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           The  S T R A N G E  T R A V E L E R            
    The Best Vacation Ideas This Side of The Other Side!  

Tuesday, July 31, 2001

Fellow Travelers,

Welcome, to the only travel newsletter on the Internet that defines a “necktie” as
two vampires reaching the same victim simultaneously.

Today's visitations include:




Everybody - from my preschool son to the barely functional glue head sleeping under the downtown bridge - knows that Count Dracula, the world's most infamous vampire, lived in Transylvania. It's a tenant of American culture; a nugget of knowledge as universal as the pledge of allegiance and the sexy parts of the Starr report.

Romania, the former Eastern bloc country that counts Transylvania as one of its poverty-stricken provinces, has begun taking advantage of this. Its tourism board has sponsored Dracula forums for academics, created Dracula tours for travelers and churned out reams of historic literature about Vlad Tepes, the bloody Romanian folk hero who inspired “Dracula” author Bram Stoker.  Plans are on the drawing board for a Draculaland theme park. (No, that's not a joke. Just imagine your Mickey Mouse beanie replaced by Nosferatu ears.)

But Romania isn't the only country trying to cash in on people's lasting fascination with fangs. Both England and Scotland have laid claim to parts of the Dracula legend and are courting travelers who may be curious about the count.

The English town of Whitby has the most obvious connection, and the one we're going to focus on today. Whitby was the first of the two to develop its fictional vampire heritage into a marketing tool. Located about 50 miles northeast of York on the North Sea, this community of 14,000 served as the setting for several chapters in Stoker's novel.

The city of Aberdeen, Scotland, however, claims to have inspired Stoker before the Irish writer stumbled upon Whitby. The Aberdeen tourist board has revamped its tourism campaign and is promoting the ruins of a 16th century castle and the steep cliffs and rocky shore of Cruden Bay as the true source of Stoker's imagination.

The heads of the two tourist boards slugged it out on BBC television early this spring, according to a recent article in the Scottish Daily Record.

Which group is right? Maybe both. Maybe neither.

My money, however, is on Whitby.



There's a bench on the west cliff overlooking Whitby Harbor that all Strange Travelers should visit at least once. Bring a breakfast thermos of bloody Marys and your tattered copy of “Dracula.”  Read chapters six through eight while sitting on the bench, and watch the novel come to life before you.

Gaze across the harbor to the east cliff where the red-roofed houses seem to pile up on top of each other against the hillside, just like Stoker's character Mina Harker described. At the top of the cliff are St. Mary's Church and its graveyard of limestone markers, worn blank by the North Sea wind. This is the graveyard where Stoker's ill-fated character Lucy is first seduced by the count.

Towering above it all are the ruins of Whitby Abbey and the 199 stone steps described by Stoker that lead down the cliff face. Below are the cold sand beaches that welcomed the Russian schooner “Demeter,” the ship that brought Dracula to England from Transylvania. In the book, the ship's captain is dead and lashed to the wheel. The crew is missing. The only sign of life on board is a huge, black, dog-like creature that dives from the ship and disappears into the narrow alleys of Whitby's east side.

A real Russian schooner called “Demitrius” washed ashore on those sands in 1885, about a decade before Stoker visited Whitby for a holiday weekend. He knew the story that he wanted to write, but needed inspiration for a setting, according to “A Walk in Whitby”, a guidebook. (

The inspiration allegedly came during a visit to Whitby in 1890, just after he'd started putting his ideas for his vampire novel to paper. Stoker allegedly spent hours gazing across the harbor from a vantage point on the west cliff. You can look at the view and read Mina Harker's description of Whitby at

The Bram Stoker Memorial Seat was erected on the southern end of the West Cliff by the Scarborough Borough Council and the local Dracula Society in 1980. (

This might be a good time to refresh your memory of the Dracula story. If you've never read the book or seen one of the movie or television adaptations (They're more common than “Police Academy” sequels.) there's a good abridged version at the Whitby website:

Whitby has gone out of its way to mark and memorialize every possible sight in the town that had a place in the novel. You can pick up a Whitby Dracula Trail guide at the tourist information center, and spend the day walking in Stoker's footsteps. The lawyer who arranged Dracula's passage to Whitby, for example, lived at No. 7, The Crescent, a location that's clearly marked.

