Mysteries Of Dunster: Interview With Nina Dodd

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Dunster in Somerset has more than 200 listed buildings and more than a few ghosts! Spooky Isles talks to Dunster author Nina Dodd about some of the folklore surrounding the medieval village

Nina Dodds is the author of Witches, Giants and a Ghost Cat - a travel guide to the mystery tales of Dunster
Nina Dodd is the author of Witches, Giants and a Ghost Cat – a travel guide to the mystery tales of Dunster

Nina Dodd talks about Dunster

If you are looking for a weekend get-away, Dunster in Somerset might just be the place to visit! Besides traditionally having been described as one of the best preserved medieval villages in the UK, it has now also been branded “Britain’s most haunted place”. To find out how this happened, we interviewed author Nina Dodd.

SPOOKY ISLES: You brought out a book called Witches, Giants and a Ghost Cat – a travel guide to the mystery tales of Dunster in September 2023. Can you tell us what it is and how you came about writing it?

NINA DODD: I moved to Dunster five years ago with my husband and two sons, and quickly realised that, even though Dunster is such a popular spot for visitors, there were only a few books written about it. I had toyed with the idea of writing a book for a few years and finally in 2022 I thought ‘why not?’ After all, I had worked for over 15 years as a journalist, so putting a pen to paper was nothing new to me.

What I did not expect was how the topic drew me in. The project started as a ghostly travel guide but quickly turned into a much broader research into old English superstitions, folk beliefs and stories of otherworldly entities people living in this picture-perfect south-west village had shared for hundreds of years. 

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We understand that after your book was published in September, media got wind of it and quickly named Dunster “Britain’s most haunted place”.

Yes, the British press can create catchy headlines, can’t they? In reality, the title of the articles written about the book, and Dunster’s ghostly scene, aren’t far from truth as I collected over 60 ghost stories from Dunster alone, and since then, several new ones have cropped up. Dunster has over 200 listed buildings with the oldest ones dating back to 1100s, so, I suppose, it is no wonder that there are many stories surrounding this village. 

Tell us something about the actual encounters. What is your favourite story?

If I had to pick one, it would probably be a recent story of a family who was watching television together in their living room, when they all of a sudden saw a cat appear from nowhere. As they were watching on in disbelief, the apparition happily jumped up and down on their furniture and then disappeared again. It was quite delightful to watch the facial expressions of the family reliving the moment when I interviewed them!

There are many other sweet stories in the book of apparitions doing daily chores, such as baking bread and having a chat with a hotel guest’s young daughter. There is also a story about a ghost who saved a woman’s life in the night when she was in danger of monoxide poisoning. There are some sad stories as well, like the one of the little Victorian drummer boy who kept on following the owner around the house, even sitting next to her on a sofa while watching television. 

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What about the more unsettling ones? Are there any darker stories you would like to share?

Most of the stories recounted in this book are not scary, but just convey the amazement of the people who experienced the encounters. However, there are a couple of darker ones, and one in particular that younger readers might find rather unnerving – especially the one set in St George’s churchyard. 

A villager told me how he had been walking his dog in the night when he saw a woman, dressed in a dark long cloak, standing in the middle of St George’s churchyard. The villager greeted, as is customary in Dunster, but as the woman turned around, the villager was filled with fear, took a step back, and saw the figure produce massive wings and take off over the churchyard’s ancient yew tree. When the villager told me this story, he still appeared rattled by it. What rattled me a little was his brother’s comment that the story reminded him of the sightings of a “moth man”, believed to make an appearance only before catastrophic events.

Wow, that certainly is quite a story. We have understood that the book also contains a self-guided ghost walk of Dunster. How does that work?

Besides recounting the fabulous local superstitions and stories of witches, giants and “the little people”, I wanted to arrange the ghost stories in such a manner that visitors could use the book as a ghost walk guide as well. In the last chapter of the book, I have divided the village into nine different areas, so people can either follow the trail from their own armchair at home, or walk through Dunster while reading the stories. 

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Thank you for the interview, Nina, and good luck with the book! We are sure our readers will find it a fascinating read and head towards Dunster for a mini-break!

Thank you for the chance to talk about the book with you. Dunster is a lovely place, full of history, beautiful buildings and friendly locals, with a bonus of being able to do a proper ghost hunt while here. I hope to see you all in Dunster!

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