This article was originally published on Morbid Planet on September 11, 2019.
In December 2017, my partner and I ventured over to England to spend the Christmas holiday season with relatives and visit a well-known vampire destination, Whitby.
We left Vancouver on December 18, 2017 and it was a gong show. Due to a sudden snow storm that dumped fifteen centimeters of snow, we weren’t sure our flight would make it out that night.
That morning, I worked for a few hours and then hit a yoga class. Getting back home was horrible. There were random power outages all over the city in commercial and residential areas, which included traffic lights. Buses were delayed by over an hour and in some areas, they couldn’t make it up the hills.
I finally got home and our house was cold and without power. I showered and packed by flashlight, which was not fun.
The power didn’t come on till about twenty minutes before we had to catch our cab to the airport. A number of flights were cancelled and we had to wait and find out if ours was going to leave. They de-iced our plane and we were finally on our way by 11 p.m.
One place I wanted to go during this trip was Whitby, a small town located on the north Yorkshire coast that has some famous connections to the novel Dracula.
We had booked our hotel for December 28 and 29 because it was too hectic to go before Christmas.
December 28, 2017
To save money, we booked a hotel just outside of Leeds at the Best Western Plus Milford Hotel. It was only $60 CAD a night because it was in the middle of nowhere. This situated us about only an hour away from Whitby.
We left super early in the morning and about half way through our 4.5 hour drive to Leeds, it started snowing. We didn’t know if we were going to make it or have to turn back. Driving in snow in England, is not like in Canada. They don’t plow or salt the roads nearly as much. To give you and idea of the temperature change, when we left the house in Crediton that morning in the South West, it was 12 degrees Celsius, and by the time we got to Leeds, it was -1.
We checked into the hotel and headed out to explore York for the remainder of the day. We visited the National Railway Museum, which was gigantic and took a couple of hours to see everything.
After, we wandered around the city center. I was surprised to see a couple of businesses from the U.S. in our travels. We came across a Krispy Kreme and Five Guys, total American food! We popped into Krispy Kreme and I grabbed a strawberry jelly doughnut. This wasn’t something I would normally eat, but I haven’t had a doughnut from a Krispy Kreme in years, simply because the only one in Vancouver is about an hour away from where we live.
Due to the nasty weather outside, we ate dinner at the hotel instead of driving again. I had a chicken burger without the bread or sauce due to my food allergies and a glass of white wine. It was quite tasty.
We checked the weather forecast before bedtime and they predicted more snow. Fingers crossed we could make it to Whitby. It would be a shame to come all this way and not get there.
December 29, 2017
When we woke up, the streets were paved with more snow, but we made it to Whitby. The highways were surprisingly clear and the funny thing was, as we approached the little town, there was no snow. The man working in the abbey gift shop later told me Whitby has it’s own climate compared to surrounding areas.
We parked by the abbey, and walked around the town to see the sites. I layered up with four layers of clothing including a rain jacket, scarf, and toque. I could have used an umbrella, but in the wind, it wouldn’t have lasted long.
Surprisingly, the parking was free. I am guessing because it was off season for tourists. The car park was quite a walk and outside we were met with freezing wind and cold rain. We walked down Abbey Lane past Whitby Brewery till we saw the front gates of the abbey. By the time we reached the entrance I was already frozen.
Before I continue, I should mention something. I didn’t do a lot of planning for Whitby because a little bird told me all Dracula items were well marked in the town. He said it was easy to navigate and find key elements. Reflecting back and for future reference, I shouldn’t assume anything and should have been more diligent with my research. I will get to this part later, but live and learn I guess.
We stopped at the gift shop first because it was right beside the front till where you buy your ticket to the abbey. I wanted to see what vampire goodies they had, before hitting up the other stores as I didn’t know what to expect.
The man that worked in the gift shop was quite helpful. He encouraged me to take whatever photos I wanted. Besides vampire treats, they had a lot of medieval stuff, including armor and helmets. He offered me to try some on and I declined.
My main mission in the gift shop was to find some goodies for Anthony’s Christmas present this year. For those of you that don’t know, Anthony Hogg is my colleague and friend. He is the editor-in-chief for our online vampire magazine, Vamped. Every Christmas and birthday I try to send him something unique that he can’t buy in Australia, and Whitby was going to make shopping easy this year.
