If there’s one essential stop on the North Yorkshire coast it’s WHITBY, with its historical associations, atmospheric ruins, fishing harbour, lively music scene and intrinsic charm. The seventh-century cliff-top abbey here made Whitby one of the key foundations of the early Christian period, and a centre of great learning. Below, on the harbour banks of the River Esk, for a thousand years the local herring boats landed their catch until the great whaling boom of the eighteenth century transformed the fortunes of the town. Melville’s Moby Dick makes much of Whitby whalers such as William Scoresby, and James Cook took his first seafaring steps from the town in 1746, on his way to becoming a national hero. All four of Captain Cook’s ships of discovery – the Endeavour, Resolution, Adventure and Discovery – were built in this town.
Walking around Whitby is one of its great pleasures. Divided by the River Esk, the town splits into two halves joined by a swing bridge: the cobbled old town to the east, and the newer (mostly eighteenth- and nineteenth-century) town across the bridge, generally known as West Cliff. Church Street is the old town’s main thoroughfare, barely changed in aspect since the eighteenth century, though now lined with tearooms and gift shops. Parallel Sandgate has more of the same, the two streets meeting at the small marketplace where souvenirs and trinkets are sold, and which hosts a farmer’s market every Thursday.
Bram Stoker and Dracula
Bram Stoker and Dracula
The story of Dracula is well known, but it’s the exact attention to the geographical detail of Whitby – little changed since Bram Stoker first wrote the words – which has proved a huge attraction to visitors. Using first-hand observation of a town he knew well – he stayed at a house on the West Cliff, now marked by a plaque – Stoker built a story which mixed real locations, legend and historical fact: the grounding of Count Dracula’s ship on Tate Hill Sands was based on an actual event reported in the local papers.
It’s hardly surprising that the town has cashed in on its Dracula Trail. The various sites – Tate Hill Sands, the abbey, church and steps, the graveyard, Stoker’s house – can all be visited, while down on the harbourside the Dracula Experience attempts to pull in punters to its rather lame horror-show antics. Keen interest has also been sparked amongst the Goth fraternity, who now come to town en masse a couple of times a year (in late spring and around Halloween) for a vampire’s ball, concerts and readings.