Friday, 14 June 2013

The Ruined Abbey


  "The abbey 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." (Stoker 1890)

Bram Stoker
It's easy to see why Bram Stoker was so taken by the village of Whitby with its ruined abbey brooding from the cliff top above the quaint Victorian harbour.  The day I visited Whitby was a brilliant sunny day with crowds of holidaymakers taking advantage of the welcome spring weather, but despite the blazing  sunlight the abbey still looked dramatic with its towering Gothic arches and jagged spires.

The steps to the abbey ruins


It's a gruelling but spectacular climb up the 199 steps up towards the abbey. At the top, guides in monk's costumes  invited me to walk the circular labyrinth and ponder on the mysticism of the place.  Not surprisingly the abbey attracts some strange enthusiasts and I encountered a dabbler in New Age magic who was looking for "ley lines", mystical alignments of ancient monuments existing in the UK and a tall bald-headed Goth wearing a floor length leather coat and multiple tattoos.

The creepy graveyard
Inside the ruins
On entering the ruins you can't help but think of The Count who, en route from Transylvania to London on the Russian schooner Demeter, is shipwrecked off the Yorkshire coast and comes ashore as a black dog that bounds up the steps towards the abbey then wreaks havoc on the people of Whitby.  There is still a strange little room in the walls of the ruin fronted by an iron gate.  Was this Dracula's daytime resting place?!

I discovered that though Dracula is a work of fiction, tourists still ask where The Count's grave is located and the graveyard in front of the abbey and the nearby St Mary's church is filled with enough Gothic style headstones, suitably gnarled, decaying and eaten away by the damp salt air to satisfy any horror enthusiast.
Victorian jet mourning brooches

The great Bela Lugosi as Dracula
I finished off the visit with a visit to the Ebor Jetworks, one of the many shops selling jewellery made of Whitby jet, a rich black stone mined from the cliffs nearby.  Jet was the stone of choice for mourning beads and brooches in the Victorian era.  Seems like a death stone is just right one to represent this strange little town so now when I put on the jet earrings I'll be listening for the whirr of bat wings, the scratching of sharp claws on the window pane or the howling of the wolves, "the children of the night.  What music they make."










Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Real Garden of Eden

The road to Dufton Ghyll
Carpets of bluebells in Dufton Ghyll.
Descending into the forest


Imagine a walk through a fairytale wood - carpets of bluebells, crystal clear trickling streams,  ancient trees clinging to a mossy rock face, sunlight filtered through lush greenery and centuries-old bridges covered in velvety moss.  This is a typical scene from the Eden Valley in Eastern Cumbria, a gorgeous area of Northern England near to the Pennines, the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales.
I had the pleasure of staying in the tiny village of Dufton, for a long weekend while researching locations for my new novel, A Proper Lady.  
Rediscovering my middle name.



I also made a kind of personal pilgrimage to another small village that shares the same name as me.  Puzzled?  Well - I've long hated my middle name, Milburn (which sometimes auto-corrects on my Mac as Milbum and is right now underlined in red as I write), but near the village of Dufton is the small community of Milburn, a sleepy little place though the day we passed through everyone was making their their way to the village green for races and refreshments.  I stopped for awhile to take pictures and left feeling a little better about my name though it still reminds me of that stuffy banker in The Beverley Hillbillies!  I'll try harder to think about its real meaning - the mill by the stream!!


This horse was tied up at a fork in the road as if he was there to give driving directions.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The Beautiful North


Durham Cathedral
So I'm sitting in a train travelling North West towards Preston and watching the green fields grow dark in the dusk.  This week I've already been up to Durham City where I gazed in awe again at the spectacular cathedral and castle set in a heavily wooded bend overlooking the River Wear, I explored the nearby coastline and the quaint holiday towns of Hartlepool and Seaham, nicely restored from their heavy industrial past.


I also had an amazing trip to Whitby, a beautiful Victorian seaside resort on the Yorkshire coast and the site where Bram Stoker's Dracula first touched dry land in England when his ship washed up on shore and the Count was taken to the ruined abbey that still now stands imposingly above the bay.  I'm researching settings for my new novel "A Proper Lady" which will be set partly in the gorgeous town of Kirby Lonsdale, Cumbria and Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast.  Set in the 1890's this novel features the feisty Bonita Salt, a plump but pretty young farm girl taken under the wing of the glamorous Violetta de Vere who promises to change Bonita's life for the better.  Things don't go quite as planned and Bonita is plunged into an adventure she can't turn back from.  I'll keep you posted with more great pictures and info about the characters.

Ruskin's View Kirby Lonsdale

Whitby