Hands up if your first thought when someone mentions Whitby is ‘that’s the place where Count Dracula came ashore in England’.
Of course you might be more interested in the religious history of England and know all about the synod of Whitby in 644AD.
But I suspect that if you’ve been there before, your main thought will be for the fish and chips from The Magpie Cafe.
Whatever takes you to Whitby, it’s nigh on impossible to ignore the grand ruins of Whitby Abbey, standing proud on the cliff top above the town, and it would be very rude indeed not to pay it a visit while you’re there.
We used the traditional approach for tourists – up the 199 steps. (Very helpful to have a strong dog to pull you up the last 50 or so).
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting Dracula. Despite passing the very gothic graveyard of St Mary’s Church on the way. (There’s no way I’m ever going to have the same feelings about Dracula after watching Richard Roxburgh in the 2004 film, Van Helsing – Dracula oozing sex-appeal….)
So I was glad they kept off the subject entirely at the Abbey.
I was however a tiny bit shocked to discover that Whitby Abbey as we see it today, has pretty much nothing to do with the synod of 644, or the great Abbess Hild (Hilda), other than to be in approximately the same position.
Apparently in Abbess Hild’s time, even Whitby didn’t exist – the town was called Streaneshalch (Whitby was the name the Vikings gave to the town when they came in the early ninth century).
What you see today, are the ruins of the Benedictine abbey, founded after the Norman Conquest and worked on over the centuries, until finally dissolved by Henry VIII, in 1539.
I’m sure that part of its enduring glamour is its exposed position on the windswept cliff. But it turns out that when it was built, the sea was considerably further away – and the Abbey was probably sheltered from the winds by the intervening headland.
I went with some preconceptions and admit to having been disappointed not to find myself communing in spirit with the learned Abbess, but that’s the trouble with having expectations. On the other hand, what you do see is rather wonderful and certainly imposing. It was cold when we went, so I probably didn’t give it as much attention as I might have in warmer weather – an excellent reason to go again.
As indeed is another visit to The Magpie….
For More Information
I have to say I loved Whitby. We stayed for a few days in a cottage in the town – I’m not sure what it would be like in the height of the summer season, but superb for a slightly out-of-season break.
This is the link to the Abbey’s website. There was a lot more to see at the abbey – you could easily spend a long time looking around if you weren’t freezing to death. The cafe was good too, and if you choose to sit outside (as we dog owners so often do), you get a brilliant view of the steam train coming in and out of Whitby station.
Want to know more about St Hilda? I know I do – here’s some wiki information.
Now come on, everybody knows the story of Dracula don’t they? Here’s a summary if you don’t have time to read it, or if you’re too scared!
If you’ve walked up all the steps (and back again), you definitely deserve fish and chips. There are plenty of places to choose from – it’s a tradition. If you wimped and drove there – choose the smaller portion.
A lot of the Goth clothes and nick-nacks were the usual standard, but if you search the backs of a couple of shops, you’ll discover some glorious examples – I shall always wonder what effect the red corset and black taffeta skirt would have had on the other half…