An A-Z Journey Around Britain

47 Whitby

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Dracula wanted blood and eternal love from Mina. Too busy pretending to be a black dog and needing to escape the shipwrecked Russian schooner, the Demeter, he neglected to explore one of the finest towns in Britain. In the novel the wreck of the Demeter anticipated a real tragedy that occurred in 1914. Rohilla was a hospital ship that was carrying 229 people when it crashed close to the shoreline that is overlooked by Whitby Abbey. 85 people died and they are buried in Whitby Cemetery.

Bram Stoker visited Whitby in 1890 and read about vampires in the local library. The Dracula Experience relies on actors rather than high technology. My partner and elder daughter were so affected by the horror they escaped into the street. I guided my other daughter through the attraction but also kept my hand over her eyes. The creepy sound effects and an actor who looked like he had stepped out of hell were sufficient terror.

Local business people complain about the queues at Magpie Cafe. TV chef Rick Stein thinks it the best chip shop in Britain. Dracula can be excused for failing to visit. Vampires do not like fish and chips. But, like too many before him and since, Dracula thought that only London mattered.

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The Abbey was founded in 656 AD by Oswy the Christian King of Northumbria. Later it was wrecked by the Vikings and rebuilt. Cædmon, who was born a year after the Abbey was founded, is supposed to be the first recognised English poet. He resided in the Abbey, herded cows and wrote Latin verse. Modern agricultural man is different. 199 steps climb the hill to the Abbey on the Moors. The history of the steps is vague. The first route was a donkey track. The steps definitely did exist in 1340 but rumour has it that they were built in the 11th Century.

In the Middle Ages herring and whaling fleets were established in Whitby. The well preserved whalebone is a decent statue and complements a good view of the Yorkshire coast.   Whalebones were used to manufacture stays in corsets.  Apart from fishing, jet and alum were mined. The mining and fishing jobs required physical strength. When Captain James Cook was an apprentice seaman, Whitby had a population of 5000 and it included 1200 apprentices.  Whitby was always a lively town. Tourism developed in the Georgian period and expanded when the railway station was built in 1839.

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Today many of the 13,000 population work in the service sector. Such work demands people as cheerful as Jurgen Klopp but 2,000 households in Whitby survive without motorised transport. The population is declining. Captain James Cook was one of the first to leave, and, close to the whalebone, there is a statue of him outside the impressive Royal Hotel. He would approve of the swing bridge. It lets boats into a colourful harbour and links the two cliffs that support the different sides of the town. Whitby also has a good but modest beach and two scenic lighthouses that must have provided thought for vampire fighters. Single adults and vampires look uncomfortable on the Whitby Steam Bus but if there is anything that justifies kidnapping a child for half an hour, it is this attraction.

Next week, an unhappy Paul Simon and a startled Ronette, Widnes

Howard Jackson has had four books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His latest book and compilation of horror stories is called Nightmares Ahead. Published by Red Rattle Books and praised by critics, it is available here.

If you want to read more about his travels click here.

 

 

 

 

 

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