With its connection to Dracula, it's iconic Abbey and rumours of local ghosts and witches, Halloween in Whitby is a must for spooky shenanigans.
‘Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble’
It’s a wonderful night, for getting a fright, but where to celebrate the vampire's bite? I’m struggling now for rhyming prose, so I’ll just get straight to what I propose, and that is you go to Whitby!
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Whitby, of course, is a gorgeous fishing town on the North Yorkshire coast with all the charms that you need to have a wonderful traditional seaside holiday.
However, as the sun sets, it is also a town of numerous ghost stories, shipwrecks, legends and home to chapters of the Dracula story! Due to these spooky attributes, Whitby is a town that people flock to from all over the world to celebrate Hallowe’en.
‘I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey.’
(Rocky Horror Picture Show)
You may have noticed that there has been three different spellings of Halloween already. This is because Hallowe’en has been and still continues to be spelled three different ways fairly commonly. Why? Well, that’s down to Hallo’eens strange history journey.
The name Halloween comes from a Christian festival that is held on the 1st November which is All Hallows Day, but the actual festival itself is of Celtic heritage and known as Samhain.
Samhain was celebrated on the 31st October and symbolised the end of summer and the harvest period.
It was on this night that the Celts believed the boundaries between the world of the living and the dead became open. Bonfires were lit to ward off evil spirits.
In the 8th century, the Catholic church was in the midst of trying to rid England of all other religions and festivals associated with them.
Samhain soon fell under the churches gaze and it was decided that their festival All Hallows Day would be moved to the 1st November from the 13th May. This meant that Samhain would now become All Hallows Even, even meaning eve.
By the 16th century, the name All Hallows Even had been shortened and became either Hallo’een or Hallowe’en. By the 18th century, this changed again, and the apostrophe was dropped leaving Hallowe’en as we know it today!
‘It’s Halloween, everyone’s entitled to one good scare.’
If you choose to spend Halloween in Whitby, there is no doubt that you will find an activity that will give you a spooky thrill or two, and the following is a guide of 13 (it had to be) places to find them.
With ghosts, spooky streets, gothic festivals, paranormal nights and Dracula, Whitby really does have it all!
‘Oh look, another glorious morning. Makes me sick!’
If you’re going to visit Whitby for Halloween, you’re going to need a place to stay and wake up on those glorious mornings that may or may not also make you sick.
The best place to do this? Why Bats and Broomsticks guest house of course!
Bats and Broomsticks is the only guest house in Whitby that is completely decorated and dedicated to the gothic and Victorian.
It has been specifically designed to cater to the vast number of goths and Dracula fans that visit Whitby every year.
There are three rooms available to stay in at Bats and Broomsticks; the lunar room, the Dracula room, and the green man room.
Each of these rooms has a four poster bed and a TV with DVD player and a choice of a vast collection of films.
Breakfast is served in a candlelit dining room for those vamps out there that don’t like the light!
‘I’m a homicidal maniac, they look just like everyone else.’
(The Addams Family)
To take part in any Halloween activity in Whitby, you are going to need a fantastic costume to dress up in.
Fancy dress is a huge part of the experience you will have during Halloween in Whitby and believe me when I say anything goes!
Witches, wizards, vampires, pirates, freak circus, steam punk, gothic Victorian, Edwardian, Georgian; the list is endless and you will see them all and find them all for hire in the town.
However, Halloween is a busy time of year for costume hire shops and by the time you arrive there, you may find all the best ones gone. You can avoid this by hiring costumes before you go.
Molly Limpets is a bespoke theatrical and fancy dress costume maker based in Sheffield but offering a courier service all across the UK and Ireland.
With over 30,000 choices and both a Halloween and Whitby collection they really are the Narnia of fancy dress.
‘The moon has awoken with the sleep of the sun, the light has been broken; the spell has begun.’
For several days over Halloween the moon is not the only illumination that falls onto Whitby Abbey where Dracula arrived through the waters below.
There is also a dramatic light set up that bathes the Abbey in vivid colour and makes its gothic looks even more dramatic. This event is known as the Illuminated Abbey.
Suitable for all ages this event also includes costumed characters walking around and telling tales of grave robbing and witch trials.
There is also a live performance of the story Dracula in which Bram Stoker took inspiration from Whitby and its Abbey and wrote his haunting tale.
The story of Dracula, as I’m sure you already know, tells the tale of a vampire, Count Dracula, who falls in love with a visitor to his Transylvanian castle, Jonathan Harker’s, girlfriend.
He travels to Whitby to woo her on the Russian ship the Demeter which crashes spectacularly into the rocks beneath Whitby Abbey.
Every member of the crew aboard that ship, except for the Captain, is dead and the only live passenger to disembark alive is a large black dog with red eyes which runs up the 199 Steps and into the blackness of St Mary’s Churchyard.
