IN the last of our National Trust series of walks, head ranger for Torridge, Justin Seedhouse, takes us on an intriguing ramble that reveals the secrets of a hidden country estate with a missing mansion.
ONE of the very special places I look after is a forgotten gem hidden away in the countryside east of Holsworthy known as Dunsland. Situated between Hatherleigh and Holsworthy, Dunsland is today a place for peace and tranquillity with its beautiful trees and scenic views. For some younger people, this is how Dunsland has always been.
However, many of you will have numerous memories of Dunsland and the grand house that once stood proudly on a hill overlooking its estate.
More than 40 years ago, in 1967, a catastrophic fire ripped through Dunsland House, just three nights before the property was due to open to the public.
The house had been owned by the National Trust for 15 years and most of this time had been dedicated to the repair and restoration of the house.
What was once a fantastic stone-built mansion was reduced overnight to smoke and rubble. The cause of the fire was never fully established, and a sense of mystery about Dunsland House and its demise remains today.
Deemed too expensive to repair at the time, the National Trust made the difficult decision to demolish the remaining ruins and maintain Dunsland as the beautiful parkland we know today.
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.
Terrain: The site is generally flat with level trackways which are suitable for buggies. The grassland can be wet and muddy at times. There are no official public footpaths but you are free to explore. We do ask that dogs are kept on leads if livestock are present and that you do not climb over gates or fences. Please do not climb on the walls as they can be unstable and are easily damaged.
Start point: National Trust car park near the post box. Donation for parking. SS 415 052. All co-ordinates below are taken directly from the OS Landranger Map (190) Bude and Clovelly @ 1:50,000 scale:
Gate Pillars SS 4160 0520: The gate pillars to Dunsland House were listed on January 26, 1989 and have the English Heritage Building ID of 91576. The pillars are made of stone ashlar, used in decreasing size towards the top. It is thought the pillars date from the 17th century remodelling of the house.
Cadihos Well SS 4110 0530: Also known as the Cadiho Well. Records show Dunsland to have been held by Baldwin by Cadiho in 1086 and it remained in the Cadiho family until 1428 when the male line died out. The well is shown in the British and Irish Archaeological Bibliography to be of medieval origin (1066-1540).
Fish Pond SS 4105 0530: The remains of a moat and a large fishpond to the south west of Bramble Wood most likely show the site of the medieval manor house that was once at Dunsland before the early Tudor rebuilding on a new site.
Kitchen garden, house and engine house SS 0290 0510: Refer to the main Dunsland House web page for detailed information about the history, restoration and destruction by fire of Dunsland House. Although none of the main house remains the walls surrounding the old kitchen gardens can still be seen. Do not walk inside the walls as they are unstable.
Coach House SS 4085 0510: Along with the old stable, the coach house is all that remains following the devastating fire that swept through Dunsland one fateful night in 1967.
Duck Decoy Pond SS 4080 0545: DUCK decoy ponds have arms covered with nets into which wild birds were allured then caught, providing sustenance for the table in the House. The one at Dunsland is an Unscheduled Ancient Monument.
Chestnut Avenue SS 4075 0505: The grounds of Dunsland House are home to several 700 year old sweet chestnut trees. Around the time these trees were planted Edward II was on the throne. In 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn he was defeated by Robert the Bruce and Scotland became independent. Seven centuries on, these trees still stand and in that time Scotland lost its independence and now some are trying to regain it. If only they could talk, just think of what they could tell us.
Orchard Site SS 4075 0485: The orchard at Dunsland is a work in progress as we reinstate it with heritage fruit trees such as Landkey Yellow, Listener, Johnny Voun and Devon Quarrendon. In times gone by the orchards that served grand houses such as Dunsland would have provided fruit for the table and possibly apples and pears for the making of cider and perry. Please look from the gate but do not enter the orchard.
We know lots of people have fascinating stories to share about Dunsland, stretching back to the times of the previous owners, the fire itself, and even the use of grounds as a camping and caravanning site in the 70s. We have started to create a record of memories and photographs of Dunsland so that they can be preserved for future generations allowing the essence of this special place to live on in local memory.
Details: Justin Seedhouse on 01237 441976 or visit www.na tionaltrust.org.uk/dunsland
To find out more about the National Trust in North Devon and to support its conservation work go to www.national trust.org.uk/northdevon