The seaside town of Whitby on the North Yorkshire coastline, may seem like a typical seaside town relying on sandy beaches, fish and chips and amusement arcades for trade, especially in summer. The town has had an eventful history however.
The ruined abbey that dominates the town from its clifftop setting dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, and it was here that the differing views of how Easter should be dated were reconciled at the Synod of Whitby in the seventh century. Viking raids, Henry VIII’s dissolution, and WWI naval bombardment have left the abbey as a shell, but its raised position enables it to maintain a dramatic silhouette against the northern skies.
Once the home of a great fishing fleet, the economy has suffered as fish stocks have dwindled, but by encouraging leisure boat owners to moor in the River Esk they continue to make good use of the port where the explorers William Scoresby and more notably James Cook learnt their trade, the latter commemorated through a museum, statue and a pub named after his ship, the Endeavour.
The town is also noted for its bi-ennial Goth Weekend, though purists feel that the event has been watered down by other sub cultures like Steam-Punk and Victorian Vampires attending, together with the scores of photographers who wish to take advantage of willing models. (I have so far resisted the temptation).
What is it that draws them all to Whitby? Perhaps the visit in 1890 of Abraham Stoker explains a lot, for when he set to writing his classic gothic novel he chose for his anti-hero to come ashore here and visit both the graveyard of St Mary’s atop the hill and the abbey ruins.
I don’t know what time of year it was when Bram Stoker came to Whitby, but if you’re looking for a day that would inspire a writer to share an account of a shipwrecked vampire and his eventual demise then a January such as this wouldn’t be too unsuitable for Count Dracula. The clouds would have provided ample protection from the sunlight.