by: J. Sands, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Lancaster Heritage (1313-1322)

Dunstanburgh Castle had its origins on a site that had been active prehistorically, though the actual castle was built by the Earl of Lancaster (known as Thomas) in 1313. He was quite a wealthy aristocrat of his time and built Dunstanburgh as a symbol of his power in Northumberland. Initially, he didn’t have the imperial seal of approval for crenelating the castle, but during his brief reconciliation with Edward II, he managed to get a license to add crenellations to the castle in 1316.

Eventual Fall to Ruins

The 15th and 16th centuries saw Dunstanburgh Castle falling into a state of extreme decline. It became strategically weak because of its remote location and distance from the Scottish border. It was also very large to maintain; the decaying condition of the walls made it a highly tempting solution for sourcing materials for other outposts in the area.

A portrait of Thomas Plantagenet, Earl of Lancaster.
A portrait of Thomas Plantagenet, Earl of Lancaster. I.A. Atkinson (engraver), i.e. John Augustus Atkinson, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Last Owners (1594-1605)

Alice Craster, a widow at the time, took up residence in the only habitable place at Dunstanburgh at the time – the gatehouse. She lived there for quite some time and used the lands to operate a farming estate, until James I sold the castle upon the English-Scottish reunion. In 1605, it became the property of Sir Ralph Grey, who also owned Howick Hall located near Dunstanburgh.

The architectural structure of Dunstanburgh Castle.
The architectural structure of Dunstanburgh Castle. Glen Bowman from Newcastle, England, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Current Times

There were multiple ownership changes of Dunstanburgh Castle in the 19th and 20th centuries, which included the Earl of Tankerville, of the Bennet family; Samuel Eyres; Sir Arthur Sutherland; and several more. It wasn’t until 1929 that the Office of Works became the guardians of the castle and maintained it on behalf of the National Trust.

The current condition of Dunstanburgh Castle.
The current condition of Dunstanburgh Castle. Dunstanburgh Castle flickr photo by Pete Reed shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Today, it resides under the management of English Heritage. The ruins are an interesting tourist destination, where you can glimpse the original might of the castle and look back on its medieval glory. The views are alone worth visiting for and you can learn great historical facts along the way, thanks to the information boards around the site.

The gateway of Dunstanburgh Castle.
The gateway of Dunstanburgh Castle. Dunstanburgh Castle Gateway flickr photo by ahisgett shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Interesting Dunstanburgh Castle Facts

  • Legend has it that the executioner who beheaded Thomas Plantagenet had to take 11 strokes in order to fully behead him. It is said that Thomas’s ghost still roams the castle ruins in a state of complete horror and pain.
  • Rumour has it that Dunstanburgh was built on a grander scale than the norm as a symbol of Thomas of Lancaster’s might, as he was the most powerful baron of the time while also being in an openly hostile relationship with King Edward II.
  • The massive gatehouse of Dunstanburgh Castle is perhaps one of its most impressive architectural features. Its flanking towers may be ruins now, but they once rose to impressive heights of almost 80 feet.
  • During the clearance works that were carried out by the Ministry of Works, Dunstanburgh Castle’s site has revealed prehistoric remnants such as Roman-era pottery, brooches, and even hearths from the 1st and 2nd centuries.
  • John de Lilburn was the constable under whose supervision Dunstanburgh was completed after the death of Lancaster. He was the one who completed the Lilburn Tower that overlooked the Embleton Beach.
  • After a relatively brief stint under private ownership, Dunstanburgh reverted to cultivable land. Many artists captured this version of the castle, and later its ruinous form.
  • Dunstanburgh played an important role during World War II, when it was considered to have the potential to be encumbered by draw a German invasion – especially after the capture of Norway. Therefore, the castle was secured with new defences and used as an observation post by a small group of Armoured Corps.
  • There’s an interesting ghost story pertaining to Dunstanburgh, where there’s a secret room in the gatehouse that requires rediscovery.

Visiting Dunstanburgh Castle – Tips and Tricks

Once upon a time, Dunstanburgh Castle was a status symbol that defined baronial might; but today, it’s a looking glass that takes us on a journey through time. If you’re in England’s Northumberland area, then you should put it on your must-visit list, here’s everything you need to make it a convenient visit:

Visiting tourists on their way to Dunstanburgh Castle.
Visiting tourists on their way to Dunstanburgh Castle. IMG_0604 flickr photo by tompagenet shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

How to get to Dunstanburgh Castle?

London to Dunstanburgh is a long trip that requires almost 4 hours. You’ll have to travel via Alnmouth. The journey starts when you take a train from London Kings Cross. The train runs every 4 hours and may cost you anywhere between £38-£307 ($50-$410 USD). From Alnmouth, you can take a taxi on demand all the way to Dunstanburgh at £23-£38 ($30-$50 USD).

Ticket Prices, Visiting Hours & Travel Tips

Ticket prices for an adult is £6.50 ($9 USD), £3.90 ($6 USD) for kids and teens aged 5-17 years in age. Group ticket prices include £16.90 ($23 USD) for a family of 2 adults and three kids, and £10.40 ($14 USD) for a family of one adult and three kids.

Visiting times for Dunstanburgh Castle vary all year round, although general opening times are from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. The days that Dunstanburgh is open also varies by week, ranging from only the weekend to the full week, sometimes not at all. You should consult the official website to check which days the Castle is open to visitors during your time in

Dunstanburgh Castle at night.
Dunstanburgh Castle at night. Dunstanburgh Castle flickr photo by Graeme Darbyshire shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

How Long Will It Take to Tour Around?

Two hours are enough to explore Dunstanburgh and its surroundings fully.

Some words of advice and tips: 

  • Although you don’t have to make an advanced booking, it’s still recommended as you can get discounted prices on the official website.
  • It’s best to consult the official website to see which days it’s open for visitation.
  • The sweeping views along the coastline are absolutely stunning, so you must take a walk along it.
  • The castle requires a long walk from the car park, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes.
  • Don’t forget to munch on Craster Kippers, a local delicacy in the area.
  • Do bring your own face mask, as you’re supposed to use it in all indoor areas of Dunstanburgh Castle and the management won’t be providing one.

Quick Video Tour of The Main Dunstanburgh Castle Areas

Zunaira Ghazal
Zunaira Ghazal
Zunaira is an architect and designer on paper, but a writer at heart. She’s got a Bachelors in Architecture and a passion for traveling, both of which combine in her writings about timeworn castles and fortresses that have withstood the tests of time and stand proud to this day.

FOLLOW US

26,021FansLike
4,329FollowersFollow
23,522FollowersFollow