Dunster is a village in west Somerset, England, situated on the Bristol Channel coast 2.5 miles (4 km) south south east of Minehead and 20 miles north west of Taunton. The village has a population of 860 (2001). The village has numerous restaurants and 3 pubs. West Street is the oldest street, although a quieter street than the high street it has three specialist shops - a florist, a kitchen ware shop and a gift shop, and at the end of west street you can find the working Watermill.
Dunster was listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Torre, meaning 'The rocky hill' from the Old English tor. The prefix 'Duns' may well be a reference to the Saxon Dunn, who held land in nearby Elworthy and Willet before 1066.
Dunster Beach is located half a mile from the village, and used to have a significant harbour, known as Dunster Haven, which was used for the export of wool from Saxon times, however it was last used in the 17th century and has now disappeared in the dykes, meadows and marshes near the shore. The beach site has a number of privately owned beach huts (or chalets as some owners call them) along with a small shop, tennis court and putting green.
Dunster, in Exmoor National Park, has many listed buildings including 200 grade 2, 2 grade 1 and 2 grade 1*.
Dunster Castle is situated on a steep hill overlooking the village. Of the Norman castle, sited on what is now the keep, little remains except for the 13th century gatehouse. The present building was developed in 1617 with susequent refurbishment in the 1680s including fine platerwork ceilings and the main staircase. The castle was largely remodelled in the Victorian period by Anthony Salvin. Salvin added towers and turrets giving the castle its fairytale appearance. The castle came into the possession of the Luttrell family in the late 14th century and remained in their ownership until it was given to the National Trust in 1976. It has been designated by English Heritage as a grade I listed building.
The 17th century Yarn Market (1609) facilitated the dominant wool trade. An interesting feature of the building is a hole in one of the roof beams, a result of cannon fire in the Civil War. Other notable buildings include the Priory Church of St George, Nunnery, Dunster Mill and the Priory barn.
Conygar Tower, is a folly used as a landmark for shipping. It is situated on the top of Conygar Hill and overlooks the village. It was designed and built by Richard Phelps in 1776 and was commissioned by Henry Fownes Luttrell. It has no strategic or military significance.
The Priory Church of St George is predominantly 15th century with evidence of 12th and 13th century work. It was restored in 1875-7 by George Edmund Street. The church has a cruciform plan with a central 4-stage tower, built in 1443 with diagonal buttresses, a stair turret and single bell-chamber windows.
During the English Civil War, Dunster was initially held as a garrison for the Royalists. It fell to the Parliamentarians in 1645 and orders were sent out for the castle to be demolished. However, these were not carried out and the castle remained the garrison for Parliamentarian troops until 1650.
Dunster is regularly home to Taunton Garrison who re-enact, plays, battles and life in the civil war.
Dunster was the birthplace of the song All Things Bright and Beautiful when Cecil Alexander was staying with Mary Martin. The nearby hill, Grabbist, was originally heather covered before tree plantation and was described as the "Purple headed mountain". Mary Martin was daughter of one of the owners of Martins Bank.
During the Second World War, considerable defences were built along the coast as a part of British anti-invasion preparations — in spite of the north coast of Somerset being an unlikely invasion site. Some of the structures last to this day. Most notable are the PillBoxes on the foreshore of Dunster Beach. These are strong buildings made from pebbles taken from the beach and bonded together with concrete. From these, soldiers could have held their ground if the Germans ever invaded. For decades after the war these structures were used by the locals as latrines. Now they have been sealed. Probably as a measure to reduce the number of flies.
On the evening of May 1 the Minehead Hobby Horse visits Dunster and is received at the Castle. A local newspaper printed in May 1863 says "The origin professes to be in commemoration of the wreck of a vessel at Minehead in remote times, or the advent of a sort of phantom ship which entered the harbour without Captain or crew. Once the custom was encouraged, but now is much neglected, and perhaps soon will fall into desuetude".
Another conjecture to its origin was that the hobby horse was the ancient King of the May Luckily the custom did not die. On 1 May the inhabitants of Minehead are awoken by the beating of a loud drum. The Hobby horse dances its way around the town and on to Dunster Castle. The Sailors' horse with drummers and a squeeze box or accordion playing the special tunes that have been handed down. From Dunster It then comes back to Minehead collecting donations on the way. The horse searches out money in the pubs and originally would cheekily sneak into houses too leaving good luck behind him.
A more recent tradition (started in 1987) is Dunster by Candlelight which takes place every year on the first Friday and Saturday in December when this remarkably preserved medieval village turns its back on the present and lights its streets with candles.
To mark the beginning of the festival on Friday at 5 pm, there is the Lantern Lighting Procession that starts on the Steep and continues through the village until all the lanterns in the streets have been lit. The procession of children and their families is accompanied by colourful Stilt walkers in fantastic costumes who put up the lanterns.
The old English Christmas tradition of burning the Ashen faggot takes place at the Luttrell Arms hotel every Christmas Eve.