My biggest problem was trying to decide on what to get him. There were so many things he would like. The books posed a bit of a problem, as I didn’t know which ones he had. Last time I checked, I think his vampire book collection was well into the three hundreds.
I purchased Anthony a little mix of items for his Christmas pressie. The only things that didn’t come from the abbey gift shop, were the coaster and fridge magnet. I picked them up at some other shops in town.
There were some exhibits to check out upstairs so we wandered around before heading back out into the cold.
We went outside to check out what I really wanted to see, Whitby Abbey. It was way bigger than I expected.
Over the years, I have visited a number of different crumbling architectural wonders in England, but this was by far the biggest set of ruins I had the pleasure of walking through
I was amazed at the condition of the structure, considering it was built in 657 AD. Visiting churches, castles and other structures this old are one of my favorite things to do in England, simply because you don’t find things like this in Canada. You can even see in the photo below, part of the transept is still intact.
Despite countless tourists trampling around the grounds, the grass was nice and lush. I figured some areas would be inaccessible to the public, but this wasn’t the case. It was nice to just walk at your own pace and not be hurried like I have been on tours.
We walked around the ruins for quite a while and I took way too many photos. Our next stop was Church of St. Mary’s, which was a few minutes away.
For Christmas, they actually had a lovely display of trees inside. Thirty-six of them to be exact. The trees were donated and uniquely decorated by local people or organizations. Some trees even had themes pertaining to a lost family members or pets. The trees rested on boards that balanced on top of the pews. I am assuming they left the middle empty so people could still attend service without moving the trees. The fellow working there said this was a tradition at Christmas time in Whitby.
There was a lovely view of the west cliff from the graveyard. In a way, it’s kind of surreal to think this is the same view that Mina Harker would have seen, sitting in the churchyard. We were going to make our way across there eventually, but for now, we proceeded down the 199 steps into the town.
Right beside the cemetery you can go down the famous 199 steps into the village. I was expecting more of a workout, but it was pretty easy. No wonder Dracula was able to sprint up them so easily!
Church Lane actually connects from the church and intersects with Church Street at the bottom.
The steps take you right into the village on Church Street. There were a few signs, but nothing Dracula specific so we continued on this street.
The Town of Whitby
A lot of shops had Whitby Jet displayed in their windows. For those of you that don’t know, Jet is actually a type of wood that is a result of high pressure decomposition. In 2016, I was fortunate to get a Jet necklace as a gift from Rosemary Ellen Guiley when I met her in Vancouver for dinner. She was a famous supernatural writer and friend that passed away in July 2019.
We followed Church Street until it intersected Bridge Street. We stopped in some shops along the way. I picked up a few vampire magnets and also a vampire coaster for Anthony in a local book store.
We came across a candy shop and picked up some giant cables. These tasty treats were like two feet long and filled with a chewy center.
After buying candy, we stopped for fish and chips at Chips Away. This place had an extensive menu. I chose a cheese and onion fitter and chips because of my food allergies. The fritter was amazing! We stood outside in the rain and ate, which wasn’t that pleasant, and by this time I was beyond cold and wet. I found myself wanting to check out shops simply because it was dry and warm inside.
We came across a milk shake shop that was unfortunately closed. I was super excited to see they had a Dracula themed drink posted in the window.
I wanted to try and find the museum and library if I could. I had only seen a sign pointing west and no other details.
We went from Bridge Street, up to New Quay Road, then through Station Square to the railway station. We checked it out and I saw another sign saying to carry on for the museum. I was really frustrated due to my own lack of planning and signage. Also there was nothing that gave the distance either. I could be close or blocks away.
I finally decided to turn on the data on my phone, which cost 10$ CAD, in hopes of figuring out where to go. I did a couple of quick searches and couldn’t find what I wanted. I figured someone out there would have given directions with street names, but if they did, I couldn’t find it. This is why I am naming streets in my article, for future tourists.
At this point, I was soaked, freezing, miserable, and frustrated. Even trying to type on my phone was challenging due to the rain. I decided to call it a day and go back to the car. I had visited the abbey, church and gone down the steps that I wanted, the rest was a bonus.
On the way back, we stopped to warm up at a little shop at the bottom of the steps for hot chocolate and a knickerbocker glory. This is a tasty ice-cream and fruit treat you can only get in England. I opted for tea, while everyone else had treats.
