Ever since I read Bram Stoker's 1897 novel 'Dracula' I had wanted to visit the pretty North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitby. The small fishing port - romantically positioned between a sometimes tragic North Sea (a teenager drowning off Whitby's cruel waters the week after my departure) and the Brontesque Yorkshire Dales - features in the book as the eerie village in which the dastardly Count sucks the life out of poor Lucy Westenra before jumping the overnight sleeper to King's Cross. Stoker visited the town a number of times, his account of Dracula's dramatic arrival reputed to be based on a real incident in which the ship Demetrius ran aground on Whitby's shore...its gruesome cargo of occupied coffins discovered by the local townsfolk in the first morning light.
The modern Whitby still manages to maintain a romantic atmosphere, the ruined skeleton of its clifftop abbey (below bottom - destroyed by Vikings in 867) dramatically silhouetted high above the harbour. The East Cliff's atmospheric old cemetery and the historic, jagged-roofed fisherman's cottages underneath endow the restless shore with a sense of mystery, danger and a strange other worldliness (below top). 'Romanian gypsy' fortune-teller Lee Esther Alita Lee had set up shop along the main drag (below middle) and thankfully the usual seaside tackiness characteristic of most dreary British seaside towns was kept to a minimum. The old lady was charming, not tacky oirright?
Another of Whitby's many charms (apart from the replica of James Cook's ship Endeavour which almost brought up me breakfast - above) was this fantastic little fully functioning smokehouse (below). A real tourist crowdpleaser, the business still produced many a fine fishy product from authentically smoked fresh salmon to a divine kipper pate, as eaten by crusty old seadawgs. A local hefty chap spent his days shovelling sawdust onto the smokehouse fire, creating the thick black tar dripping from the walls like the devil's viscous oil and posing like a trained monkey for tourist photos and entranced children alike.
In tribute to the town's whaling heritage, Whitby also displayed its nautical history and power by fashioning a curious archway on top of the West Cliff from an enormous whale-bone jaw (below). The original structure was erected around those quaint pre-Greenpeace/Peta times of 1863, the current structure an Alaskan donation dating from 2003. This esoteric little statement again adds to the unique charm and ambience of this delightful seaside town and helps illustrate why Whitby attracted writers, artists and intrepid seafarers of the past as well as goths, folk festival hippies and all manner of tourists alike in the modern age.
Lastly, I just had to add this link for a classic 80s video for one of my dear, dear readers who is a HUGE Mick Hucknall fan (you know who you are...however I will refrain from publically shaming you, 'Ban-Ki Moon')!
The song is Simply Red's melancholy 1986 dirge 'Holding Back the Years', the video shot in Whitby, featuring many scenes of the pretty harbour, abbey and cemetery, as well as a youthful cameo from old Primrose Hill caner Sadie Frost. Enjoy, 'Ban-Ki'...