First a confession: several years ago I read ‘Dracula’ – part of which is set in Whitby - and was deeply unimpressed (‘The Historian’ by Elizabeth Kostova is a different take on Dracula, and is brilliant). Don’t get me wrong – I have a bit of a thing for certain (fictional) vampires, but it’s rather selective, and they veer away from traditional takes on vampire fiction. I was a HUGE ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ fan – I especially loved Spike; ‘Sunshine’ by Robin McKinley is something of a comfort book for me – baking and vampires (trust me, it’s a strange mix but it works!). ‘Fevre Dream’ by George R. R. Martin (yes, that one) is very humane and adds a Deep South Riverboat twist. As a child I wasn’t into vampires, but I did have a soft spot for witches; Jill Murphey’s first three ‘Worst Witch’ books were great favourites, as was ‘Witch Week’ by Diana Wynne Jones (part of the Chrestomanci series). And not forgetting the fabulousness of ‘The Witch’s Handbook’ by Malcom Bird, with its brilliant and VERY funny illustrations and lots of practical advice on how to be a witch! Possibly slightly worryingly, it was my mother who bought me those books – so it’s definitely at least partly down to her that I’m rather weird… Anyway, the point is that whilst I don’t go around wearing nothing but black and accessorising with bats in my hair I do have a fairly well-developed Gothic streak (possibly also exacerbated by repeated reading of ‘Jane Eyre’ as a teenager). On a bit of a side note, a month or two ago I was in a haberdashery shop when I saw some skull-and crossbones ribbon, which led to a discussion with the shop assistant in which she revealed that when the Halloween displays get put up in shops she wanders the aisles singing ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year’ to herself!
On the East Cliff the ruins of Whitby Abbey loom in a picturesque fashion, and it really is worth climbing the 199 Church Steps to St Mary’s church (on the way to the Abbey) to see a wonderful view of the harbour. I have M.E/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and am not a fan of stairs, but these were easier than I feared they would be, partly because I have a walking stick, partly because they were deliberately made shallow to make it easier for coffin-bearers to carry coffins from the town up to the graveyard. It’s these stairs that Dracula (in the form of a dog) ran up after his arrival in Whitby. The graveyard itself is wonderfully windswept and atmospheric. As for the Abbey – a casualty of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries – it really is magnificent and beautiful in its ruined state. The broken and jagged edges fit well with the cliffs and the bleak beauty of the North York Moors (it was so atmospheric that I found myself humming ‘Wuthering Heights’ on the car journey back to my cousin’s house!).