The year was 1893 when a Russian vessel known as the Demeter was cast ashore by the fury of a powerful storm. When the locals arrived to investigate, they found no personnel on board save one, for lashed to the helm was the corpse of of the ship's captain. The rest of the crew was presumed dead or otherwise, lost at sea. The captain's log told of a series of strange occurrences, which slowly but inexorably led to the disappearance of the entire crew during the vessel's long journey from the coast of the Black Sea. The ship's cargo was equally baffling as it consisted of boxes filled with silver sand and soil from the east. Only one large dog seemed to survive the long journey, as it was spotted jumping ashore from the wreckage. At the time, those who had arrived at the wreckage could not fathom the gravity of the situation at hand, for Count Dracula had just arrived at Whitby.
By all accounts the town of Whitby is a place that inspires the imagination, as it certainly did for Bram Stoker during his time spent there. Although I have never been there, I find that historic community compelling nevertheless. Of course, Bram
Stoker was not the first writer to be inspired by Whitby. He is in
fact, just a part of the town's literary history. It is believed that
the very first pieces of English literature were created there by the
monk and Anglo Saxon poet, Cædmon.
Whitby is a seaside community that lies at the mouth of the River Esk where it empties into the North Sea on the east coast of North Yorkshire. Streonshal, as the town was once called, dates back to around the year 656, when Oswi, the Christian King of Northumbria, founded the area's first abbey. Around the year 867 Streonshal's original abbey and monastery were destroyed during the Viking invasion but was rebuilt and reestablished in the year 1078, just 12 years after the Norman invasion. It was at this time that the settlement took on the name of Whitby.
Perhaps even more attractive to Whitby's visitors is the town's ambiance. It's a rather isolated community that to a very great extent, still resembles the Whitby that inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula. An acquaintance who recently attended Whitby Goth Weekend described the community's atmosphere this way:
"Such is the nature of transport in the UK that, even though only at the
northern end of the very county in which I live (in old terms, anyway) getting
there takes as long as it would to reach one of the major cities north of the border;
the journey - particularly on the last leg, along the North-Eastern coast
between Scarborough and Whitby - is distinguished by wild moorland and steep
rises and falls. I can easily imagine that Bram Stoker, making the journey,
would have found inspiration there for the scenes in "Dracula" which
take place in Transylvania."
Of course, Stoker also took inspiration from a Hungarian writer he befriended named Arminius Vámbéry, who excited Stoker's imagination with dark tales from Transylvania and the Carpathian Mountains. Still, there is little doubt that Whitby had a major influence on the creation of Mr. Stoker's best known novel.
The Whitby Goth Weekend attendee continued describing the atmosphere there:
"Once within Whitby itself the effect of the Moors journey continues to
weigh heavily; the town itself has changed little since the late 19th century
(a fact I discovered looking at comparative photos of Whitby then and now), and
the winding, narrow streets only add to the sensation..."
Landmarks such as the Whale Bone Arch and explorer Captain Cook's statue only add to the municipality's personality. Further, having personally seen photos of the local churchyard cemetery, I can easily conjure up in my mind's eye a vision visions of the graveyard and its surrounds late on a cloudy, gloomy afternoon/ What a wonderful setting!
All things considered, I cannot imagine a more fitting place to hold an event such as Whitby Gothic Weekend than in this community by the North Sea. But whether you travel there for WGW or not, Whitby most certainly sounds like a most compelling place for those of us of the Gothic persuasion to visit. I don't know if I'll ever make it there myself, but I'd certainly love to do so and am already dreaming about it.
By the way, there is a person I see from time to time that is originally from Yorkshire. He has assured me that anyone visiting Whitby simply must stop by The Magpie Cafe, which is right by the harbor. "They have the best fish and chips in all of England," he told me. Now I really, really want to go!
The above photo, Whitby Abby at Night, appears courtesy of Minnie d'Arc.