Friday, 30 October 2015

HALLOWEEN SPECIAL: WHITBY WHOOOO!



This weekend Whitby is set to be invaded by hordes of ‘goths’ as it hosts one of its twice-yearly Goth Weekends (the other being in late April).  These interestingly attired folk, sometimes scary-looking but always genial, evidently regard Whitby as their spiritual home, and they lend a unique atmosphere to the streets and pubs of this picturesque Yorkshire harbour town. 

But why Whitby?  Well, a certain 19th-century author called Bram Stoker probably has a lot to do with it.  His classic horror novel Dracula, published in 1897, starts off in continental Europe, but in chapters 6-8 the action moves to Whitby. Stoker stayed in a house on the West Cliff in 1890, and it was during this stay that the inspiration for Count Dracula took hold.  Stoker visited Whitby Library during his stay, where he studied a history book containing a reference to the name Dracula. 

In the novel, Dracula is shipwrecked off the coast of North Yorkshire on the Russian schooner Demeter as he makes his way from Varna to England. The approach of the Demeter is witnessed by a multitude of people gathered on the pier.  Certain among them describe  how “lashed to the helm was a corpse, with drooping head, which swung horribly to and fro”.  When the ship ran aground, “an immense dog sprang up on deck from below” – the dog in question being a manifestation of Dracula. 

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Whitby pier.  Photo by derek dye, via Wikimedia Commons

Mina Harker, the fiancée of Jonathan Harker, who has the unenviable task of bringing Dracula to England, describes Whitby Abbey as “a most noble ruin, of immense size, and full of beautiful and romantic bits”.  She also tells of the legend of a ‘white lady’ who has been seen in one of the windows.  In the novel, Dracula is buried in St Mary’s Church graveyard.  Many visitors come looking for the grave, forgetting that it is a work of fiction.  However, visitors wanting to immerse themselves fully in the Whitby experience can always join one of the excellent ghost tours on offer.  They might also want to visit the Bram Stoker Memorial Seat, placed in an elevated position with a view which is allegedly identical to that which inspired the Whitby scenes in Dracula.  

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Whitby Abbey.  Photo by dennis smith, via Wikimedia Commons

Apart from its spooky credentials, Whitby is famous for the quality of its fish and chips, and the most famous fish and chip restaurant in the town is The Magpie, although it has become something of a victim of its own success, with queues often stretching out into the street. Those who don’t like having to queue, however, have plenty of other alternatives to choose from, as there are several other exceptionally good fish and chip venues in the town. Best to ask a local for advice on where to go, although you’ll probably get as many different answers as people you ask. Apart from the aforementioned Abbey and the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, another activity not to be missed is to take one of boat trips which leave from the harbour, including sailings on a replica of Captain Cook’s HMS Endeavour. One of the commercial activities which used to take place out of Whitby was whaling, and there is a relic of that time in the form of the whale jaw bone arch on the West Cliff. Another product of the area is jet, a lustrous black mineral formed from the fossilized remains of trees from the Jurassic period, which can be found for sale in many of the shops mainly as jewellery.

Map of the area.

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