On the surface, the harbour town of Whitby on England’s northeast coast appears rather normal. A traditional ramshackle town, quaint even, with ramshackle rows of houses lining the banks either side of the River Esk, which empties into the North Sea here.
There are boutique shops and award-winning fish and chip shops; check out Magpie Café (www.magpiecafe.co.uk) – it’s a cut above your average chippie. Cute fishing boats bob in the harbour, and church spires and grand Georgian houses line the hilltop horizons.
Don’t be fooled. Whitby is spooky! For a start, Bram Stoker wrote Dracula here, as he looked at the gothic ruins of Whitby Abbey, which still loom over the town. There are 199 steps to the top – yes, I counted them!
I also went on a particularly creepy ghost walk (www.whitbywalks.com), which departs every day from the appropriately sinister Whale Bone Arch, and heard stories of murders, haunted alleys and pubs with spectral regulars. Shadows of the past linger in every nook and cranny of this beautiful, eerie place. In fact, Whitby has such a ghostly reputation that it hosts the annual Whitby Goth Weekend (http://whitbygothweekend.co.uk) every October.
I stayed in the Stoker room at La Rosa Hotel (http://larosa.co.uk/hotel). It has a deep blue velvet bed cover on a heavy, wooden framed bed. There’s a taxidermied bat on the wall above the door, which freaked me out even though I was determined that it wouldn’t!
Best of all was the view from the balcony (and the bed) across to Whitby Abbey on the other side of town, and the hamper breakfast they leave outside your door. Hard-boiled eggs, croissants, cake and fresh coffee; a decidedly non-scary start to the day! The only drawback was the lack of bedside table – a nuisance for spectacles wearers, especially when you need to grab your glasses in the middle of the night to check that shadow is just a coat on a peg... They also have a Lewis Carroll room if your taste in fiction is more fantasy adventure than gothic horror. Like Stoker, Carroll made repeated visits to Whitby. And given half a chance, I’ll be back again soon too.