Whitby Abbey is perched on top of the cliffs overlooking the small fishing town of Whitby in North Yorkshire. With a long history and connects to the story of Dracula, this windswept location if perfect for exploring.
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. As you walk up the steps, take time to look at the benches. Not originally there for resting on the way up, but for give the pallbearers somewhere to rest the coffins on the way to the churchyard at the top of the steps.
A few nights a year the winter 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 around this time of year.
Some of the most haunting parts of the Dracula story emerge as you wander amongst the ruins of the abbey in the darkness. The darkest corners of Bram Stoker’s imagination are revealed in the book, an imagination that still haunts today in the abbey.
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.
Photographing whitby abbey
Given its popularity with tourists, Whitby Abbey is difficult to photograph during opening hours. Getting down low and using the undulating meadow that surrounds the buildings helps a lot.
The abbey can also be seen from the churchyard at the top of the steps with the gravestone providing a fantastic foreground. Do remember that this is graveyard and special to many families.
On the nights when the abbey is illuminated it will be busy but waiting until the performances start and having a wander can allow you to explore in peace. A tripod and long exposure will also allow people wandering around to be removed from your image.
Following the outer path around the perimeter of the wall will provide a good view across the lake, even when the grounds are closed and this is one place to get fantastic sunset shots as the sun goes down across the town.
Whitby Abbey can be seen from across the town and fits perfectly through the whale bone arch on the opposite side of the town on the hills heading north as well as from the harbour area and on boat trips out.
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.
Other places in whitby to explore
- Harbour – The small harbour is busy and bustling with some of the freshest fish you will see in the country. Take time to wander around the harbour area and treat yourself to a fish supper
- Whale Bone Arch- On the hill opposite the abbey is an arch made from a whale jaw bone. Erected originally in 1853 this is the third arch to stand in recognition of the brave fishermen who went hunting for whales in Greenland and the importance of this old way of life on the prosperity of the town.
- Captain Cook Museum – This museum was home to a young James Cook when he was training as a seaman and in his younger years when he was home between voyages. A statue can be found in the town as well, remembering the achievements of the explorer.