The cold of an October evening rapidly approaches as the sun sets over the small fishing port of Whitby. On the hill above, Whitby Abbey sits silent and dominant as it has done for over a millennia.
Initially a monastery, established in AD657 by King Oswy and later a double monastery called Streaneshalch ruled by the dominant and formidable Abbess Hild there has been a settlement on this headland for over 1500 years.
As time moved on in an endless cycle the abbey decayed. The weather and wars passing through this east coast headland took their toll on the stone blocks making up this imposing building. Each block has its own unique story to tell of the past, now a distant memory.
Approaching from below, up the 199 steps the shadow of the abbey towers over the small church of Saint Mary. The steps were made famous by Bram Stoker’s mystical animal that ran up the steps after jumping ashore from the deserted ship.
Shadows dance around the churchyard and light from the illuminated abbey becomes visible. A few nights a year the darkness is eliminated and the abbey becomes the location for all things magical and dark. Burke and Hare are brought to life, the funerals of lost souls are conducted and Dracula haunts the abbey in a re-enactment of Bram Stoker’s famous story. Similar happenings occur in Dublin, the birthplace of Stoker.
Some of the most haunting parts of the Dracula story emerged from wandering amongst the ruins of the abbey in the autumnal darkness. The darkest corners of Bram Stoker’s imagination are revealed in the book, an imagination that still haunts today in the abbey.
Walking away from the abbey in the darkness, past the lake that sits on the edge of the grounds there is an unnerving feeling.
Vlad Dracul was very real, living in Sighişoara in Romania sometime in the 1430’s, but the links between this historical individual, better known as Vlad the Impaler and Stoker’s fictional character are tenuous. Vlad never came to Whitby, but the wild Victorian imagination and marketing continues to haunt lives into the 21st century.
This reasoned knowledge doesn’t help with the chilling feeling in the air as twilight turns to autumn night and the frost descends in a mist over the abbey.
Visiting Whitby Abbey
Whitby Abbey is located above the town of Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast. It is clearly signposted from the main roads into the town. This small town is one of the bucket list places to visit in Yorkshire, a perfect place for adventures and exploring.
You can also walk to and from the centre of Whitby town to the abbey. It does involve the 199 steps but the views on the way up are worth pausing to admire.
Car parking is paid on arrival. Remember to put your ticket in your window or pay online. It is really easy to access from the car park and there are good paths around the abbey.
If you want to get a feel for Whitby Abbey allow at least an hour to explore, if not more. Throughout the summer there are activities for families and over Halloween there is usually a Dracula themed event.
Opening times and admission prices can be found on the English Heritage website.