by Barbara Ballard
The village of Dunster, when the sea lapped at its edges in the 12th century, thrived as a trading port for beans and barley, wine and Welsh wool. The ocean retreated, leaving Dunster sitting 2 miles distant, and it turned to England's growing wool market and became a weaving centre. The old Yarn Market (rebuilt in the late 16th century) with its unusual-shaped roof still sits in the middle of the High Street. Once "Dunster" cloth was sold here, a product of the nearby mills.
The long, very wide High Street is graced with 17th through 19th century buildings. The Luttrell Arms, with its hammerbeam roof, dates back to around 1500. The oversize fireplace sports a 17th century overmantel. There's a tile-hung 15th century nunnery at the narrow end of the street. Thatched cottages and a packhorse bridge complete the picture.
The slate roofed corn mill on the River Avill, the spot was listed as having a mill in the Doomsday Book of 1086, was restored at the end of the 18th century to working order, then again in the 1970's. A small museum and old agricultural machinery inhabit the old stone mill, still producing goods for sale.
In 1090 there was a priory in Dunster, and buildings that were once part of the priory can be seen along Church Street, a priest's house from the 14th century and a circular medieval dovecote with 4-foot thick stone walls. Wagon roofs, a 16th century Perpendicular font and the tombs of the Luttrell family decorate the red sandstone Church of St. George, first built in the 12th century and rebuilt in the 14th and 19th centuries. A 54 foot long carved rood screen, built to separate the monks of the priory from the parishioners, seems they couldn't agree on church affairs, may be one of the longest in the world.
A red sandstone castle towers over Dunster from its location on the wooded tor at the village edge. This natural defensive spot has boasted fortifications of some sort since Saxon times. William de Mohun, a Norman baron, began the building of Dunster castle. But it was soon in the hands of the Luttrell family and stayed there for the next 600 years. The 15th century gatehouse, part of the medieval castle, survived the remodeling of the castle in the 1800's, which gave it the appearance of a fortified Jacobean mansion. Admire the grand oak staircase and dining room ceiling plasterwork of the 17th century.
Beautiful hilltop gardens and parkland surround the castle. Spectacular views over Somersetís countryside abound. Below the steep hill sits historic Dunster, on the northern edge of Exmoor National Park, a village "fair as is the rose in May".
Dunster is located off the A39, three miles east of Minehead and approximately 160 miles by car from London.
Open 10:30am to 5pm, April 1 to end June and Sept. and Oct., daily except Friday; July and August open daily.
Dunster Mill Teashop
Open for tea and light lunches from 10:30am-5pm, from the end of March to the end of October, daily except Saturday, exception being July and August when it is open every day. Tel. (0) 1643 821759
This National Trust property is located at the top of a steep hill. Tel. (0) 1643 821314. Email. Open 1st April-1st Nov., daily except Thursday and Friday. From April-end Sept from 11am-5pm, Oct and Nov. from 11am-4pm. Garden and park open daily: Jan-March, end Sept-Dec from 11am-4pm; April to end Sept. from 10am-5pm.
The quote is from Chaucer.