It was Autumn of 2013 when I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the very first time and got the literal chills down my spine. It has, ever since, been one of my most favourite horror books, and one that I love to revisit each year come spooky season.
Not surprisingly, when I moved to England, one of the top spots on my travel bucket list was to visit the place that served as an inspiration for Bram Stoker’s masterpiece.
Along the east coast of England lies Whitby, a quaint little fishing town, so steeped in culture that it formed the setting for Bram Stoker’s epic Gothic horror ‘Dracula’.
Windswept cliffs, majestic 11th century churches, spine chilling grave yards and narrow winding alleyways is what awaits you in Whitby.
The sight of the Whitby abbey, tall and majestic, standing on a solitary cliff, greets you as your car makes its way through the narrow meandering roads. Both overwhelming and welcoming, Whitby can be a bit confusing for the first-time visitor regards to what shall we begin with – I said, Dracula first!
At the other end of the town, across Cathedral street are the 199 (really steep) steps which take you up to the Whitby Abbey and the Church of St. Mary, established sometime in the 11th Century.
Legend has it that sitting in the graveyard of this church, overlooking the windswept cliffs and wild seas, Bram Stoker was hit by the idea of Dracula making his way into England through this small sea side town on a stormy night. It is hard to miss why this place couldn’t have inspired anything less sinister.
Vampires aside, this is a venerable place, maintained impeccably by the English Heritage, and a walk across the grounds is highly recommended.
Note: A number of tourists come to the Abbey believing Dracula was buried here, and spend considerable time going through the grave yard looking for his grave, which is both morbid and funny. Dracula, a fictional character, was killed in his home town in Transylvania and as all vampires are, so was he, reduced to dust on his death as he was exposed to sun rays in his final moments.
But wait…. There’s more to Whitby!
Besides vampires, Whitby is also famous as being the place where the famous explorer Captain James Cook served once as an apprentice, before beginning his journey across the seas, which led him to discover the east coast of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Hawaii Islands.
The place of his apprenticeship is now a converted museum ‘Captain Cook Memorial Museum’. There is also a cruise service available for enthusiasts in a scale model of the captains famous ship ‘Endeavour’ (constructed to about 40% of the original size).
Simply known as the Captain Cook Experience, it is a 20 min cruise across the sea, educating you about the captain, his life and adventures at the same time. Of all the ones available along the harbour side, my personal recommendation would be for this one.
Once you’ve had your fill of vampires and explorers, make your way to the market town and take your pick from a number of cafe’s serving some of the freshest sea food.
Note: Most travel reviews and websites suggest Magpie’s as the best place for fish and chips. Be advised that this place can get extremely crowded with waiting times of nearly 25 to 30 mins for a table or even a take away. Although the wait can be worth it, do avoid if you are already starving! The other eat outs more than make up for it.
Make your way down to the beach and dip your toes in the warm sand as you enjoy your fish and chips. Do not feed the sea gulls, no matter how cute they look. They do attack (remember Finding Nemo?)
As the sun sets in the horizon, stretch your legs on one of the many sea facing benches back on the pavilion (or better still, hire a deck chair) and treat yourself to a little ice cream as you contemplate just how much history can a town this small possibly hold!
A walking guide:
The route we followed was to take a walk across the Whitby Pavilion, soaking in the crisp salty air and the lovely views of the crystal clear waters.
Summers are when this town comes alive with lively street performances, and I strongly suggest to see at least one of them, for the sheer beauty of it. No fire breathing magicians, or sword eating jugglers, just a group of artists portraying the culture of the place.
Most of these performances take place at the pavilion, and it is a nice way to take in the sights and sounds of the town.
Make your way across the landmark ‘Whale Bone Arch’ and down the narrow staircase to the harbour side. Whitby is situated over cliffs and therefore, be prepared to climb up and down.. a lot!
The harbour side is the main market place, full of street side cafe’s, and various river cruises (more on that later). As you make your way across the harbour side, you reach the bridge which takes your across the River Esk, on to the other side of the town.
The two things not to be missed here are the various little shops selling jewellery made of the locally mined stone ‘Jet’, famously used by the Queen once as mourning jewellery.
How to get there:
An ideal destination for a relaxed weekend by the seaside, Whitby can also be managed as a day trip, especially, if like me, you are planning your travel from nearby cities like Manchester, the total drive time being approximately 2hrs 45 mins. The nearest airport to Whitby is Durham.