Just looking at photos of this place conjures up all sorts of images, but to actually stand within the ruins is something else! Whitby Abbey is starkly perched on high cliffs over looking the seaside village of Whitby on the north Yorkshire coastline . Windswept and desolate doesn’t begin to describe the feeling. Having wanted to visit Whitby for years, I had the chance to do so after speaking at a conference in Cumbria a few years ago. Although a lengthily detour cross country, it was definitely worth the trip.
It was late fall; the day was grey, it was windy and bone-chilling damp….and definitely haunting. There wasn’t a soul around and I spent some time just sitting within the ruins trying to imagine what it would have been like for the Whitby monks in harsh winters 1400 years ago…even into the 13th century….can you imagine? It’s probably equally impressive on a balmy sunny day in summer but with a bit more welcoming feel …perhaps I was just meant to get the full impression and so the opportunity presented itself…who knows?
This abbey, like several that dot the British Isles, has an intriguing history. Whitby however, possesses more than one or two legends and events in its history. This said, there are two that readily cometo mind if one has ever heard of the Abbey. From a religious perspective, Whitby is very prominent as it was the site of the ‘Synod of Whitby’ in 664 CE when the deciding vote was taken regarding the Church’s date for Easter. Would the Celtic church bow to Rome or would it stand its ground on a date that had been honored for centuries? Well, we all know the outcome of that one!
Whitby’s history and lore is sprinkled with tales of bloody Viking raids, miracles performed by its first Abbess, St. Hild and of course the requisite ghosts! However, in more recent times(relatively speaking) it’s said that the ruins of Whitby provided inspiration to Bram Stoker as the destination of Dracula’s doomed ship, Demeter. Very definitely one can see how old Bram could have been so inspired.
At the end of the day, Whitby is just one of those places you can’t easily erase from your mind…but then can’t one erase images of Dracula, either.
photography©gaye f. mack, inc.