Britain at its best: Whitby is the Yorkshire seaside town that inspired Dracula – and it’s to die for
- In Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic, Count Dracula lands at Whitby on a schooner
- The most splendid Gothic spot is its abbey, which overlooks the coast
- Harry Mount stayed at The Riviera, a comfortable B&B with ‘epic’ sea views
Sitting in the Fisherman’s Wife restaurant, eating a dressed crab fresh from the North Sea, I was suddenly chilled to the bone.
There, loping along Whitby’s empty beach, was a huge, lone dog. For a split second, I thought it was Dracula.
In Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic, Count Dracula lands at Whitby on a shipwrecked schooner, the Demeter, thirsting for blood. The crew are all dead, including the captain, found lashed to the wheel. The only survivor is an immense dog.
Gothic splendour: The ruins of Whitby Abbey overlooking the North Yorkshire coast
As soon as the Demeter touched the shore, the dog leapt out on to the sand and headed straight for the steep cliff below the church of St Mary’s. The dog is Dracula in disguise.
The dog I saw was, in fact, racing towards its owner — and, thank goodness, it didn’t morph into a blood-sucking, coffin-dwelling, Transylvanian mass murderer.
There are echoes of Bram Stoker everywhere in Whitby. He stayed in the charming Royal Crescent (at number 6), just round the corner from my comfortable B&B, the Riviera Guesthouse.
The Riviera, a tall, classical house, has epic sea views. I watched out of my bedroom bay window for hours as darkness fell over the waves, which then lulled me to sleep.
Whitby still has a Gothic feel to it, with Goths, clad in black, wandering around town. I strolled past two in their 60s, in matching, sweeping capes, walking their dog along Khyber Pass, a street leading up from the harbour.
Whitby’s most splendid Gothic spot is its abbey, which sits on the headland above the town. Despite being bashed up by Henry VIII — and a stray German bomb in 1914 — its soaring arches still survive, yards from the cliff edge and St Mary’s Church, just above the beach where the canine Dracula made his landing.
English Heritage has recently completed a fine refurbishment of its museum in the 17th-century country house that sits in the shadow of the abbey. It was at the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD that King Oswiu of Northumbria said he would follow the southern Christian customs of Rome, rather than the northern Christian customs followed by Irish monks on the Scottish island of Iona.
The Riviera Guesthouse, is a ‘comfortable’ B&B with ‘epic’ sea views, says Harry Mount
In the Whitby Abbey museum are the earliest three-dimensional Anglo-Saxon crosses ever found in Britain — from around 700 AD, just after the Synod. There is an extremely early fragment of Anglo-Saxon stained glass; jewellery made of that familiar black jet; and the 12th-century Abbot’s Book, written in Latin and Anglo-Saxon — a real rarity, giving the details of the abbey’s landholdings.
The explorer Captain James Cook, murdered in Hawaii 240 years ago, remains the town’s favourite son. He began his career as a merchant apprentice there. His statue gazes out to sea from West Cliff, and he figures prominently in Whitby Museum in Pannett Park.
Also very much worth seeing is the Captain Cook Memorial Museum — a beautifully elegant, mid-18th-century house where Cook lodged from 1746-49. The most stirring exhibits are the 16th-century maps showing great gaps in the Pacific in the places yet to be discovered by Cook.
You might say it was Cook who really put Whitby on the map, too — until a mammoth dog with a manic bloodlust landed on the beach in 1897.
Sea-view double rooms at Riviera Guesthouse from £80 per night (rivierawhitby.com). Whitby Abbey is open daily, 10am-6pm (englishheritage.org.uk/whitby). Whitby Abbey and its new museum opened on April 1 (adults £8.90; children £5.30).