Of course, this is the Count himself!
‘Listen to them – the children of the night. What music they make.’
(Dracula, Bram Stoker)
On the last weekend of October, there is an annual gathering of music-loving goths that descend on Whitby and take part in its bi-annual Whitby Goth Weekends.
Started in 1994 by a group of just 40 pen pals who had met through the music magazine NME, this annual gathering is now attended by people from all over the world.
It has also evolved into a festival for anyone and everyone and celebrates all alternative lifestyles.
Over the weekend there are dances, boat trips, picnics, plenty of live music and a market called the Bizarre Bazaar.
Here you will find all manner of stalls selling all manner of things including insect jewellery, rock boots, burlesque and alternative clothing, artwork, and horror art dolls.
For those attending and not attending the festivities of the weekend, it is also a chance to see some of the best fancy dress and costumes that you will ever see.
From steam punk and gothic to fine Victorian dresses, you will see it all!
‘Something wicked this way comes…’
…….And it is the Halloween Train!
Running for the five days up to and including the 31st October the Halloween train is a spooky activity for all the family to enjoy.
It runs from Pickering, just 30 minutes from Whitby and all its Halloween fun to Lewisham and back. It is a non-stop journey with plenty of tricks and treats.
Whilst on the train you will meet Wendy the witch, Vinnie the vegan vampire and the spooky magician who will not only regale you with ghost stories and frightful tales but also entertain you with magic and sing-a-longs.
A packed lunch is also provided for children and adults alike, but sorry grown-ups only the kids get the special gift from the pirate captain for taking this scary ride!
‘During the day I don’t believe in ghosts. At night, I’m a little more open-minded.’
For a special Halloween in Whitby experience we have to give mention to Rose Ryland, The Whitby Storyteller. Join Rose for private ghost tours around St Mary’s church graveyard and the old parts of East Whitby.
There's also a Halloween Ghost Walk in Robin Hood’s Bay.
And for those seeking an exclusive Halloween themed evening, there are now tickets on sale at the White Horse and Griffin for ghost stories with dinner in November.
During the day it is hard to believe that Whitby is anything other than a beautiful picturesque seaside town. However, at night that all changes especially if you dare to take the Whitby Ghost Walk!
Led and hosted by Dr. Crank the Whitby Ghost Walk is a 75-minute ghostly experience that informs you of all the murder, mystery and suspense within the town of Whitby.
It includes such delights as the Dutchman’s house, a headless horseman, barghest hound, haunted lighthouse, Dracula’s bench and the hand of glory.
So as not to spoil the surprises and spooky tales that you will hear when taking this tour I won’t go into too much detail other than to say I found the burning girl, the screaming tunnel and the grey lady the scariest and most macabre tales of all!
‘I put a spell on you because you’re mine.’
There is no doubt that the youngsters in the family will be spellbound by this fantastic fun for all the family show; Magic Mikes Halloween Special!
It is to be hoped, however, that he doesn’t put a spell on you all and turn you into frogs! 😉
For over twenty years Magic Mike has been entertaining children and adults alike with his funtastic shows that are full of tricks and illusions.
He does this with the help of his loyal friends and puppets, Chuck, Carlos, and Oscar the parrot.
I really can’t think of a better way to enjoy Halloween with the kids than by attending this magic show and letting your hair down.
Fancy dress is highly encouraged, and that goes for the adults as well!
‘Sometimes the world of the living gets mixed up with the world of the dead.’
Halloween is believed to be one of the times that it is easiest to reach across the breach and communicate with the world beyond.
This makes Halloween the perfect night to grab some candles and blankets and head to the beach to hold a seance!
The art of holding a seance dates back centuries but it wasn’t until the Victorian period that they really gained in popularity.
Every household, every parlour and every section of society became obsessed with holding seances in this time.
Parties were held in parlours which employed a visiting medium and every friend and acquaintance was invited to attend.
In early seances, contact was made by the spirit world with a series of raps and knocks in reply to the mediums call for communication.
Later, however, bigger thrills were sought and table tipping, levitation, and even spirit visualisation emerged. These no doubt were faked in the main although who is really to say?
Many people today still believe in the paranormal and that contact can indeed be made with the spirit world.
What better way to discover if this is true than to head down to one of Whitby’s beaches and call out to the town’s dead?
‘Sticky fingers, tired feet; one last house “trick or treat”.’
No Halloween list of things to do would be complete without mentioning going to trick or treat! It is the very thing that fantastic Halloweens are made of and should absolutely be encouraged.
However, I am pretty sure that you don’t need me to tell you how to trick or treat or where to go, so instead, I’ll share some trick or treat knowledge!
Dressing up as witches, goblins, vampires, and demons does not actually come from the festival of Samhain or All Hallows Even, it actually stems from the end of year celebrations held by the Celts.
