St Mary’s Church, Whitby, North Yorkshire
Dracula’s ‘Burial Place’
I’ve been to St Mary’s Church in Whitby many times but never once to try to find Dracula’s grave. For some reason, even though I love the macabre, I have no interest in vampires or Dracula. Each time I visit, I do so for a different reason. To look at the magnificent box pews inside the church, to gaze at the wind ravaged gravestones or use the walk up the 199 steps to work off fish and chips!
This time, I went to visit the whole site. To take a walk through the gravestones and get up close to the weathered monuments littering the graveyard, to poke my head inside the church and marvel at the box pews and ok, I admit it, to also work off an extremely large portion of Whitby’s finest fish and chips.
Where to start on your visit
Because my visit was ‘out of season’, I was lucky enough to park in the carpark in town. If you visit during the height of the season, however, parking in the relatively new Park & Ride is an absolute must.
After a short stroll you’ll find yourself at the ‘top’ of the town after which, it’s a meander along the harbourside, AFTER, you’ve grabbed some takeaway fish and chips at Trenchers. Most people head to the famous Magpie Cafe at the opposite end of the town near the amusement arcades, but I prefer Trenchers. Less of the queues. Sometimes.
Turn right and walk over the swing bridge. Keeping left, amble along the shambles, sampling some of the items Whitby’s independent retailers have on offer and keep on going until you reach the foot of the 199 church steps.
Yes I know this looks terrifying but trust me, you’ll want to explore when you get the top and just think, when you come back down again you’ll have made room for an ice-cream! Not much of a video I’m afraid, but it gives you a bit of a flavour of what to expect.
Climb the steps slowly. Take in the view from midway up and bag yourself a seat – if one’s free! You’ll get your first view of St Mary’s on your left as you reach the top of the steps and if you turn round, the view of Whitby from here is outstanding!
Exploring the Gravestones
I walked around the site in an anticlockwise direction, finishing off with a look inside the church itself. It’s up to you however how you wish to explore this amazing site.
The first thing you’ll notice about the gravestones is that they’re all pitted. Weathered from years of a fierce north-easterly wind battering the exposed site. This adds to the individual character of the gravestones, and although you can’t read the inscriptions on the majority of them, to me, it doesn’t really matter. Please don’t let this stop you from taking a walk around.
Wander past the multitude of gravestones brandishing urns and you start to realise that there are other gravestone symbols waiting to be discovered.
Cherubs, open books, grave slabs and simply etched gravestones can all be found at St Mary’s.
As you walk through the graveyard, you’ll also notice a large number of table tombs scattered between the gravestones. I’ve never really noticed these before and I was amazed just how many different styles there were to see.
St Mary’s Interior
Even if you only have 5 minutes to spare, you MUST pop into St Mary’s church itself. From box pews to the famous three-decker pulpit, you’ll find it all inside St Mary’s.
The church itself is a designated Grade I listed building and quite rightly so. The majority of the interior of the church dates from the late 18th Century, although the church itself is much older, dating from the early 12th Century.
On entering the main body of the church you are immediately rewarded with a church filled with box pews. Left, right and in front of you, these beautifully crafted pews will have you captivated in moments – especially those labeled ‘For Strangers Only’, used for visitors to the parish.
Wander to the rear of the church and you will find the three-decker pulpit, together with the large ear trumpets which once belonged to the Rector’s wife.
Many people visit Whitby because of its connection with Dracula. Inspired by the atmospheric landscape at Whitby, Bram Stoker penned the famous novel in 1897 after spending time in the town. But what about Dracula’s grave?
You get the impression that the good folk of St Mary’s church is a little fed up with answering this question – just like the guides at Greyfriars in Edinburgh when asked where the grave of Tom Riddell is.
Sorry to disappoint you.
Whitby was also the site of a rather upsetting and shocking tale that occurred not so long ago.
In 2013, tragedy struck the graveyard at St Mary’s. Human remains were left exposed after it was thought a nearby drainage pipe ruptured. This, together with a bout of severe weather, caused dramatic erosion and the soil washed away from the side of the cliff.
Whitby Goth Weekend
Of course, a trip to St Mary’s wouldn’t be complete without trying to tie it in with Whitby’s famous Goth Weekend. Primarily promoted as ‘ alternative festival incorporating the Bizarre Bazaar Alternative Market’ the very nature of this festival, sees hundreds of extra visitors into the town. On their website, you’ll find loads of useful information from buying tickets to where to park but perhaps most importantly of all, links to events and the market traders themselves.
In regards to Goth weekend and St Mary’s itself. Actively posing against headstones or graves so your photo can be taken is severely frowned upon and the church respectfully asks that you refrain from this pastime. Again, full details can be found on the WGW website.
Whatever your reasons are for visiting St Mary’s, if you’re like me, you’ll see something different every time you go and because of this, you’ll keep visiting time and time again. It truly is a perfect site to let your mind wander into Victorian Gothic fantasy.