A fort worth visiting

A 600-year-old castle is the jewel in Dunster's crown. But the old village cake crusher runs a close second. By Emma Haughton

DIMINUTIVE IT may be, but Dunster likes to present a dramatic face to the world. One minute you're driving past the seaside resort of Minehead, the next you're faced with Dunster's imposing castle, perched on a final wooded promontory before Exmoor hits the sea. Its sheer stone flanks tower over the village and surrounding parkland, looking more suited to a picture book than to coastal Somerset.

Indeed, everything about Dunster feels a little fanciful. Once well known for its woollen industry and for its status as a port, it's now sold as one of the tidiest villages in England, the kind of place that words such as "quaint" and "twee" were invented to describe. Its neat high street, rambling lanes, and higgledy-piggledy cottages, antique shops and tea shops make it the perfect day out, the best of olde England with oodles of clotted cream.

The castle is Dunster's focal point and its 17th-century buildings perch high above sea level on a site that has been occupied by castles for over a thousand years. Originally the 600-year seat of the Luttrell family (before it joined the portfolio of the National Trust), the phases of demolition and modernisation it has suffered give it the air of a comfortable country residence, rather than the Norman stronghold it once was.

That's before you step inside. Here are all the components of a fully qualified castle: a dining room complete with a 17th-century plasterwork ceiling, a Victorian billiard room, portraits of illustrious ex-inhabitants dominating the wall space and what is, apparently, the earliest bathroom in Somerset. More than that, though, you feel that dozens of pairs of eyes are creepily following you, making it clear why the property is popular for its ghost tours.

Even more captivating is the view over the surrounding area. It is a stunning, stomach-churning drop to the gardens immediately below and a sweep across to the Bristol Channel and Wales in one direction and to the 18th century folly of Conygar Tower on the Exmoor hills in the other.

The tranquil, terraced gardens encircle the castle in a testament to the mild local climate; its collection of rare shrubs and trees including palms, mimosa and a lemon tree. Beyond these is a 28-acre park, where a woodland stroll will bring you to the pet cemetery with its dozen pygmy- sized plots. Headed by stone plaques, each one bears the name of a well- loved family dog - or a solitary budgerigar.

In the other direction, the gardens lead straight into the village, its streets merging seamlessly into the castle grounds. Here, the houses of once-affluent wool merchants dominate the high street and contrast sharply with the more humble medieval cottages in West Street that once housed the woollen workers.

Like a strange spaceship bandstand, the circular yarn market that was built by one of the Luttrells in 1609 to sell Dunster cloth hovers at one end of the high street. Much more recent are the newly established town gardens, imaginatively planted for adults, but with plenty of grass for the kids to romp around on.

A lovely stroll away, whether ambling through the village streets and along the riverside, or approached briskly from the castle, is the town's water mill. The site it now stands on was mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086, but the present mill dates only from the 18th century.

In 1979 it was brought back from the brink of dereliction by the Capp family, and these days the family operates the mill once more as a business, producing the wholewheat stoneground flour that is sold in the adjoining shop.

Upstairs is a fascinating collection of old agricultural machinery with nostalgic names like bitter churn, cake crusher, oat roller and horse-drawn sham, but down below is where the action takes place. After a day out, admiring the castle and its ghosts and walking off cream teas in town, you are brought back down to earth with a bang and a thump and a clatter with the hefty old machinery at work in the mill. When you stand and listen to the winnowing machine creaking and grinding and the soporific clanking of iron on iron, it takes almost all the imagination you have left to believe that the mill is powered merely by water.

Dunster is just off the A39 near Minehead in Somerset. The castle (01643 821314) is open from 30 March-1 November, everyday except Thursday and Friday. The garden and park are open daily from 11am-4pm during Jan-March and October-Dec and 10am-5pm from April-Sept. Admission to the castle, garden and park is free for National Trust members, otherwise pounds 5.20 for adults, pounds 2.70 for children or pounds 13.40 for a family ticket (two adults, three children).

The Water Mill (01643 821759) is open from 10.30-5pm every day except Saturday from April to October, except July-August, when it opens on Saturdays too. Admission is pounds 2 adult, pounds 1 child or pounds 5.50 for a family ticket

Suggested Topics
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Life and Style
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Biology Teacher

    Main Pay Scale : Randstad Education Leeds: Biology Teacher to A Level - Female...

    SAP Assessor

    £26000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: SAP Assessor Job T...

    KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

    £85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

    HR Advisor (Employee Relations) - Kentish Town, NW London

    £30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor (Employee Rela...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering