The searchlight followed her, and a shudder ran through all who saw her, for lashed to the helm was a corpse, with drooping head, which swung horribly to and fro at each motion of the ship. No other form could be seen on deck at all. A great awe came on all as they realised that the ship, as if by a miracle, had found the harbour, unsteered save by the hands of a dead man…There was of course a considerable concussion as the vessel drove up on the sand-heap. Every spar, rope, and stay was strained, and some of the ‘top-hammer’ came crashing down. But, strangest of all, the very instant the shore was touched, an immense dog sprang up on deck from below, as if shot up by the concussion, and running forward, jumped from the bow on to the sand. Making straight for the steep cliff, where the churchyard hangs over the laneway to the East Pier so steeply that some of the flat tombstones – ‘thruff-steans’ or ‘through-stones’, as they call them in the Whitby vernacular – actually project over where the sustaining cliff has fallen away, it disappeared in the darkness, which seemed intensified just beyond the focus of the searchlight.
From Dracula by Bram Stoker
I’ve recently returned from Whitby: a busy little port on the north east coast with a long and illustrious history. It’s one of the finest little towns in the north of England and one I’ve revisited each year with Annalie for the past three Spring / Summers.
The ruined abbey on the cliff, the white-walled fishermen’s cottages with their orange tiled roofs and the blue sky punctuated by crying gulls and tolling church bells, help make it a perfect writers retreat.
It’s also a palaeontologists dream with regular rockslides revealing the fossil record of the inhabitants of long-dead oceans. Even for amateurs such as ourselves a stroll along the beach reveals fragments of ammonites, crinoids and nautiloids that lived on the seabed millions of years ago.
St Mary’s churchyard, where parts of Dracula take place, sits adjacent to the abbey and the sandstone monuments to the dead, weathered and honeycombed by wind and rain, ease out from the church to the edge of the cliffs. Last winter severe storms brought down a section of cliff above the town and with it part of the churchyard. Carried down and scattered by the landslide, many of the bones ended up at the back of Fortune’s Kippers smokehouse. It’s as though the dead; no longer content to lie around and wait to be petrified, have burst out from their underground chambers to dally once more among the living. The Goths will love it…
The church itself, where Captain Cook attended as an apprentice sailor, is an architectural wonder: large boxed family pews dominate the nave surrounded on all sides by tiered public galleries raised on columns high above. Large inscribed tablets fixed to the walls remind people of the perils of ignorance and the glory of God.
The early nineteenth century saw an evangelical revival and sermons could last for hours. In the 1820’s the Reverend James Andrews fixed two large ear trumpets to the side of the pulpit so that his long suffering wife, who had mercifully gone deaf, could be perched at the base and plugged in. A gesture he no-doubt believed would bring her salvation.
Dracula only drinks blood and we’ve already had black pudding, so unfortunately no recipe this week.
The dog in the picture isn’t really Dracula. It’s Jasmine from Tweedies Bar posing for her picture in Grasmere churchyard.
Next week: Even the cows love it…