Halloween is always an atmospheric time of year – glowing pumpkins, roasted chestnuts, Yorkshire parkin and faces painted in a myriad of ghoulish disguises. But this year was made all the more so by spending Samhain in the Gothic surroundings of Whitby and it’s wonderful abbey ruins.

English Heritage‘s Illuminated Abbey event in 2019 was a week of activities at the abbey that sits in a prominent position on the headland overlooking Whitby’s ancient harbour. The abbey itself is, of course, a ruin – years of neglect after the violence of it’s dissolution in 1540 left it a shell. The bracing wind, rain and salt spray  from the North Sea have also taken their toll on the stonework and an attack by German battle-cruisers in December 1914 did further severe damage.

Whitby Church of St Mary's and Harbour

The illumination at Whitby brings a whole new way of looking at the ruins of this Gothic religious building. The grey, sometimes flat looking stonework is lit from underneath, which lifts the carefully carved features in the archways and windows and casts shadows that offset the  building, enabling you to really see what incredible detail remains in the ruin.

The lighting also adds an eerie look to the aisles either side of the presbytery in the abbey, an eeriness that on this occasion was enhanced by various actors and performers wandering about in ghostly make-up, ready to pounce from the shadows on unsuspecting members of the public.

Ghost at Whitby AbbeyIt was difficult to discern whether the female performer, dressed in a white death shroud and her face made up like a ghost, was meant to represent the wraith-like figure of Saint Hilda, who is purportedly seen in the ruins; or that of Lucy Westenra, the tragic heroine of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, who fell to the dreaded Count on this very hilltop in the nearby St Mary’s Churchyard. Either way, her performance was quite magical in the eerie blue light and she was more than happy to pose for photographs.

Other performers included the Lancastrian Witchfinder Roger Nowell, known for his involvement with the Pendle Witches and the Lancaster Witch trials in 1612; and a vampire hunter who’s name escapes me at the moment. The evening was rounded off by an intentionally abbreviated and comical version of Dracula, performed in the remains of the cloister.

More on the history of Whitby Abbey to come in other posts. For now, enjoy the pictures.