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Discovering Whitby’s Dark Side, is Whitby Britain’s capital of Macabre?

We recently read that Whitby is Britain’s capital of macabre, and we just had to discuss it further.

Many people are attracted to Whitby to celebrate everything Dracula, ghostly and macabre, that seeps from the pavements. In this article, we delve into the significance of death in the history of this seaside town and how that’s shaped this tourist spot today. Let’s discover Whitby’s dark side.

Girl dressed as a Vampire in Whitby.

I have always been fascinated by the macabre. When I visit Whitby, I am overwhelmed by that uneasy feeling you get in the same way you would reading a decent thriller. It’s not just me who feels this way; Whitby Goth Weekend attracts thousands to the town each spring and autumn; Bram Stoker felt inspired to write his novel, and today tourists love participating in one of the many Ghost walks around the town. In this article, you’ll discover Whitby’s Dark Side and decide if you think Whitby is Britain’s capital of Macabre.

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The significance of death in Whitby’s whaling history

When exploring Whitby, I can’t help but feel and see death from Whitby’s history. One of the most famous spots for a photo is under the Whalebone arch. When you think about this a little more deeply, how bizarre that we smile and wave under the bones of a whale! But it’s a marker of Whitby’s whaling past. Successful boats returned to Whitby with the jawbones of their best catch hoisted on the lower spars and a garland at the mast. In the 18th century, the whaling industry dominated the town. The blubber was brought back in barrels and refined by boiling for lighting, soap, preparation of leather and other purposes. You can imagine the stench of burning Whale blubber filling the town.

Standing under Whitby's Whalebone arch feels macabre.

But it wasn’t just the Whales that lost their lives; whaling was a dangerous industry in which many locals were employed; the boats weighed 350-400 tonnes and would carry forty to fifty crew members. They would also have 25ft long rowing boats to chase the whales. Many ships capsized, were crushed by ice, or men froze to death. Despite the risks, crewing a Greenland whaling vessel offered money and adventure to many men in the town. It’s hard to imagine the number of people who stood looking out at the North Sea and ached at the loss of their loved ones. Additionally, Whitby’s fishing and shipping port history has led to many tales of ghost ships and drowned sailors.

Whitby is full of supernatural stories and legends

Red Hat Ghost Walk.

Whitby is known for its numerous tales of ghosts, supernatural occurrences, and legends. From mystical and magical stories to tragic shipwrecks, superstitions, and burning girls. Plenty of macabre tales are associated with this place. Such as rumours of a group of witches, the eerie screams from the screaming tunnel, and the hand of glory, a burning candle attached to the hand of a hanged man. You can join one of the Ghost Tours to learn more about these fascinating stories.

Whitby’s atmosphere inspired Bram Stoker

It’s hard not to be cliche and stereotypical about the love of all things Dracula in WhitbyBram Stoker, Dracula’s author, stayed in Whitby while creating his most famous tale. This is one of the reasons Whitby ends up featured in the novel. But why does it fit so well? Bram Stoker used Whitby as a setting in Dracula because of its eerie and mysterious atmosphere, which was enhanced by the town’s history of folklore and supernatural legends.

View from 'Dracula's Tunnel' Where you might here macabre screams.

The town’s location on the North Sea, with its rugged coastline and Gothic architecture, provided the perfect backdrop for the novel’s themes of darkness, danger, and mystery. Stoker was also inspired by the town’s association with Captain Cook and his voyages to the South Pacific, which added to the sense of exoticism and adventure in the novel.

You can visit Whitby Abbey and St Mary’s Graveyard

You can visit Whitby Abbey and St Mary's Graveyard.

Whitby Abbey is a popular destination to visit. Its haunting allure can be read in Bram Stoker’s depiction of it in Dracula and its current appearance. In the darkness, the ruins of this once grand Gothic building are both eerie and majestic. The St. Mary’s graveyard is also worth exploring, containing many intriguing gravestones ravaged by time. Interestingly, some of the names on these gravestones are used in Bram Stoker’s novel. You can search for ‘Swales’, which is the name of the first victim of Dracula in Whitby and appears on one of the gravestones. Several tombstones are engraved “in remembrance of” rather than “here lies.” That indicates that many sailors and fishermen were lost at sea, and their bodies never recovered.

Over time, the North Sea has been slowly eroding the coastline of Whitby. The impact of this erosion has become evident over the years. A landslip occurred in 2000 that brought the cliffside perilously close to the graveyard. In 2013, a second landslip caused some contents of the cemetery to cascade down the hill and into a local’s garden, creating a macabre scene.

Whitby Goth Weekend

Whitby Goth Weekend
Image by Nuno Lopes from Pixabay

It’s always fascinating to see a group of people with a passion for a particular place. In the case of Whitby, there are those who love it so much that they visit it twice a year! And it’s not just any kind of visit but a celebration of all things spooky, ghostly, and Dracula-related. This group is the Goth community. They come from all over the world to gather in Whitby for the Whitby Goth Weekend. This event, founded by Jo Hampshire in 1994, celebrates Gothic culture, music, and fashion. It’s organised by Top Mum Productions, run by a team of close friends and family. You can learn more about Whitby Goth Weekend here.

Whitby’s dark and mysterious atmosphere, rich history and association with legends and folklore make it a prime location for those interested in the macabre. It may not be officially recognised as Britain’s capital of the macabre. But Whitby continues to attract visitors seeking a taste of the supernatural. Whether you’re a fan of Bram Stoker’s Dracula or you are intrigued by the town’s eerie atmosphere, visiting Whitby will leave a lasting impression on anyone.

Header image credit: Bryan Ledgard, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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