Remote, isolated, lonely and ruined, Dunstanburgh is one of the most dramatic and atmospheric castles in the north of England. Dunstanburgh, unlike many other castles, was built from scratch by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, a powerful member of the aristocracy in the reign of Edward II. Lancaster and Edward were constantly at loggerheads, especially over the favouritism shown by Edward to certain members of his court – and, in particular, to Piers Gaveston. Lancaster ordered Gaveston’s brutal murder. In the turmoil that followed, the Scots seized the opportunity to begin a series of raids in northern England, and Lancaster built Dunstanburgh ostensibly as a stronghold against a Scottish invasion but really as a retreat for from the wrath of the King. The site occupied by Dunstanburgh is large, and there would have been plenty of space for local people and their livestock to take refuge from Scottish raids within the great, thick walls that swept around the site. The sea and steep cliffs provided further protection from attack on two sides. Lancaster’s impressive gatehouse was built between 1313 and 1325, and even in its ruinous state it exudes a sense of power and impregnability. Dunstanburgh is unusual in that it acquired a second gatehouse about 60 years later. By this time, the castle had come into the hands of another duke of Lancaster, the powerful John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III. Active in negotiations with the Scots, he doubtless saw the need for his castle to be strengthened, and as a man of influence, he travelled with a sizeable entourage, all of whom would have required accommodation. Dunstanburgh was besieged by Yorkist armies during the Wars of the Roses, but by the 17th century it had become redundant and events since then have passed it by.
Facilities – at a glance
Assist dogs allowed
- Parking nearby
- Facilities: Handrails and ramp to shop, paths around perimeter
- Open all year
- Opening Times: Open Mar-Sep & BHs, see website for details; Oct and 12-16 Feb, daily 10-4; Nov-11 Feb and 17 Feb-29 Mar, Sat-Sun 10-4 (last admission 30 minutes before closing). Closed 24-26 Dec and 1 Jan. Prices valid until March 2018
Also in the area
About the area
If it’s history you’re after, there’s heaps of it in Northumberland. On Hadrian’s Wall you can imagine scarlet-cloaked Roman legionaries keeping watch for painted Pictish warriors while cursing the English weather and dreaming of home. Desolate battlefield sites and hulking fortresses such as Alnwick, Dunstanburgh, Bamburgh and Warkworth are reminders that this, until not so very long ago, was a contested border region. The ruins of Lindisfarne bear witness to the region’s early Christian history.
Northumberland also has some of Britain’s best beaches. On summer days, and even in winter, you’ll see surfers and other brave souls making the most of the coast. Inland, there are some great walks and bike rides in the dales of the Cheviot Hills and the Simonsides – just hilly enough to be interesting, without being brutally steep. There's dramatic scenery in the High Pennines, where waterfalls plunge into deep valleys, and there are swathes of heather-scented moorland. Northumberland National Park covers over 400 square miles of moorland and valleys with clear streams and pretty, stone-built villages. It’s just the place for wildlife watching too. You’ll find flocks of puffins, guillemots and other seabirds around the Farne Islands, and seals and dolphins offshore.
Places to Stay
Restaurants and Pubs
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