Again, as with Samhain, they believed that it was a time when the world of the living and the dead overlapped and they feared evil spirits.
To avoid these, they dressed up as demons themselves in the hope that if they came across a real one they would be fooled into thinking they were one and the same.
Fast forward to the Catholics and their shifting of All Hallows Day to November and people began all All Hallows Even not only to dress up as demons but also as angels and saints.
They then went ‘guising’ which comes from the word disguising to beg for food or money. Both poor children and adults took part in this practice and all dressed up.
After this period not much was heard of ‘guising’ until the 1920s when it seems to have become popular again. By 1927, however, it was being referred to as the name we know now of trick or treat.
‘Being normal is vastly overrated.’
There is no better time in Whitby to not be ‘normal’ than when the Tomorrows Ghosts Gothic Festival is on over Halloween.
All people from all walks of life flock to Whitby for this and can be seen in all manner of costume.
Truthfully, if you turn up in your normal clothing, you’re going to be the one that looks the odd one out!
This celebration of everything gothic, not unlike the Whitby Goth Weekend, is a jam-packed event full of music, film, art and the spoken word.
They also have their own bazaar known as the Dark Days Alternative Market.
Taking full advantage of the host venue, the Whitby Pavilion on the East Cliff, the Tomorrows Ghosts Gothic festival presents not only up and coming gothic bands but also classic horror films in its cinema.
Titles you can expect to see include cult movies like The Lost Boys, The Wickerman, Fright Night, Twins Of Evil and Borley Refectory.
‘If a black cat crosses your path, it means it’s going somewhere.’
It may even be going to the same place as you which is on a Hallo’een pub crawl around the East side of Whitby.
After all, not everyone wants to do really Halloweeny types of things, but no doubt you will want to see all the sights and spectacles of those all dressed up who are! To do this, a pub crawl is ideal.
The East side of Whitby pub crawl runs along the East side of the river Esk in the heart of Whitby town.
It both starts and finishes at the East side of the swing bridge where you will find The Dolphin which is popular for its outside seating and views overlooking the river.
Continuing from the Dolphin you will find The Green dragon, The Fleece and The Middle Earth Tavern before you turn back on yourselves and return towards the swing bridge.
This time, however, you are going to walk on the opposite side of the road where you will find The Endeavour, The White Horse and Griffin, Black Horse, Board Inn and Duke Of York.
Turning off Church Street now you are going to go down a steep alley where you will find the Whitby Friendship Rowing Club.
This pub has a marvellous view across the harbour and is accessed down a small flight of stairs. Continuing down that same road you will also find the Abbey Wharf before returning to your starting point of The Dolphin.
‘I am longing to be with you, and by the sea, where we can talk together freely and build our castles in the air.’
The Dracula Walk is a 4.5-mile circular walk that will take you passed all the landmarks and ‘walks by the sea’ that Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula mentions.
It follows sections of the cliff top path before looping back inland on quiet rural lanes that lead back into the town.
Starting at the Abbey you will walk the cliff top path where the Demeter would have been visible from as it headed for the shore.
The Whitby skyline which Stoker loved and mentioned often in his novel is breathtaking from up here.
Further on you can take a seat on the Dracula memorial bench which was erected in 1980 to commemorate Bram Stoker.
It was from this spot that Mina saw Lucy in the churchyard on the opposite cliff. You will also visit the street on which Lucy’s house stood; East Crescent.
Finally, you will climb the 199 Steps to the Churchyard of St Mary following the footsteps or should I say Paw steps of Dracula himself in the shape of the red-eyed hound!
On reaching St Mary’s Churchyard you will be able to see Tate Hill Pier which is where the Demeter came to rest.
‘Just because I cannot see it, doesn’t mean I can’t believe it.’
(Nightmare Before Christmas)
Last on our list, unlucky 13, unless you were born on Friday the 13th and then, of course, it’s lucky, is a visit to The Dracula Experience on one of their paranormal nights.
These are usually held on the first Saturday of every month but at Halloween, it is the Saturday closest to or on the 31st October.
Whilst they are held at the Dracula Experience situated on Marine Parade, the paranormal nights have nothing to do with the Dracula story itself.
They are all about the building it is situated in and its rich and long history.
Dating back hundreds of years 9 Marine Parade was originally a Captain's reading room that's title deeds showed Sir Isaac Newton to be one of its original owners.
There are no stories of an Isaac Newton ghost to my knowledge, however. There are though reports of strange events, recordings of orbs, and several visions of a girl with ringlets playing there.
During research carried out it was discovered that indeed a young girl had died there in the 1800s of tuberculosis!
Run in partnership with TVs Most Haunted the paranormal nights at The Dracula Experience are performed with high tech equipment, mediums, seances, and other investigations.
There is always a high level of activity recorded making them a must for any Halloween celebrator who wants to be chilled and thrilled!