Thursday, 1 August 2019

Dunster Castle & Water Mill

If there was a sport called 'guess how old this castle is?' then I would be rubbish at it, just as I am rubbish at 99% of all other sports. (I'm saving the 1% for the as-yet-unknown one that I will master.) 

Dunster Castle near Minehead in Somerset is a perfect example. I saw a picture of it and decided it was the work of some 20th century madman who had made a pile of money out of toilet rolls and built himself a castle so he stood a chance of getting Queen Mary round for tea.
Dunster Castle

In fact, Dunster is very old. Here are the facts:

It was originally built by the de Mohuns after the Norman Conquest
William de Mohun was a knight who came over with William the Conquerer and built a castle on the site of a Saxon hill fort. However, not much is actually left of it - the gateway below is the only piece that dates from the 1200s. It's an impressive piece though:


Dunster Gateway

The Luttrells built what we see today
The de Mohuns sold up to the Luttrell family in 1376. The Luttrells built the gatehouse in 1420 and a new Jacobean castle in 1617. Henry Fownes Luttrell carried out a major landscaping project in 1755 and then in 1868 George Luttrell commissioned Anthony Salvin to redesign the castle to create a Victorian country home.

It was almost destroyed in the Civil War
Thomas and Jane Luttrell were Parliamentarians during the Civil War and were forced to defend the castle against Royalist troops. But they switched sides for some reason and then had to defend it against the Roundheads. Cromwell sent 200 men to destroy Dunster and the curtain walls were duly demolished but the order was revoked and the castle was left to stand.

It has a leather room
Every now and again you come across something that you've never seen before at the National Trust. Dunster has some leather hangings that were made in the Netherlands in the 1600s. They tell the story of Antony and Cleopatra but they were cut up to fit the room and so they're in the wrong order. Here she is killing herself with her snake:


I'm not sure why nobody looks terribly bothered that Cleopatra is
committing suicide in front of them - she doesn't look too fussed herself

It has a working water mill
The Domesday Book mentions that there was a mill on the site, although the current building dates from 1779. It was abandoned by the 1930s and then reopened during the Second World War. It is still working today and you can buy flour that has been milled on-site.

And while we're on the subject of flour, let's move on to the scones. The tea room at the water mill is a lovely spot and my scone was very tasty indeed - maybe a little bit crumbly but it held together enough to be eaten without completely disintegrating.



If you want to have a go at this new and highly exciting sport of castle age guessing, then be my guest. Here are the other National Trust castles I've visited - see if you can pick out the oldest one:
- Bodiam Castle
- Chirk Castle
- Corfe Castle
- Croft Castle
- Lindisfarne Castle
- Penrhyn Castle
- Powis Castle
- Scotney Castle
Sizergh Castle

Dunster was the second stop on my Grand Tour of North Devon - the day before I had fulfilled my ambition to visit the very awesome Watersmeet.

Dunster Castle: 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Chance of 'castle age guessing' making it to the Olympics: 0 out of 5

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