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Of kippers and castles

Craster and Dunstanburgh


Sign on the old smoke house in Craster

Were it not for one thing there would be little to distinguish Craster from several other pretty Northumberland coastal villages. It has a small harbour with strong walls to shelter the boats from the North Sea, stone cottages clustered around, a pub, a couple of cafés … But as soon as you park in the car park on the edge of the village (which lies in a disused quarry by the way) and take the footpath between the houses to reach the centre, you can smell the distinctive Craster scent of smoking fish. For Craster is the home of the kipper, or smoked herring. The Robson family have been curing herrings here for over a hundred years, and still do so in the original 1856 smokehouse. You can taste this delicacy in their restaurant, as well as in other establishments around the village, but they are also exported around the country and beyond.

In a Craster garden

The Robsons’ website explains the process:

‘First, the herring are split on a machine capable of splitting 500kg per hour, this replaces the numerous “herring girls” that used to split the herring by hand. Then the herring are placed in a brine solution of plain salt and water for a predetermined length of time depending on their size and, lastly, they are hung on tenter hooks and placed in the cavernous smokehouses. Fires are placed under the rows of herring made of whitewood shavings and oak sawdust and these smoulder away for up to 16 hours before the kippers are ready.’

Art gallery

If you like fish, do try a kipper when in Craster, but even if you don’t the village is worth a visit. The harbour is very picturesque, there’s an art gallery selling very good local works (I bought a hand-made silver necklace there quite recently) and it is also the starting point for a lovely coastal walk, easy enough to be managed by almost anyone, although wheelchair users and those pushing buggies/strollers would struggle. This is the one mile walk through the fields to Dunstanburgh Castle – more of that shortly.

Craster is named after the Craster family who owned this estate from 1272 to 1965. The harbour was built to commemorate the death of a member of the family who died in 1904, while serving in the army in Tibet. You can see his memorial on the harbour wall. The much taller structure at the end of the harbour was used to lift stone from the nearby quarry on to boats in the harbour to be shipped to London where it was used for kerb stones. The quarry was shut down in 1939 and, as well as being in part used for the car park, it is also now a nature reserve. There is a footpath through the woods here but we are yet to follow it, as our favourite walk is the one to the castle.




The harbour

View of Dunstanburgh Castle from the harbour

The walk to Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle lies one mile north of Craster and is only accessible on foot, via an easy walk through a few sheep-filled fields along the coast. Even without a castle at the end of it this would be a lovely walk, with the waves of the North Sea lapping (or crashing on to, depending on weather and season) the pebble shore and rocks to your right, and the gentle folds of the fields to your left.



On the walk to Dunstanburgh Castle

Part way along, last time we made the walk, people have created a group of small cairns. Some may frown upon this human rearrangement of nature, others feel moved to add to it. I simply found it an interesting photographic stop along the way.


Little cairns and stone patterns near Craster

On this occasion there was a sea fret (mist) and the castle was invisible from Craster, although normally you can see your destination clearly as you walk (the photo higher up this page was taken on a previous, less misty day).

But today the ruins emerged only slowly, and atmospherically, from the mist.


Dunstanburgh Castle in the mist

Dunstanburgh Castle

If you prefer your castles in picturesque ruins, rather than the almost intact state of, say, Bamburgh, you will like Dunstanburgh. It was built by Earl Thomas of Lancaster between 1313 and 1322 on the site of a former Iron Age Fort. He was leading a rebellion against the king, Edward II, and needed a place of refuge should things turn nasty. And turn nasty they did, when he was captured at the Battle of Boroughbridge without ever being able to reach Dunstanburgh. The castle become the property of the crown and later passed to John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, who expanded it to serve as a possible defence against attack from Scotland. It changed hands several times during the Wars of the Roses and was damaged during a succession of sieges, so by the 16th century was already in a state of decay. The ruins attracted artists, most notably Turner and Thomas Girtin.


The gatehouse, Dunstanburgh Castle

The most notable structure is the great Gatehouse, three storeys high and still impressive despite its ruined state. It give some sense of the grandeur of the castle, which was the largest in Northumberland.

The castle is today owned by the National Trust, who of course charge for admission (£6 for adults, 2018 price). On this recent visit we decided against going in, and unfortunately I have no photos from past visits (way back in pre-digital days), so for now these misty exterior shots will have to suffice to illustrate this entry.


Wall to the right of the gatehouse, with the Constable Tower

Posted by ToonSarah 03:42 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged castles food fish harbour coast hiking history village weather

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Your opening photo "Sign on the old smoke house in Craster" is a gem. I'm going to see if we can stop at Craster on our drive from Lindisfarne to Dalton-in-Furness. Looks like a possibility and I love smoked herring.

Keep these ideas coming. Love it.

by Beausoleil

An easy and favourite walk of mine in that part of the world and you captured the location perfectly

by Easymalc

The castle ruins look mystical in the mist and I love your black and white images.

by Grete Howard

Thank you all :)

Sally, yes, Craster would make a nice stop, as would several other places along that coast. Let me know if you need any help with planning. When do you come?

by ToonSarah

Beautiful photos and it could almost persuade me to like kippers. I often vacillate between deciding to use a photo that I have that isn't a digital one or just trying to describe in words what the photo would show. I am usually too weak to weed out the non-digital photos

by greatgrandmaR

Thanks Rosalie :) I might be able to find those old pre-digital photos but our scanner is on its last legs so I wouldn't be able to upload them!

by ToonSarah

I can just imagine the smell of the village, might be not the place for me because of that, but your photos are lovely as usual! :)

by hennaonthetrek

Oddly the village doesn't smell, or at least not of the fish - you do sometimes smell wood-smoke on the air but that's rather pleasant imho. This is a super little village to visit and the walk to the castle a real bonus Thanks for your visit to all my Northumberland pages Henna!

by ToonSarah

It's great to be able to visit old buildings, especially ruined ones, in different weather conditions. The atmosphere is so different on different days. Fogs and mists can be very atmospheric even if they make photography more difficult.

by irenevt

You're so right Irene - it's a mistake to think you can only take good photos in bright weather (in fact, the opposite can be true!)

by ToonSarah

So much history ... I like!

by Ils1976

One of my favourite Northumbrian village Ils - I'm glad you liked it!

by ToonSarah

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