Friday, October 14, 2011

Whitby Abbey and St. Mary's Church

To celebrate Columbus Day weekend (a holiday for us Americans here in the UK) we drove up to Whitby, a coastal town famed for two things: Captain James Cook started his career here in the 18th century and this port is where Dracula's ship came in literally (or should that be literarily?) in Bram Stoker's novel.

We probably should have gone to see some of the Capt. Cook stuff in town, but our trip was only a day trip and we had limited time. We concentrated on seeing the Abbey, the port, going to the best fish and chips place (according to our guide book). Anything else we saw we considered a bonus.

Whitby Abbey is one of the most spectacular ruins still standing today. It is situated high over the town on a bluff and is visible from miles away whether you are on sea or on land. The winds constantly blow up there, giving the desolation of the ruin that little something extra. It's easy to imagine creatures of the night wandering across the landscape.

View from the parking lot; Abbey on right, recent manor house on left

The first abbey was establish in the 600s by Hild (or Hilda, historian write about her with both names) as a monastery with separate parts for men and women, an unusual arrangement. Back then the town was called "Streaneshalch" (which makes me glad this is a blog and not a podcast, so I don't have to pronounce it). When the Vikings came in the 9th century the name changed to the Danish "Whitby." The Vikings wiped out the original abbey, eventually being replaced after the Norman Conquest of 1066. Construction on the new abbey began and the abbey complex was expanded substantially in the 13th century.

HIld's Abbey on the left; 12th c. abbey on right

It ran as a Benedictine Abbey until Henry VIII's suppression of the monasteries in 1539. Sir Richard Cholmley bought the area and his family retained possession if not care of the Abbey until the early 20th century, when the Ministry of Works took over. By this point the Abbey had become the picturesque ruins we visited this past weekend.

We found the site to be exceptionally windy, as can be seen in our pictures.

Don't make us let go!

Somehow, Jacob managed to keep the map the whole time

Inside the abbey (or what was left of it) was quite spectacular. Jacob found a spiral staircase that was locked off from public access. The floor was littered with feathers and we heard some birds cooing above. Jacob was obsessed with this and still talks about it today. He imitates the bird's coo in the car and claims the top of his window is home to some bird.

Shelter from the wind

How does this survive exposed to the elements?

Jacob's favorite spot, littered with feathers, and yes, bird poop

North transept with bird tower

We found the kids playing in this area which was full of tombstones, which we tried to discourage. Also, we found one of the wells. Since the bluff is so high up, no springs or rivers are nearby so they collected rain water. And we found what we thought was a good view of the sea.

Looking out at the North Sea

Walking on the tombstones is not a good idea for any number of reasons.

Not sure what they were expecting.

We did stop in at the tea shop for some refreshment. Jacob claimed that his granola bar wrapper stated it was okay to make a mess in the shop. He even showed it to me as evidence:

Crumbs allowed here

Not to be outdone, Lucy made a mess of herself with her chocolate ice cream cone:

Vampires make less mess when they go a-biting!

We proceeded to St. Mary's Church, right below the Abbey, which had an even better view of the bay and was also the scene for early action in Dracula. We weren't able to go inside since they close at 3 p.m. but we enjoyed the view.

Not open right now, alas!

The graveyard where Mina Murray wrote in her journal, overlooking Whitby

Overlooking the harbor

Overlooking the bay

The next blog post will tell of our adventures in town.

If you want to listen to the novel Dracula, check out CraftLit, a podcast which just started reading it chapter by chapter, with excellent commentary and background information. I'm enjoying it immensely, even though I've only listened to the first chapter.

Here's the beginning of Chapter Six from Dracula, describing Whitby from Mina Murray's journal:

24 July. Whitby.--Lucy met me at the station, looking sweeter and lovelier than ever, and we drove up to the house at the Crescent in which they have rooms. This is a lovely place. The little river, the Esk, runs through a deep valley, which broadens out as it comes near the harbour. A great viaduct runs across, with high piers, through which the view seems somehow further away than it really is. The valley is beautifully green, and it is so steep that when you are on the high land on either side you look right across it, unless you are near enough to see down. The houses of the old town--the side away from us, are all red-roofed, and seem piled up one over the other anyhow, like the pictures we see of Nuremberg. Right over the town is the ruin of Whitby Abbey, which was sacked by the Danes, and which is the scene of part of "Marmion," where the girl was built up in the wall. It is a most noble ruin, of immense size, and full of beautiful and romantic bits. There is a legend that a white lady is seen in one of the windows. Between it and the town there is another church, the parish one, round which is a big graveyard, all full of tombstones. This is to my mind the nicest spot in Whitby, for it lies right over the town, and has a full view of the harbour and all up the bay to where the headland called Kettleness stretches out into the sea. It descends so steeply over the harbour that part of the bank has fallen away, and some of the graves have been destroyed.

In one place part of the stonework of the graves stretches out over the sandy pathway far below. There are walks, with seats beside them, through the churchyard, and people go and sit there all day long looking at the beautiful view and enjoying the breeze.

I shall come and sit here often myself and work. Indeed, I am writing now, with my book on my knee, and listening to the talk of three old men who are sitting beside me. They seem to do nothing all day but sit here and talk.

The harbour lies below me, with, on the far side, one long granite wall stretching out into the sea, with a curve outwards at the end of it, in the middle of which is a lighthouse. A heavy seawall runs along outside of it. On the near side, the seawall makes an elbow crooked inversely, and its end too has a lighthouse. Between the two piers there is a narrow opening into the harbour, which then suddenly widens.

It is nice at high water, but when the tide is out it shoals away to nothing, and there is merely the stream of the Esk, running between banks of sand, with rocks here and there. Outside the harbour on this side there rises for about half a mile a great reef, the sharp of which runs straight out from behind the south lighthouse. At the end of it is a buoy with a bell, which swings in bad weather, and sends in a mournful sound on the wind.

They have a legend here that when a ship is lost bells are heard out at sea....

1 comment:

  1. Protect your necks at all times and eat lots of garlic!