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Unveiling castle's hidden secret.

Byline: By Vince Gledhill

Archaeologists re-write past

Ancient and modern war secrets took time detectives by surprise as they probed land around the battered remains of a Northumberland Castle.

A team of archaeologists spent three weeks investigating the wild, exposed landscape around the 14th Century coastal castle near Craster.

They expected to learn more about the origins of the spectacular ruin and its part in the War of the Roses.

But they also discovered Dunstanburgh's key role during World War Two when it was home to a top secret radar station that helped to win the Battle of Britain.

Another secret unearthed by the team was a Mediterranean terraced garden created by homesick Italian prisoners of war, when the old radar station was turned into a prison camp.

The garden terraces, similar to vineyards and olive groves of the prisoners' homeland, were revealed when a mass of spiny gorse bushes covering them was cleared away.

The discovery also prompted older villagers in Craster to come up with living memory tales of the war years and their temporary Italian neighbours.

William Archbold, aged 69, and his sister Winnie Hogg, 76, have lived in the fishing village all their lives and vividly remember the homesick strangers who lived in huts on the cold, windswept land at the foot of the castle.

"I remember how the Italians had painted the huts with scenes of home, including a man sitting looking out across a lake at sunset," said Mr Archbold.

His sister, who was a teenager at the time, said they were never allowed to go near the radar station.

"All we ever knew about the place was that it was something to do with radio," she said.

Dunstanburgh Radar Station was part of the Chain Home Low system of stations set up around Britain to exploit new radar technology in defence of the land. But locals knew little of radar and did not connect it with an order for an aerial runway at the end of Craster's harbour pier to be dismantled.

Stewart Ainsworth, part of Channel 4's Time Team, was one of the experts brought in to carry out the English Heritage and National Trust survey of the Dunstanburgh headland.

Using the latest Global Positioning System satellite technology, the survey also investigated land around Dunstanburgh Castle to search for a medieval harbour.

Their investigation turned up a few surprises. One of the long-held myths demolished by the team is that Dunstanburgh Castle was built as protection against raiders from over the Border.

Mr Ainsworth said: "It was built as the showpiece of Earl Thomas of Lancaster, nephew of King Edward II, and the richest man in England after the king.

"Silhouetted on the cliff edge, surrounded by its ornamental meres, with its elegant, modern towers, the castle was the perfect combination of architectural flamboyance and a dramatic setting."

Dunstanburgh Castle is now owned by the National Trust and managed by English Heritage. Mr Ainsworth added: "This illustrates the value of looking at the landscape and observing the clues there, just waiting for a landscape detective to unravel them."

People with information about the radar station or the Italian POW camp at Craster should contact National Trust archaeologist Harry Beamish on (01670) 774691.
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 12, 2004
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