If you've been following my Instagram account, Facebook page or Twitter feed, you will know that I've just spent a week in Whitby, a fishing village on the North Yorkshire coast — it was my third visit, but the first time I've actually stayed in the town.
Most Australians will know Whitby for its link to Captain Cook (he grew up nearby, learnt seamanship here and set sail for his voyage to Australia from Whitby), but anyone who has read Dracula will know that part of Bram Stoker's classic novel is set in the town. In fact, on my last visit in 2007, I was inspired to read the novel — and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.
This photograph (above) shows me sitting on the same bench seat — and squinting into the sun — that Bram Stoker is said to have sat on. The view across the River Esk towards Whitby's old town and East Cliff inspired him to write Dracula.
"This is a lovely place. The little river, the Esk, runs through a deep valley, which broadens out as it comes near the harbour. A great viaduct runs across, with high piers, though which the view seems, somehow, further away than it really is. The valley is beautifully green and is so steep that when you are on the high land on either side you look right across it, unless you are near enough to see down. The houses of the old town -- the side away from us -- are all red-roofed, and seem piled up one over the other anyhow, like the pictures we see of Nuremberg. Right over the town is the ruin of Whitby Abbey, which was sacked by the Danes [...] It is a most noble ruin, of immense size, and full of beautiful and romantic bits; there is a legend that a white lady is seen in one of the windows."
I can understand why he found inspiration here. The town has such a Gothic feel to it — especially in winter — partly from the town's traffic-free dark laneways and cobbled alleyways...
....and the brooding presence of the ruins of St Hilda's Abbey sitting atop the East Cliff.
That same graveyard is the haunt of Count Dracula in the novel.
"For a moment or two I could see nothing, as the shadow of a cloud obscured St. Mary's Church. Then as the cloud passed I could see the ruins of the Abbey coming into view; and as the edge of a narrow band of light as sharp as a sword-cut moved along, the church and churchyard became gradually visible... It seemed to me as though something dark stood behind the seat where the white figure shone, and bent over it. What it was, whether man or beast, I could not tell."
To get to the church (and the graveyard), you have to climb the "199 steps" from the old town. These are the steps that Dracula, in the guise of a huge black dog, scurried up when he escaped off the boat that had run aground on the beach below.
I did think it a bit odd to find, not a black dog but a black cat, wandering along that same beach. It was quite a wild and windy day, and as soon as he spotted me he scampered over to rub himself against my legs. I'm not sure Dracula would have done that... or would he?
Of course, you can't go very far in Whitby without seeing some commercial reference to Dracula — and while I don't normally do "touristy" things, I did make a point of visiting the Dracula Experience, which was just a stone's throw from the holiday cottage we rented. (It tickled me that the shop next to it, which sadly I didn't photograph, was called "Giggles" because you really need a laugh after you've been scared witless by the attraction next door.)
Admittedly, it was rather naff, but I did jump once or twice, and I might have even screamed when a woman's bleeding skull popped out of the wall when I walked past. But hey, I had to get my ticket's worth.
Funnily enough, it was difficult to find any suitable literary memorabilia to buy (the Dracula Experience doesn't even have a souvenir shop attached — they're really missing a trick), but I did track down this "tasteful" coffee mug in a tacky tourist shop for the rock bottom price of £2.99. It will be perfect to use when I settle down for a re-read of the novel at some point...