My Last Task
Once at the car, I discovered all my clothes were soaked right through. Shoes, pants, jacket, everything. The one thing I wanted to do before we went back to the hotel, was visit the bench on the East Cliff that was dedicated to Bram Stoker. I came all this way and damn it, I wasn’t leaving without a photo of it.
Unfortunately Leonard’s Vamped post didn’t show exactly where to go. I had to use the background of the main photo to pinpoint the location. We parked by the beach entrance on Cleveland Way. Due to the weather, everyone else in the car refused to get out so I explored by myself, in search of Leonard’s photo.
I found the Royal Hotel and turned right on East Terrace Street. I found the park across the street from the hotel that had the same make of the benches. I knew I was getting closer; however, the only way to find it was read the names on all of them. I was pissed off and swearing to myself. I was more wet and cold than before, but my perseverance finally paid off.
You can see in the above photo, you actually had to go down a set of stairs and cross a street to get to these benches. I almost missed them. The Bram Stoker bench was at the very end in the far corner of the park.
I figured out all of this from the Leonard’s photo. If someone would have said across from the Royal Hotel, down the steps and up to the grassy area and at the very end, I would have driven closer and just hopped out to get it. Instead I had to walk all the way back again in the rain. In total, I clocked another four kilometers just to find the bench.
When I got to the car, I peeled off my wet layers and shoes. I turned the heat on full and tried to dry out and warm up. I knew we had an hour drive back to the hotel and I wasn’t comfortable.
We almost didn’t make it, as the snow was still coming down outside of the Whitby. We were following the GPS lady and she took us up this hill in the middle of no where. We stopped for a photo and regretted it. The car started sliding down the hill and we managed to turn around. Having a manual transmission saved the day.
I was relieved when we made it back to the hotel. Even though I wasn’t the one driving, I find going through snow very stressful.
I wasn’t too happy with my accomplishments for my visit to Whitby, but I was happy I went. What would I do different next time?
First off, I would definitely go when the weather is warmer. The cold wet windy weather really hindered me. Freezing my ass off and being wet all day didn’t make things easy. I should have brought or bought an umbrella too; however, I don’t know how that would have worked with the wind. A few days later, I actually ended up with a sinus infection and it lasted seven weeks. I had to break down and get antibiotics for the first time in 8 years. That tells you how sick I was. What a great way to remember my trip!
Second, I would do some more research and bring an actual map that had all key points marked for easy reference. Normally I plan a lot more for my visits and my mistake was making assumptions based on feedback from others. I was also recommended a few places to see after some friends found out I went. Perhaps next time, I should put a call out for any suggestions.
This trip gave me a reason to explore a part of England we had never ventured to before and also to experience a little bit of history. I didn’t find Dracula, but I followed in his footsteps and found places from the original novel published by Bram Stoker back in 1897.
I recommend going, just do your research and go when it is warmer!
- Best Western Plus Milford Hotel: Great North Road, Leeds, England, LS25 5LQ, United Kingdom. https://www.bestwestern.com/en_US/book/hotels-in-leeds/best-western-plus-milford-hotel/propertyCode.83728.html.
- National Railway Museum: Leeman Road, York YO26 4XJ, United Kingdom. https://www.railwaymuseum.org.uk/.
- Krispy Kreme: 4 Coney St, York YO1 9NA, United Kingdom. https://www.krispykreme.co.uk/.
- Five Guys: 47 Low Petergate, York YO1 7HT, United Kingdom. https://www.fiveguys.co.uk/.
- Whitby Abbey: Abbey Lane, Whitby, North Yorkshire, YO22 4JT, http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/whitby-abbey/.
- famous connections to the novel Dracula: Leonard Lee, “Travels to Whitby: My Search for Count Dracula’s Birth Certificate,” Vamped, July 24, 2016, accessed June 1, 2018, https://vamped.org/2016/07/24/travels-to-whitby-my-search-for-count-draculas-birth-certificate/.
- Rosemary Ellen Guiley when I met her in Vancouver for dinner: Erin Chapman, “Remembering Rosemary Ellen Guiley,” Vamped, July 25, 2019, accessed September 11, 2019, https://vamped.org/2019/07/25/remembering-rosemary-ellen-guiley/.
- I waited two years to publish this article as it was planned for another website that I co-administer , Vamped.org.
Location: Whitby, North York, United Kingdom
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