Village Life: Dunster

Dunster literally lights up in December (c)

Dunster literally lights up in December (c) - Credit: Archant

This month Andrea Cowan visits Dunster - one of the best kept medieval villages in England

The village of Dunster grew up around Dunster Castle, built on the Tor shortly after the Norman Conquest of 1066. By the 13th century it had become a centre for wool and cloth and the ensuing prosperity led to the construction of many of the notable buildings still standing.

Heritage sites include the Dunster Working Watermill, the Tithe Barn, the Dovecote and the 15th century Gallox Packhorse Bridge, one of the main routes over the River Avill. There is also the splendid 15th century Priory Church of St George, which shows evidence of work from as early as the 12th century.

Prominently situated in the High Street is the Yarn Market, a timber-framed octagonal monument to the once flourishing cloth trade. It was built in the early 17th century by the Luttrell family who were the local lords of the manor. There is a hole in one of the roof beams, which was a result of cannon fire in the Civil War.

Walking further along the High Street, you soon come to West Street, the oldest road in the village. Little wonder that Prof. Tim Taylor from Channel 4’s Time Team visited for his project Dig Village: an investigation of the history and archeology of Britain’s most amazing villages.

Even the village’s station is of historic interest. It is served by West Somerset Heritage Railway, which covers 22.75 miles from Bishops Lydeard to Minehead and is Britain’s longest heritage railway.

Thousands of tourists come to Dunster Castle and the village each year and there are many excellent tea rooms, pubs, restaurants and independent shops, both in the High Street and along West Street. The village is also home to the Dunster Museum & Doll Collection, one of the largest collections of dolls outside of the V&A.

The Dunster Memorial Hall houses the community cinema which shows a monthly film and the Dunster WI meets in the Tithe Barn, serving as a large village hall and wedding reception venue. There is a village football and cricket club and the popular Dunster First School, which has wonderful facilities including an outdoor heated swimming pool and a designated forest school area.

An opportunity to really get a feel for this charming village is the annual Dunster by Candlelight. On the evening of the first Friday and Saturday in December, the village extinguishes its electric lights and instead the streets are lit with candles and oil. There is a colourful procession, with plenty of entertainment, shopping and refreshments from the local traders.

It sounds a lovely way to begin the festive season. I’ll see you there.

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Dunster Castle welcomed more than 200,000 visitors in 2016.