Up until now, I was convinced I had seen my fair share of ancient treasures, but nothing prepared me for Whitby Abbey. This 13th century Gothic edifice blew me away, I could certainly understand what inspired Bram Stoker when he first laid eyes on those supernatural ruins.
Let me set the scene, the abbey stands proud, menacingly over the town of Whitby, dominating the coastal views, the harbour and everything in its far-reaching shadow. In 1897, Count Dracula was born (or so to speak), ensuring he would eternally be associated with Whitby, so much so that thousands of Goth and vampire followers descend each year on this quaint seaside resort. Up until then Captain Cook had been the towns claim to fame, but now there was a new boy on the block.
Going even further back, over a thousand years of history on this headland, from recent excavations discovering a round house near the cliff edge with objects dating back to the Bronze Age. The Anglian town and monastery were abandoned at some point in the 9th century. However, in the 13th century the monastery was rebuilt in the Gothic style with various parts being added over the years. Tragically, Henry V111 dissolved the church in the 1500’s and it has been decaying over the centuries, helped and weakened by exposure to the elements, but now owned and run by English Heritage.
A large car park can be found to the side of the abbey (check for parking charges), although we managed to park along the road side. Entry is via the Gatehouse, where you will be offered an audio guide, included in the ticket price. Our membership with English Heritage has been superb, allowing us to visit so many wonderful places. Wander around the grounds, immerse yourself in the atmosphere, these ruins have all the hallmarks of a ghoulish past. Let your imagination run wild. Be sure to pop into the visitor centre, filled with interesting information whilst taking you back through the ages. The lovely assistant we spoke was enthusiastic, informative and very helpful.
During the school half term, gather your little monsters for a great day out. Activities include following clues along a creepy trail, listening to spooky stories, while dressed to scare. Witches and warlocks welcome. Check the website for times and prices.
Below the abbey, stands the ancient parish church of St Mary. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to visit this Grade 1 listed building, unlike a vampire who only has time. Perched on East Cliff and accessible from the town below (Church Lane), by 199 steps! Don’t panic, if you can’t manage the stairs, just hop on the Whitby bus which will take you to the abbey and back down again. (Phew).
Some of the old headstones, in the dark and sinister cemetery have been worn by time and weather, and some stand over empty graves, marking seafarers whose bodies had been stolen by the sea. Bram Stoker saw this as the hallmark to an eerie, spooky story – and used the graveyard as a scene from his gothic horror story of the demonized deceased human.
A kodak moment, albeit rather macabre, is to take a photo of both the abbey and the church through the Whale Arch, that stands on the West Cliff. This is a replica of the original which was erected in 1853. In the 18th and 19th century whaling was an important part of life in Whitby, and tradition dictated the bones of the jaws were tied to the ship masts upon their return, showing the success of their mission. Thankfully this vile trade has been banned by most of the civilised world.
There is only so much Blah, Blah, Blah one can take in a day. I hope you enjoy your day as much as hubby and I did. In the immortal words of Arnie Baby (as our youngest nicknamed him) – I’ll be back.