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Dunstanburgh Castle

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Here is a medieval coastal castle with its own harbour, built in the 14th century, which also formed part of the defences at a time in the Second World War.  A German invasion, or at least an incursion, from occupied Norway was considered a serious possibility and this ancient fortress just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Dunstanburgh Castle is located in Craster near Alnwick in Northumberland. Standing in an isolated spot on top of a natural wall of rock, Dunstanburgh Castle is one of the most impressive ruined castles in England. It has been a ruin for quite some time and actually start to fall into disrepair at the end of the Middle Ages.

Built on top of a prehistoric fort it would have been twice its current size with its own harbour on the foreshore. It was constructed during the 14th century by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, the grandson of King Henry III of England and one of the leaders of the ‘baronial’ opposition to his first cousin, Edward II of England. The castle was so big and elaborate for the period that sadly a large part of it was left unused including the great south gatehouse.

Thomas was finally executed around 1322 for his role in the rebellion against Edward II. In the 1380s further modernisation was undertaken when John of Gaunt, owned the castle.
Stone mason, Henry Holme, was commissioned to strengthen the mantlet on its eastern side by building a new tower and gateway thus tightening up control of access into the Lord’s enclosure from the main part of the castle. He also built six service buildings.

The final redevelopment of Dunstanburgh Castle came in 1383 with the creation of a new entrance to the main bailey on the castle’s western flank, complete with barbicans and a drawbridge. This gate replaced the earlier entrance built for Thomas of Lancaster.


The castle saw extensive combat during the War of the Roses and was damaged during the sieges. Repairs were not carried out after the war and the castle quickly fell into disrepair. Its position on the North Sea coast and its exposure to storms quickly added to its collapse.

Getting to the castle does require a walk of around two miles from the nearest car park but the scenic views make it an enjoyable journey.
The castle is open seasonally and has facilities for picnics. However, it must be pointed out that at the time of writing (2015) there are no public toilets on site with the nearest facilities being located in Craster (1.3 miles) and Embleton (1.5 miles) away.

Hot and cold drinks and a range of snacks can be brought and there is a souvenir shop on the site. This is a lovely location to visit but because of the remoteness of the castle and the lack of public facilities, it could prove difficult for some people to visit.


It was felt that the Northumberland coastline was vulnerable to attack via the sea from occupied Norway during World War II and the castle ruins were included in a defensive network of trenches, gun emplacements and barbed wire. A minefield was laid out in preparation for a seaborne landing by the Axis powers.


The castle is also associated with a very Arthurian legend. On a dark and stormy night Sir Guy seeks shelter in the ruins of the castle where he meets a Wizard who shows him a secret room. In the room the most beautiful maiden who ever lived but she is encased in block of crystal. All around her are soldiers sleeping. The wizard offers Sir Guy the choice of a sword or a horn with which to wake the girl. Sir guy chooses the horn but it wake the soldiers who throw him out of the castle. The wizard shouts after him that a Knight always should choose the sword and accuses Guy of being a coward. The room, wizard, soldiers and maiden all vanish. Sir Guy spends the rest of his life trying to find her again but is eventually driven mad by the quest and dies at the gates of castle. His ghost is said to haunt the castle alwats seaching for the secret room.
Sleeping Princess


Another tale tells of a young maiden who was wrongfully imprisoned in the castle. She uses a dungeon key, cursed with the blood of the castle’s victims, to escape and drops it in the field as she flees. From that day on the field has only ever produced barren crops.


It is also told that a bailiff of the castle by the name of Gallon was entrusted to look after the fortress for Margaret of Anjou who had captured a Yorkist treasure. Hearing that the enemy was approaching, he hid the valuables in the castle and when it was clear that they had lost the siege he and his men escaped. Gallon later returned but the castle was so badly damaged that all he could find was a casket with Venetian glasses. In another version helps Margaret escape, lowers the treasure into a boat and hides it in a nearby cave keeping only the glasses which were most prized by the queen.


The castle is rich in stories of lost secret tunnels and these are even referred to in the official study carried out by English Heritage. Some say they stretch to all the way to Craster Tower in Embleton. There is said to be a tunnel leading from the castle well to the shore.


The location is a haven for nesting seabirds and birds of prey. It is a popular location for bird watchers.


dunstan-hill-campsiteDunstan Hill

Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Sunny Brae Road, Dunstan Hill, Dunstan, Alnwick
Northumberland, England, NE66 3TQ
+44 (0)1665 576 310

Contact Details

  • Address: Dunstanburgh Road, Craster, Alnwick, Northumberland, England, UK, NE66 3TT
  • GPS: 55.489806,-1.594378
  • Phone: 0044 (0)1665 576 231
  • Part of UK: England
  • Sat Nav Postcode: NE66 3TT
  • Entrance Fees: Free Access
  • Disabled Access: Very limited - Difficult paths
  • Visibility from Road: Very limited and from a distance
  • Image Credits: Header Image: Dave Head

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