Dispatches From the South – Craster and Dunstanburgh Castle

Like many of the towns and villages in this coastal corner of the Northeast, Craster has a castle. And a golf course. As near as I can tell, both are the “must have” features of any successful municipality and, thanks to an uncharacteristically sunny day, we explored both on a wander along the Coastal Path.

Every town I have ever been in has three guys who seem to be paid by the Council to hang around to add local color and enhance the atmosphere. These are the guys who do this in Craster.

Craster’s castle dominates the town but sits a comfortable distance away, separated from everyday village life—and busloads of tourists—by a kissing gate and a picturesque expanse of sheep pasture. It’s a lovely stroll and, with the sun shining and the surf pounding and the sheep staring, it’s not hard to imagine yourself transported in time to the castle’s heyday, making your crepuscular commute with the rest of the villagers to muck out the horse stalls, scrape the fish-guts off the scullery floor for the preparing of the communal fish stew, or to work in the English Heritage Gift Shop.

Dunstanburg castle, a bit of a Fixer-Upper.

As castles go, Dunstanburgh is a bit of a “fixer-upper.” It also isn’t very old; it was not begun until 1313 and, while impressive in its day, it was never very important. The reason for its construction was mainly to keep up with the Joneses (in this case, the Joneses being the King) and by the 1500′s was already being described as a ruin. Frankly, there isn’t a lot to see, but it’s only £3.50 to get in (free for English Heritage or National Trust members), the grounds are expansive and the views are stunning. And there’s a gift shop.

Just beyond Dunstanburg Castle is Dunstanburg Golf Course, which the locals have kept in much better nick over the years. Apparently people in this area place more importance on hitting little balls with big sticks than on providing comfort and wealth for the local Earl. Or maybe they were just so chuffed at that the course was opened to the public after the king foreclosed on the castle that they adopted it as their own.

Protective as they are about it, they were not successful in keeping the Coastal Path out and a trek along The Path includes a walk through the course, minus balls, of course. Another intrusion they had to acquiesce to was the insertion of coastal defences during WWII, though it must have grated on them to have to spoil their lovely golf course with Pill Boxes just for the sake of national security.

Dunstanburgh golf course, where the bunkers are real bunkers.

Craster itself is a picturesque, tiny and isolated village, accessed by a single, dead-end road, consisting of a small network of streets lined with tightly packed houses, a single pub, restaurant, castle and the looming presence of the sea. When you walk the dark and deserted streets in the evening, you can imagine this secluded and vulnerable community to be a place where pirates operate (as proved by my last post) and where whispers of unspeakable crimes are investigated by the sole, stalwart constable or an aged spinster cum amateur detective.

Craster, splendid isolation or a hot bed of foul play?

All in all a pleasant place and a great location for a quiet getaway; just be sure to lock your doors.

Sure sign of quality lodgings: wooden hanger without anti-theft devices.


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