On a recent trip to North Yorkshire, we decided we would visit the famous Whitby Abbey on a day trip to the area through the North York Moors. The Abbey is visible long before you reach the town and stands proudly on cliffs overlooking the coast.
When we arrived we parked in Whitby Marina and wandered through town before climbing the 199 steps from the town to the graveyard of St Mary’s Church, which stands in the shadow of the Abbey ruins and is just a stone’s throw from the Abbey entrance.
What is Whitby Abbey?
Now managed by English Heritage, Whitby Abbey started life as a 7th century Christian monastery and later became a Benedictine Abbey until Henry VIII seized it between 1536 and 1545 during the dissolution of the Monasteries. The abbey ruins were eventually bought by Sir Richard Cholmley and it remained in the Cholmley family line until 1920 when it was passed to the UK Government.
One famous resident of the monastery was St Hild, a 7th century Abbess. She was influential when it came to the English Church deciding to follow Roman rather than Celtic practises. The Roman method of calculating Easter that is still used to this day was as a result of these changes.
She was also famous for chasing snakes out of the town and turning them into stone. These stone snakes can often be found around the rocky Whitby coastline in the form of fossilised ammonites.
Whitby Abbey and the town itself is probably best known for inspiring Bram Stoker when he wrote Dracula in 1897, which describes a large dog like creature running ashore and up the 199 steps to St Mary’s Parish Church.
In homage to the ties in the Dracula story, the museum has an extremely rare first edition of Dracula signed by Stoker in the visitor centre, which is housed inside the 17th century mansion. The signature is clearly legible and brings a shiver to those who know the story and the links to the very place they are standing in.
Regular Dracula events happen throughout the year at Whitby Abbey and draw fans from all over the world. The visitor centre is also home to rare Anglo-Saxon crosses and medieval manuscripts and tells the story of 3,000 years of history at the site.
Visiting Whitby Abbey
We were blown away as soon as we saw Whitby Abbey. To say the ruins are inspiring is an understatement. It’s amazing to think that such a magnificent stone structure was designed and built to such a grand scale without the advantage of modern technology.
Information boards around the ruins paint a picture with words about the former glory of the structure. There are also several artists impressions around the ruins that help visitors to take themselves back in time to when the Abbey was in its prime.
There are some fantastic photo opportunities around the site to take advantage of and the children loved running around the open space around the ruins and exploring all the nooks and crannies around the place. Whitby Abbey is a real adventure for children.
In 2019, English Heritage invested £1.6 million into the site, protecting the ruins and building new facilities like a coffee shop and large gift shop within the visitor centre. We finished our tour of Whitby Abbey by walking through the visitor centre to take in the exhibition and artefacts from the history of Whitby Abbey.
Then, we went in the gift shop, picked up our traditional magnet and spent the rest of the day talking to the children about Dracula. Whitby Abbey ended up being such an educational place that opened up so many conversations.
You can find out more about Whitby Abbey over on the English Heritage website. For reference, the Whitby Abbey Whitby address is: Abbey Lane, Whitby, Yorkshire YO22 4JT