The colorful “Dracula Experience” at 9 Marine Parade in Whitby, (call  01947 601923 )  offers an interactive journey through the novel. With the help of live actors, animation, special lighting and sound effects, this well-designed house of horror tells the story of the most famous vampire of them all. The museum is one of the biggest tourist draws in the town and spawned The Whitby Dracula Society, a group that sponsors events and concerts in the same vein as Dracula. The society has a new Website up at
It sponsors Gothic Holiday weekends featuring head-slamming bands with names like Intra-Venus, Slimelight and Killing Miranda, as well as special “Tramps and Vamps” entertainment nights at local pubs or hotels. Check the society's website to find out what's going on.

If you'd rather go looking for strangeness with a genuine Man in Black, contact Harry Collett; story walker, tour guide, singer, broadcaster, writer, author and raconteur. (At least that's what his business card says.)

Harry runs a variety of historic and supernatural walking tours of Whitby, including “In Search of Dracula”, a stroll that dares participants to “Walk and talk where Dracula stalked ... follow the trail and linger in the streets where vampires still abound.” (

Harry dresses in funeral-parlor-black top hat and tails and wears heavy, blues-singer sunglasses. His knowledge of Whitby is said to be bottomless, and his story-telling technique apparently includes bursting out into spontaneous song.  Show tunes, black spirituals, ancient seafaring ditties - it doesn't matter: Harry's got it covered.

When he's not out walking and talking, Harry Collett is helping run his family's inn, the Ashford Guest House, 8 Royal Crescent in Whitby. (

This is where I recommend you stay in Whitby. As far as I know, it's not haunted, but it does have a nice view of the sea and the royal crescent gardens. Besides, you're with Harry. He knows so many haunted places in Whitby that he created “Whitby Ghost Walks” to point them all out.


One of those haunted places is Whitby Abbey. The majestic ruins were first built on the cliff's edge in Whitby around 657 A.D. It was sacked by Vikings about 200 years later, and rebuilt by conquering Normans in 1067.

It was founded by St. Hilda, who saw the 199-step climb up the cliff face from Whitby as a test of faith. ( St. Hilda died in 680 AD, but many people think she still wanders the abbey. Her ghost, wrapped in a shroud, frequently appears in one of the abbey's highest windows, according to the Ghosts of England website. (

Sightings were numerous enough a century ago to lead Stoker to include the tale of the apparition in “Dracula.”

St. Hilda is also thought to be responsible for one of the most bizarre apparitions I've ever heard of. Visitors to the abbey have reported a large, hearse-like coach, guided by a headless driver and four headless horses, racing along the cliff's edge. Its mad dash always ends with a plunge off the edge of the cliff.

Hilda gets the blame because of her peculiar - but effective - method of ridding the area of snakes. Armed like Indiana Jones with a long, nasty whip, the no-nonsense nun would drive the reptiles to the cliff's edge and crack their heads off with the lash. Folks, I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

Back then, nuns didn't have much use for tolerance. Constance de Beverley, a rather pitiful spirit said to haunt the abbey ruins, found that out the hard way.

De Beverly was a young nun who broke her vows after falling for a gallant knight. The wayward girl wasn't advised to say a few thousand Hail Marys or told to pack up and go back to the farm.

No, back then, they knew how to deal with fornicators. They bricked her up alive in a dungeon wall, where she died screaming like the unlucky sot in Poe's “Cask of Amontillado.”

To this day, people say they've seen her on the winding stairway leading from the dungeon, cowering and begging to be set free.

And then there are some entities hanging around the abbey's stone carcass that defy explanation.

Tony Spera, a former police officer, wrote about an early morning visit to the abbey and his subsequent run-in with a miniature black cyclone that pulsed and spun but made no sound. Spera identified it as “evil itself,”  and said one of his companions chased it away with liberal splashes of holy water.  You can read the account for yourself at

The abbey is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day during the warm months. It closes two hours earlier during the winter. Call ahead before you go: 01947 603568.



In between your regular Strange Traveler newsletters, you should soon start receiving a Strange Traveler mailing focusing on travel advisories. These are paranormal or bizarre news events from all over the world that could affect your travel plans.

Past advisories have updated readers on miraculous Vietnamese mummies, bat swarms in Las Vegas, UFO cover-ups in Washington DC, Canadian Bigfoot sightings, Romanian efforts to clone Vlad “The Impaler” Tepes, and much more. For a taste, go to the Travel Advisories page on my website. It should be there until I figure out how to fix the site.

Anyway, let me know what you think. As always, you can contact me at:
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Well, the sun is rising ...


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The travel destinations and events that appear in this
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