Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Up the Coast

Last Saturday, seagulls filled Whitby's hollow sea breeze with their chilling screams, flapping in circles around fishing ships and lobster crates. Whitby, a fishing port along the North Sea in North Yorkshire, was the city where Captain James Cook, the great British explorer, learned his seamanship trade. But most famously, Whitby is the home of Dracula. 

Bram Stoker found inspiration in the salty air, steep cliffs, ancient ruins, and the graveyard surrounding St. Mary's Church upon the clifftop. And so the great vampire of the 19th Century was born, leaving a fictional, yet strangely haunting presence in Whitby's harbor. 

"But, strangest of all, the very instant the shore was touched, an immense dog  sprang up on deck from below ... 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 ... it disappeared in the darkness."

-Bram Stoker in Dracula, 1897

Perfectly framed by the whale bone jaw, St. Mary's Church as Stoker refers to in Dracula stands tall, but overpowering the church from behind is the magnificent Whitby Abbey, a stone skeleton left after 2,000 years, weathered and crumbled. Stone columns once beautifully painted from within, faceless windows once covered with beautiful stain glass, and towering spires where a lofty roof once held the weather out, the abbey would have been a spectacle in it's full structure. Standing on the bones of the past, I could only imagine life within the abbeyit was a monastery for both nuns and monks togetheras if I could hear the echoing voices of a solemn hymn or see the shapes of meditating monks in the high windows. 

And yet that strange presence of Dracula wouldn't leave me, especially while walking the grounds where history lies in coffins. So of course I kept my Dracula spirit, imagining alongside the nuns and monks, a black-cloaked figure stalking the perimeter of the abbey, preying on innocent specimens like that poor man in the blue coat.   

We didn't last long on the clifftop as the bone-chilling winds numbed our fingers and toes, so naturally we descended the cliffdown the steepest cobblestone road I've ever seenstraight to the water's edge were we dipped our fingers in the North Sea. I would love to say I participatedthough I wouldn't have felt it either way as my fingers were purplebut instead, I volunteered to snap the picture of the North-Sea-touchers. Just as I clicked the picture, however, a wave came in, engulfing their feet with icy, sea water! Needless to say, we ran away quick and never returned. I did feel the sea spray if that counts. 

For the remainder of our visit, as half of us had wet feet, we sat in the warm comforts of Robertson's where we drank a pot of hot Yorkshire tea and stuffed our bellies with fish and chipslocals say there's no better place for fish and chips than at a fishing harbor. I agree, but seeing as I never had fish and chips before, I couldn't say either way.  

Many of us are familiar with the question, "What's your favorite thing you've done?" I've always struggled narrowing down my favorites to just one day or thinguntil now. I can honestly say that Saturday in Whitby has been my favorite day, including the train ridemy first everthrough Yorkshire's Moorland National Park. I came home with a glowing heart, an empty wallet, and camera full of memories. There's nothing better.