Dunster is one of the most picturesque villages within Exmoor National Park. It retains its medieval character with narrow, windy streets lined with historic and characterful buildings, some of which are thatched. The eleventh century Dunster Castle still dominates the village towering over it from its hilltop position.
Dunster has a good range of independent shops and tea rooms and makes a beautiful place to stay while exploring Exmoor and the Somerset Coast nearby.
Dunster is a well preserved, pretty, historic village within Exmoor National Park - just over two miles south of Minehead.
Dunster was settled in around 700 AD and was mentioned as Torre in the 1086 Domesday Book. It's wealth was derived from its wool and cloth trade. The hexagonal Old Yarn Market in the centre of the village dates 1609 and was where transactions were carried out. For the eagle-eyed, there is a hole in one of the roof beams which was made by cannon fire in the Civil War.
Today there is a choice of accommodation within the village which makes it an excellent base for exploring Exmoor and West Somerset. There is also a good range of independent shops, boutiques, local arts and craft shops. If you're having a day out in Exmoor it makes a very pleasant refreshment stop with its quaint tearooms, restaurants and pubs.
Dunster is the focal point for Exmoor themed events throughout the year.
The origin of the Minehead Hobby Horse Festival has been lost in history although it's thought to have started as warding off evil Vikings or is a commemoration of the wreck of a vessel at Minehead, or a phantom ship which entered the harbour without Captain or crew. Either way the tradition can be traced back to at least 1792 when it was recorded in Dunster Castle's ledger. The tradition continues today and on 1 May Minehead is woken by the beating of a drum. The Hobby Horse dances its way around Minehead and on up to Dunster Castle. As it makes its way back to Minehead it collects donations. The culmination of the festival is the "booty" on 3 May where tight fisted spectators can expect to be laid down in front of the horse and has to escape before the horse turns his tail on them!
Dunster by Candlelight is an annual winter festival that usually takes place on the first Friday and Saturday in December. The village is lit by candlelight only. A costumed procession weaves through the village lighting it by candle and lantern. All proceeds go to charity and many of Dunster's shops are also open for Christmas shopping. Parking is restricted during the evenings of the festival; park and ride services are laid on, check the link right for more information.
Farmers markets are also popular throughout the year particularly the Festive Farmers Market held in December in the Castle grounds selling local Somerset produce.
Dunster Castle towers over the village from the hill above. It is now owned by the National Trust but it has been used by Saxons as a fortress to ward off Celtic and Viking raiders. The Normans occupied it for 300 years and the oldest feature that remains today is the thirteenth century gateway with its original iron-bound gates. The fourteenth century saw the ownership change to the Luttrells who ended up owning Dunster itself. Dunster, nr Minehead, Somerset TA24 6SL. Tel: 01643 823004. Fax: 01643 823000. Email: email@example.com
You can walk round the castle and see it in its country house splendour with its antique furniture and family heirlooms. The King Charles Bedroom is said to be the most haunted room in the Castle and there's a mysterious secret passage leading off it that you can explore! You can also take guided tours around parts of the castle that aren't usually open to the public but you need to book these in advance.
Outside Mediterranean-style terraces exhibit an enormous collection of plants from all over the world. There are several walks and trails taking you round the gardens and parkland. The gardens are also home to the National Collection of Arbutus - the Strawberry Tree - and you can take the Arbutus Walk to view them. The fruits are best seen in October-November.
Dunster is also an important home for wildlife. A colony of the rare lesser horseshoe bats roost in the castle during the summer and you can get a privileged, close up look at them via the Dunster Castle Bat Cam. An infrared camera means they can be filmed with little disturbance and images are shown on screens in the main area of Tenants Hall. You'll be able to see that these little animals are really not at all scary particularly when they're caring for their young. Check the National Trust link right for events and more information. You can also see video clips of the bats.
Dunster is also the location for one of the Exmoor National Park Visitor Centres.
It's a useful stop-off to pick up all sorts on information on places to visit, events and guided walks within Exmoor. You can also buy a range of maps and publications for more in depth information.
There are also informative displays on Exmoor and the area local to the Visitor Centre. The Dunster Visitor Centre has a display on the woollen trade that was important to Dunster in Medieval Times. The free Exmoor Visitor newspaper is also helpful for events and things to do during your stay and can be obtained from the Exmoor National Park Centre.
Exmoor National Park Centre, Dunster Steep, Dunster, Minehead, Somerset TA24 6SG. Tel: 01643 821835.