Friday, 14 June 2013

The Ruined Abbey


  "The abbey is a most noble ruin, of immense size, and full of beautiful and romantic bits; there is a legend that a white lady is seen in one of the windows." (Stoker 1890)

Bram Stoker
It's easy to see why Bram Stoker was so taken by the village of Whitby with its ruined abbey brooding from the cliff top above the quaint Victorian harbour.  The day I visited Whitby was a brilliant sunny day with crowds of holidaymakers taking advantage of the welcome spring weather, but despite the blazing  sunlight the abbey still looked dramatic with its towering Gothic arches and jagged spires.

The steps to the abbey ruins


It's a gruelling but spectacular climb up the 199 steps up towards the abbey. At the top, guides in monk's costumes  invited me to walk the circular labyrinth and ponder on the mysticism of the place.  Not surprisingly the abbey attracts some strange enthusiasts and I encountered a dabbler in New Age magic who was looking for "ley lines", mystical alignments of ancient monuments existing in the UK and a tall bald-headed Goth wearing a floor length leather coat and multiple tattoos.

The creepy graveyard
Inside the ruins
On entering the ruins you can't help but think of The Count who, en route from Transylvania to London on the Russian schooner Demeter, is shipwrecked off the Yorkshire coast and comes ashore as a black dog that bounds up the steps towards the abbey then wreaks havoc on the people of Whitby.  There is still a strange little room in the walls of the ruin fronted by an iron gate.  Was this Dracula's daytime resting place?!

I discovered that though Dracula is a work of fiction, tourists still ask where The Count's grave is located and the graveyard in front of the abbey and the nearby St Mary's church is filled with enough Gothic style headstones, suitably gnarled, decaying and eaten away by the damp salt air to satisfy any horror enthusiast.
Victorian jet mourning brooches

The great Bela Lugosi as Dracula
I finished off the visit with a visit to the Ebor Jetworks, one of the many shops selling jewellery made of Whitby jet, a rich black stone mined from the cliffs nearby.  Jet was the stone of choice for mourning beads and brooches in the Victorian era.  Seems like a death stone is just right one to represent this strange little town so now when I put on the jet earrings I'll be listening for the whirr of bat wings, the scratching of sharp claws on the window pane or the howling of the wolves, "the children of the night.  What music they make."