A Penchant for Blood…mwahahahaha!

7 05 2012

Anyone who has travelled through England knows only too well the plethora of castles and cathedrals that litter the country, and that for a small fee, one can wander through, gazing skywards, mouth agape at the enormous structures that are steeped in English history.

Of course, for many people who travel through England, there comes a time when the words “Not another bloody castle” are muttered through clenched teeth, closely followed by “Not another bloody church.”  At least that’s been the comment from the majority of travellers I’ve spoken to.

As for me, I can’t say I have ever felt this way.  Their stature, their beauty, their secrets, the famous and infamous people who have strolled or stormed their hallways and sturdy walls have always captured and fascinated me.  I remember the first church I visited after arriving in England like it was yesterday.  Whitby Abbey is indelibly etched on my memory forever.

It was a cold, grey, day in the North East of England and the wind had worked itself up into a frenzy as it snapped along the coast line.  On days like this the sea seemed to boil with fury and the stories of smugglers’ ships being devoured by the sea or smashed into the base of Huntcliff at Saltburn, was easily imagined.

Saltburn Pier and Beach

I drove down the coast to Whitby and parked on a corner high above Whitby Harbor where two massive whale jaw bones positioned as an arch towered above me, a path beyond weaving its way down the steep hill to the township below.  I gazed across the bay to the other side and instinctively pulled my coat tightly around me.  It wasn’t the chilling sea breeze lashing up from below that had made me shiver, but rather the black, uninviting ruins of Whitby Abbey that stared threateningly at me from the cliff top on the other side of the harbor.

Walkway down to Whitby Harbour and Township

I glanced up towards a third floor window of the Bed and Breakfast accommodation behind me and imagined Bram Stoker staring out of his window, on a day just like this, towards the imposing abbey, the stirrings of a tale about a vampire called Dracula awakening deep within his imagination.  It was the perfect setting and it was what had lured me to Whitby.

With my head buried into my scarf and coat collars, I shuffled through the bustling cobbled alleyways of the town, past the Dracula Experience filled with its wax horrors, fake cobwebs and blistering screams of thrill-seekers inside, across the swing bridge, past the quaint olde curiosity shops and past paned windows glinting with black Whitby jet, a golden warmth from within enticing cold shoppers to step inside.

Finally I arrived at the base of the infamous one hundred and ninety-nine steps from the novel, the very ones that Mina scurried up in her efforts to reach the safety of the abbey and escape the clutches of Dracula himself.  In a tail wind, I trudged up the worn blackened steps to the top, my breath coming in quick gasps after step number 135, the icy wind pricking the back of my throat.

Whitby Abbey on the cliff top

One hundred and ninety-seven, one hundred and ninety-eight…and then I was at the top, standing on the edge of a forgotten graveyard.  Black headstones that had become illegible with time tilted wearily.   Some were broken, some had sunken heavily into the ground, and some had just decayed with the weather, which by now was driving a cold hard rain into my face.  I dashed through the overgrown grass and ducked inside a small chapel.  It was damp, dark and eerily spooky inside, as if Dracula himself were lurking in the shadowy corner behind the pulpit, licking his lips at the sight of me and my flushed cheeks.  I shrugged my scarf up higher around my neck and sat quietly on a wooden pew at the back of the church listening to the wind moaning loudly outside.

After the rain had eased I wandered through the imposing ruins of the Abbey where remnants of great arches towered over me, black and crumbling.  The Abbey was an intimidating presence in Whitby and a spectacular attraction for the small town.

Ruins of Whitby Abbey, Whitby, England

Ruins of Whitby Abbey, Whitby, England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I stomped back down the steps, the smell of hot chips wafted enticingly past my nostrils and I immediately felt hungry.  The Lonely Planet had bestowed the accolades for “Best Fish and Chips in the World” on The Magpie Café in Whitby, but it was closed for renovations, and so fate led me to a harbor side restaurant called Trenchers where I unwittingly ordered the best fish and chips I would ever eat in my life.  The fish was so succulent, so flaky, so fresh!  It was as if they had plucked it from the sea when they saw me walk through the door.  It has been nine years since Trenchers introduced me to Whitby Cod and chips, and nowhere else in the world have I found a feed of “greasies” that are even a patch on theirs.

Having hungrily devoured the hot fish and chips in record time, I stepped back out into the cold cobbled streets and began my climb back up to the whale jaw bone arch.  As the daylight began to recede, from out of the shadows came the most extraordinary creature: a female vampire.  My heart in my mouth, I recoiled away from her and pressed myself flat against a nearby bus shelter.  She grazed past me, flashing her black painted eyes in my direction, her burnt amber hair trailing down her back and her long flowing black robes flapping violently in the wind and she strode in her black Doc Martin boots to the end of the alley.  And then she was gone.

