Heritage Highlights: Medieval Dunster Castle, with its Norman roots
The village sits about 2 miles from the sea, but in the 12th century the water came right to the edge of the village, and Dunster was an active port, trading in grain, beans, wool and wine.
Then the sea retreated, and the busy port was no more. But Dunster made the most of the burgeoning medieval wool trade, and became a centre of the new weaving industry. Mills sprang up to create woven cloth, evolving a new type of weave that is still; known as Dunster cloth. The main reminder of these heady days is the glorious octagonal Yarn Market on the cobbled High Street. This timber-framed building acted as a trading centre for the prosperous wool merchants, and though it was rebuilt in the Jacobean period it is actually much older. Look for the hole made by a Civil War cannonball.
I mentioned the mills that made Dunster wealthy in the medieval period. While none of the weaving mills have survived, something much older has managed to stand the test of time; a working corn mill on the River Avill. There was a mil mentioned in the Domesday Book, but the current mill is primarily 18th century, restored in the 1970s to full working order.
The 12 century church of St George is a delight, with a wagon-vaulted roof and ornate tombs of the Luttrells of Dunster Castle. Separating the chancel from the nave is a beautifully carved rood screen, a reminder that the nave was used by the local residents, but the chancel was reserved for monks from Dunster Priory.
Dominating the village as it has done since the late 11th century is Dunster Castle. The castle was built by a Norman lord, William de Mohun, who took advantage of a natural hill to create a timber fortress. William's son transformed the timber fortress into a stone castle, built mainly of red sandstone. In 1376 the castle was sold to the Luttrell family who have held it ever since, though it is now operated by the National Trust. You can see the 13th century gatehouse, and remains of the castle walls, but the bulk of the castle was destroyed in the Civil War, leaving behind a glorious Jacobean mansion, which itself was later transformed into a comfortable Victorian county house.
On the outskirts of Dunster stands a ruined medieval market cross, and if you wander past pretty thatched cottages to the river you'll find Gallox Bridge, a medieval packhorse bridge that has been in use for over 500 years.
Our family have visited Dunster 3 times, and we love it. It can be a bit overwhelmed with tourists at the height of summer, but at other times it is a wonderfully picturesque village, with so much history packed into such a small place. Dunster is a delight to be savoured.
Dunster is located off the A39, three miles east of Minehead
ST GEORGE'S CHURCH HISTORIC HIGHLIGHTS
Attraction Type: Village
Location: On the A396 3 miles east of Minehead. There are 2 large signposted parking areas.
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