Walk in the footsteps of Dunsland House
In the rolling countryside just east of Holsworthy is a forgotten gem known as Dunsland. This estate used to be home to a grand stone-built mansion before a terrible fire completely destroyed it just over 50 years ago. It is now a beautiful and intriguing place to visit where you can stumble across decorative building stones, a coach house, fish ponds and other features of a bygone era that still remain hidden by foliage.
With a history dating back to the Domesday Book (1086), the Tudor manor house of Dunsland would have been on par with the grand estates of Arlington Court to the east or Saltram to the south. The interior of the house was impressive in both scale and decoration, with visitors often commenting on the amazing ceilings and panelling recorded, luckily, in a few remaining photographs and the 1967 guidebook (PDF / 2.212890625MB) download .
The National Trust bought the house in 1954 and spent many years restoring it. Not only had the beauty of the place been recovered but Dunsland was again beginning to play a part in the life of the local community and often hosted popular music recitals. The last of these were given to a packed audience on 14 November 1967. Three nights later the house caught fire and within a few hours was reduced to a smoking ruin.
The cause of the fire was never fully established. Thankfully the Trust caretakers, who had worked for years bringing the house back to life, escaped with their lives – alerted to the blaze by their dog, Rover. Unfortunately the house was deemed too expensive and unsafe to recover, and the National Trust made the difficult decision to demolish the remaining ruins.
Despite its tragic history, Dunsland today is a beautiful and intriguing place where one can stumble across decorative building stones, a coachhouse, fish ponds and other features of a bygone era that still remain hidden by foliage. Its secret gardens and ancient parkland have become a peaceful haven for many rare plants and wildlife, such as lichens and insects. Ancient oak and chestnut trees (some believed to be over 600 years old) stand sentinel over the site where the grand house would have stood. Beautiful woodland has reclaimed the once cultivated ground, and nature groups such as the Holsworthy Beekeeping Society now use the site for their apiary.
“Dunsland would be a very different place today if not for the catastrophic fire,” said Lead Ranger, Justin Seedhouse. “Today when you visit, the place has a quiet and eerie feel as if Dunsland is sleeping, waiting for its stories to be re-awakened.”