I panicked.  Had I stumbled through some rupture in time and relative dimension in space and accidentally ended up in Stoker’s novel?  Or alternatively, had the devil, that wily trouble-maker, possessed my soul when I wasn’t looking up at the Abbey?  I thankfully dismissed both conclusions moments later when a group of Gothic revelers passed by.  It turned out that my visit to Whitby had coincided with the bi-annual Goth Weekend festival which saw the town turn into nothing less than a Vampiric Underworld.  But, sadly, my day at Whitby had come to an end and I was unable to stay and drink blood, suck people’s necks and dance until dawn with the vampires.

In the years since, the Goth Weekend at Whitby has become one of the most popular Gothic events in the world and is now held twice a year.  I wonder what the Twilight phenomenon has done for the sleepy seaside town?

Unfortunately Rog hasn’t been unleashed on Whitby Abbey with his Panasonic Camera…the perfect reason to go back for another visit. And of course the fish and chips. 🙂

Initial Impressions of England through Kiwi eyes

1 05 2012

In 2002, in a pub in a small town in New Zealand, I proposed to my good friend Shaz that she join me on my OE to England.  I never really expected her to say yes, and when she did, well, I just thought it was the Jim Beam talking!  But when, two weeks later, I received a text from her saying that she had booked her tickets, I couldn’t have been more excited.  And on a summery New Year’s Day in 2003 we boarded Singapore Airlines bound for the wintery streets of Saltburn-by-the-Sea, England.

Shaz and I quickly become "allies" with the English publican, part of our master plan to be "locked in."

The posts that follow over the next while are tales from 2003 and 2004 when I was living and working in England, and of course (like every Kiwi who has gone before me) exploring the European countries.

However, now that I am wiser, older (unfortunately!) and much more sophisticated (ahem, cough), I find my observations and experiences to be a little naive, quite embarrassing and almost always amidst an alcoholic haze.  That said, there were also some bloody funny moments that I just have to share!

If there’s one thing to change a person’s outlook on life and make them grow up fast, it’s travelling!  So with some slight editions to one or two monumentally shameful stories (hindsight really is wonderful isn’t it?!), here goes!


March 2003

England is:

  • Pubs closing at 11am unless you’re “in the know” and can get locked in after closing.
  • Kiri and Shaz trying desperately to “get in the know”, but sadly often left outside in the brisk night air.
  • Not receiving a cheery “Hello, how’s your day going?” from the check-out operators at the Supermarket, and being blanked when you try to initiate polite conversation.
  • Having to pack your own groceries and waiting for the 70 year old lady with arthritis in front of you to painstakingly pack hers.
  • Walkabout Pub in Middlesbrough, particularly Steve, the manager, with the dreamy brown eyes.
  • Kiri’s drunken failed attempts at complimenting Steve on his dreamy brown eyes, while Shaz pisses herself (indiscreetly!) at a nearby leaner.
  • Cars parking on both sides of the roads facing any direction they please.
  • Leaping out of the way of cars swerving across the road towards you to park on the other side of the road.
  • No reduced cream for Kiwi dip.
  • Baked bean flavoured crisps (not chips!).
  • Being hit on because of your, quote: “exotic accent.”  What, this old thung?
  • Being called an Antipodean who has come all the way from the Antipodes and having no idea where or what that is.
  • Buses lurching forwards before you’ve had the chance to sit down.
  • Landing face first in people’s crutches on buses.
  • Getting the giggles on the Underground because you don’t know where to look, heaven forbid you should strike up a conversation with someone!
  • Leather skinned old women exiting the numerous Sun Tan shops that line the high street.
  • Women wearing high heels and cargo pants. How are they going to scale a two metre wooden wall in those if the occasion calls for it?
  • Girls wearing hardly any clothes at the pubs, and lots of them wearing fishnet stockings (?!!)
  • Kiri and Shaz staring at fishnet stockings in Debenhams for thirty minutes before shaking heads and leaving the department store empty handed.
  • A bird that sounds like an owl waking us up at 6.30am every morning.
  • Spending Saturday and Sunday mornings at 6.30am in pyjamas looking like Medusa on crack, hunting down an owl-sounding bird.
  • Squirrels scampering around the back lawn and up trees.
  • Kiri and Shaz chasing squirrels around the back lawn to see if they bite or not.