I do like books with a strong sense of time and place – it makes me want to go there and see the place for myself. Despite having grown up in Harrogate and spent many summers in Scarborough, I’d never been up the coast to Whitby. So this year, when I decided our family holiday would be a tour of Yorkshire and Northumberland, one of the places on my list was Whitby where the ship bearing Dracula, the Dmitri, is cast ashore in a fearsome storm. So after a pleasant afternoon on the beach at Filey (favourite seaside town of Charlotte Brontë) and with no storm clouds on the horizon, we headed north up the Yorkshire coast to Whitby.
We were booked into the youth hostel which is situated in a grand, old, rambling house on the East Cliff, next to the ruins of Whitby Abbey. How romantic! Having lugged our bags and suitcases up the winding stairs and along the uneven corridors to our family room, it was time to go in search of fish and chips. What else?
Now, the youth hostel is next to the Abbey on the top of the East Cliff. The town is at the bottom of the cliff. And there’s only one way down. One hundred and ninety-nine steps. Or an unbelievably steep path next to the steps which would make a great place for James Bond to ride a motor-cycle, but which I was not going to attempt. (Having now been up and down those steps numerous times, I must read Michel Faber’s The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps.)
Anyway, having made it down the steps with thigh muscles intact, we found ourselves plunged into the heart of Whitby’s old town, probably little changed since Bram Stoker’s day – cobbled streets, half-timbered houses, quaint tea shops and long-established jewellers selling beautiful pieces made from Whitby jet. The fish and chips, which we ate with our fingers by the estuary, were delicious. The seagulls were ear-splitting.
Having been woken up early the following morning by an enthusiastic cockerel in the allotments next to the youth hostel, we set off to visit the gothic ruins of Whitby Abbey. Quite by chance we arrived in time to see the première of a three-man production of Dracula in the grounds of the Abbey.
It’s on every weekend over the summer and is well worth seeing. It’s a promenade performance where the audience follows the cast around the grounds of the Abbey and makes brilliant use of the setting. It’s also extremely funny as the actors, two men and a woman, manage to cover about a dozen different characters between them.
We finished off our stay in Whitby with a wonderfully spooky ghost walk and the biggest box of takeaway chips I’ve ever seen. Thank goodness for those 199 steps to help burn off the calories.