Dunstanburgh: an ominous fish

Dunstanburgh Castle
Built: 1313-1322
Price: £4.40 adult
Notable features: No parking. John O’ Gaunt’s gaff.


I highly recommend a visit to Dunstanburgh Castle. Located in Craster, a small fishing village on the Northumbrian coast, it was acquired in 1362 by John of Gaunt – father to Henry IV and one of our favourite historical royals.

We decided on an impromptu visit after spotting the majestic ruins in the distance from the car. Mairin gazed longingly at the horizon:

“Oh, I wish I’d known John of Gaunt!” she declared.

It was 5pm and the castle would be closed, but we threw caution to the wind and decided to attempt a break-in.

Dunstanburgh baffles the Sat Nav, so it was almost 6 o’clock by the time we found Craster. It’s impossible to park anywhere near the castle itself, as it sits on a hill overlooking the sea. The only way there is by foot, a mile and a quarter along the coastline. Craster is definitely a fishing village – confirmed when we discovered this dead fish in a bag, attached to a signpost.


Who put it there? For what purpose? Perhaps, an omen – fisherman’s code – warning us away from Dunstanburgh. Break into Gaunt’s old haunt at your peril, it seemed to say.

The view from the path leading to the castle is truly spectacular. With the wide sea to the right, and endless hills and meadows to the left, one can really imagine journeying towards Gaunt’s home on horseback, wind whipping through your hair. As the view of the castle looms, it becomes clear just how big it is – building began in 1313 by the powerful and rebellious Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, possibly as a way of making a point to King Edward II.

“Check out me bastard massive house,” he might have said. “It’s way bigger than yours, as is my willy.”

He was executed in 1322, so clearly the rebellion wasn’t all smooth sailing.


We made our way around the castle, towards a stony beach lying to the west, but decided against storming the gatehouse, because Dunstanburgh looks quite threatening in the evening light and we still had the ominous fish on our minds. There were many sheep – and some monstrously large cows – standing around in the fields, giving us the eye. We noticed that sheep and cows don’t mix – they stand on opposite sides of the path, like Year 6 boys and girls at a school disco. They are in no way fenced in and would be free to butt you off the cliff if they so wished. They chose not to, and we nodded at them in thanks.

The coastline walk there and back is around 2 and a half miles in total. Worth doing for the stunning views alone, even if you don’t intend to go inside the castle. The village itself is very pretty and pleasant to wander around. If you do visit, be sure to look out for mysterious dead fish hanging off bollards – and consider what this warning may hold.




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