The village of Craster stands on the Northumberland coast some eight miles south of Seahouses and six miles north east of Alnwick. At its heart is its harbour, where the fishing boats that still operate from here tend to be pulled up onto the shore after unloading their catches at the piers. The vessel shown above is Bon Amy, which is some way from its original home, being registered in Dartmouth in Devon.
It is worth knowing in advance that at popular times, i.e. when the weather is nice and especially during the school holidays or at weekends, Craster can become a very popular destination. A disused whinstone quarry on the west side of the village houses a large car park, which is where visitors are meant to park: though it can become full even at "off peak" times. Parking by visitors is actively discouraged in the village itself, for reasons that become obvious when you stroll around it. This really wasn't a place built with the motor car in mind.
There are two reasons why visitors are drawn to Craster. We'll come to the second, which is the village itself, presently. The first, however, is that Craster is the usual starting point for anyone wishing to take the 1.3 mile walk to Dunstanburgh Castle, whose ruins, even at this distance, tend to dominate northern views across and from the village. It is possible to approach the castle from parking accessed from Embleton, but the walk from Craster, though slightly longer, has the advantage of keeping the magnificent gatehouse and southern curtain wall of the castle in view almost all the way.
So Dunstanburgh Castle has the effect of drawing a steady stream of visitors to and through Craster. Most will combine their visit with a look round the village itself. What they find is a fascinating place that impresses more with its character than with superficial prettiness. There are certainly rows of fine stone or rendered houses that would grace any fishing port anywhere. But the overall effect can be summed up by the harbour itself, which has jetties made of concrete rather than stone, which were clearly intended to fulfill a function rather than simply look nice. Equally functional in design is the Craster Lifeboat Station, across the road from the head of the harbour.
To the south of the harbour are the smokehouses of L. Robson & Sons Ltd. Kippers and salmon have been smoked over oak by four generations of the Robson family, and the original smokehouses remain in use after over 130 years. The herrings used as the starting point for Craster kippers are no longer landed in the harbour below, and the herring girls who would once have split and prepared the fish for smoking have been replaced by a machine. But the smoking process itself remains exactly as it has always been. As a result Craster kippers are generally regarded as some of the finest in Britain.
Today the Robson family also offers visitors a seafood restaurant and a smokehouse shop. Amongst the other visitor attractions in Craster is a gallery and a cafe, plus the Jolly Fisherman, a nice pub with al fresco dining overlooking the harbour. Towards the south end of the centre of Craster is the small village church, dedicated to St Peter the Fisherman.
The origins of Craster date back at least as far as 1272, when the estate covering the area was recorded as being held by a William de Craucetr. Over time the family name became Craster, and it seems that the village that grew up here took their name. 750 years on and the Craster family remain important local landowners and reside at Craster Tower, which they originally built in the late 1300s and which has been repeatedly altered and added to over time, most notably in 1769.
It seems probable that the village of Craster first came into being because of a natural harbour which afforded protection to fishing vessels, and there are records of the village as a focal point for fishing as early as the beginning of the 1600s. The harbour you can see today came into being in 1906, when the Craster family built it in memory of Captain John Craster, who had been killed on active service in India two years earlier.
While the harbour was doubtless partly intended to provide a safer haven for the fishing fleet, it was also built to allow the export of whinstone chippings. These were being quarried in the area above the head of the harbour, and also immediately to the west, where the main car park can be found today. At the end of the southern pier forming the harbour is a concrete structure. This was added in 1914 to support a 90ft tall silo which assisted loading the whinstone chippings onto ships in the harbour. The quarrying appears to have ceased in the 1930s, and the silo was removed.
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