Perched high on a cliff, Dunstanburgh Castle is now largely ruinous although it rated at one time among the largest and grandest castles in the north of England. Dating from the 14th century, the castle was protected on two sides by the sheer cliff face and the sea.
The first building works at Dunstanburgh Castle took place under Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, and the remains of the early 14th century gatehouse can be seen in the form of two D-shaped towers either side of an arched entrance. From these surviving structures it is possible to imagine what a magnificent and imposing building the gatehouse must have been.
When, at the end of the 14th century, Dunstanburgh Castle passed into the hands of John of Gaunt, he carried out substantial alterations and closed up the entrance to the gatehouse. Having converted the original gatehouse into residential quarters, a second gatehouse was constructed further along the curtain wall, but almost nothing can be seen of this today, other than its foundations.
John of Gaunt altered the original castle most obviously in the fact that he created an inner and outer bailey from the existing enclosure. Many of the buildings constructed at the time of the remodelling have long since disappeared, but some fragmentary remains can still be made out along the curtain wall.
Situated near to the edge of the cliff on the west curtain wall, the 14th century Lilburn Tower was used as a watchtower. This rectangular structure with its turrets still visible has survived remarkably better than the later buildings. Along the south curtain wall lie the remains of the Constable's Tower and Egyncleugh Tower, the latter likely to have been used as a water gate. Adjacent to the Constable's Tower the foundations of a range of buildings have survived.
Despite the ruinous state of Dunstanburgh Castle, it presents a formidable and imposing sight from a distance. To fully appreciate the environment, Dunstanburgh Castle can be approached by a twenty-minute trek across the rocky beach. With unpredictable weather conditions prevalent along the north east coast, it can be an extremely atmospheric experience.