Updated: Apr 1
Where did Bram Stoker write Dracula? A pictorial tour of the locations that inspired his novel and places where he set scenes.
Dracula wasn't the first fictional vampire - there was Sheridan le Fanu's Carmilla for example (not to be confused with the Duchess of Cornwall) - but Bram Stoker's 1897 novel was certainly responsible for popularising these creatures in literature and later the cinema.
Dracula instantly established the myth of the suave gentleman vampire who could pass as human and mix with society, as opposed to the horrific mouldering corpses of legend. George A. Romero did something very similar decades later with zombies, plucking them from the Caribbean world of voodoo and giving them a complete makeover with a whole new set of rules. No one watching the modern zombies on television would even remotely connect them with voodoo rituals and jungle drums, and we all now know to avoid bites and to shoot them in the head. Thanks George.
Bram Stoker never visited Transylvania, but from 1894 he did holiday in Aberdeenshire on the eastern coast of Scotland, staying mostly at the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel in the small village of Cruden Bay. They still have the visitor's books with his signature on display.
The first picture is the hotel in Stoker's time. Apart from double glazing and en-suite bathrooms, nothing much has changed.
Isolated and windswept, the ruins of Slains Castle stand on the headland above Cruden Bay and Stoker was a guest there, following in the literary footsteps of Johnson and Boswell who stayed at the castle in 1773.
Begun in 1597, the place is a curious hotchpotch of periods, the final 1837 remodelling being in the Scottish Baronial style. Many people believe Slains was the inspiration for the Count’s Transylvanian castle at the head of the Borgo Pass, and the residents of Cruden Bay today refer to it as Castle Dracula. They even have a Dracula theme pub named the Slains Castle just down the coast at Aberdeen (run by the Eerie Pub Company).
Now a romantic clifftop ruin, with many stone chambers and passageways to explore, Slains is well worth a visit. Just park in the village and follow the signs - although a visit in the near future could be a good idea. For many years, developers have been attempting to turn the place into upmarket apartments. So far (2020) this hasn't happened, but one day the castle could be private property.
Whitby was the setting for many scenes in Dracula, and Stoker first visited this small Yorkshire fishing town in 1890. He stayed for several weeks on the West Cliff’s Royal Crescent at number 6, a guesthouse run by Mrs. Emma Veazey. This is the central cream-coloured house in the second picture. A commemorative blue plaque is now fixed to the wall and the place has been named Bram's View. The current owner lets out Stoker's rooms as a holiday flat and you can stay there. The furniture is of the period (but thankfully not the bed or bathroom) and a well-thumbed copy of Dracula sits on the windowsill for guests to peruse.
Stoker's 1890 stay was the first of many there to research and write his book. Three ladies from Hertford were fellow guests at Mrs. Veazey's - Isabel and Marjorie Smith and their friend Miss Stokes - and many claim Stoker based the characters of Lucy, Mina, and Lucy's mother Mrs Westenra on these women. In the novel, these three characters also stay on the Crescent and Lucy’s bedroom window is visited by a huge bat.
Stoker carried out much of his research into East European folklore at Whitby library on the edge of the harbour. The place is unrecognisable as a library now as, for the past fifty years, it's been the Quayside fish and chip restaurant. The huge stone with the engraved word 'LIBRARY' is still there beneath that upper Quayside sign.
On an unrelated note, the Quayside has many awards for 'best fish and chips' and, when television programmes are made about Whitby, pretty much every celebrity presenter is filmed eating there.
Stoker borrowed a 1820 book from this library by William Wilkinson entitled: An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. This is where he first came across the name Vlad Dracula, the Impaler.
A bench on the West Cliff overlooks Whitby harbour, a favourite spot for Stoker, where he would sit and write up his library notes. The view hasn’t changed in the slightest since those Victorian days. The old postcard below shows how it looked back then, and the seat is now fitted with a commemorative plaque. The modern picture shows a sign for one of the Dracula walks.
In the library he also read the Whitby Gazette report from 1885 about the Russian schooner Dmitri of Navra, which made its way into the harbour for shelter during a storm and was wrecked on the small beach called Tate Hill Sands. Stoker uses this story as Dracula’s arrival, changing the Dmitri from Navra to the Demeter from Varna. The following picture is by the famed Whitby photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe (Stoker bought a copy) and the next shot shows the same spot today. Again, very little has changed.
Stoker also heard many local legends which he wove into his story. One of these was the Barghest, a huge phantom hound with red eyes that haunts the North Yorkshire moors and cliffs around the fishing town. This was the inspiration for Dracula’s appearance as a large black dog which leaps from the Demeter and bounds up the famous 199 steps to St. Mary’s churchyard.
The book was published in 1897 and fans have been visiting these locations ever since, especially Whitby where the Goth weekends are now famous, or infamous, depending upon your point of view. The streets and the old cemetery above the town are filled with people in cloaks and full vampire make-up.
Whitby loves its most famous fictional son and trades upon the connection. Here a sweet shop at the bottom of the 199 steps is selling homemade Dracula fudge, although you'd have thought they'd have taken the trouble to get the name right.
The Count would turn in his grave.