Perched high on a cliff overlooking the North Sea in Whitby, North Yorkshire are the dramatic ruins of the Grade I Listed Whitby Abbey.
I first became aware of Whitby Abbey during my formative goth years; it became famous for being the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula, and the reason why every year the popular seaside resort hosts the Whitby Goth Weekend. It has not only inspired writers, but is a place of pilgrimage and religious reverence. It is owned and maintained by English Heritage, which my husband and I are members of, so during our stay at the Medieval Bolton Percy Gatehouse, we decided to visit.
The first monastery was founded in Streoneshalh circa 657AD by Oswy, the Anglo-Saxon King of Northumbria. Streoneshalh is the old name for Whitby and is thought to mean Fort Bay or Tower Bay. Streoneshalch monastery was raided by the Danes between 867 and 870, and remained empty for 200 years. The Domesday Survey mentions a locality in this area called 'Prestebi' ('habitation of priests' in Old Norse), experts believe this may be proof that religious life continued here after the raids.
The ruin we see now was built by a follower of William the Conqueror in the late 11th century. It was then rebuilt in the 1220s and was was later destroyed in 1540 on the orders of Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Although this fell into ruin, sailors used the ruins to see their way and of course it also inspired Bram Stoker.
This is a very summarised version of Whitby Abbey's rich history, I really do urge you to visit and see it for yourself. It is also well worth paying attention to the magnificent visitor centre; housed in the Cholmley family mansion, it was built in 1539, and you can even take dogs in here. The Whitby Brewery Microbrewery behind the abbey was also a welcome find after our busy day.