Tag: Yorkshire

How to celebrate 125 years of Bram Stoker’s Gothic novel, Dracula, at Whitby Abbey

 A trip to Whitby to get into the Halloween spirit.

My visit was part of a wider itinerary to explore the Yorkshire Coast Route, a new route intended to showcase the off-season charms of the Yorkshire seaside.

The route spans 240 miles, taking in the North Yorks Moors National Park and walking routes off the Cleveland Way National Trail.

The highlight, however, is Whitby.

Gothic novel

The traditional Yorkshire fishing village of Whitby is bracing itself for a black-mascara influx this autumn, hosting events to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula.

Published in 1897, Dracula was inspired by the seascape and atmospheric backstreets of Whitby with several key scenes set in the town.

The spindly ruins of Whitby Abbey [pictured above] remain the main draw, the Gothic-novel literati eagerly climbing the 199 steep, stone steps to soak up the abbey’s atmospheric setting. 

By the time Bram Stoker visited Whitby in August 1890, the abbey had long since adopted its eerily tumbledown form.

He drew on local legends, such as the wreck of a sailing vessel, The Demeter in the novel, and the folklore of the barghest, a wolf-like hound that stalked the moors.

These added local colour to the story of his Transylvanian anti-hero.

Hence, when Dracula is shipwrecked off Whitby, Stoker has him transform into a fierce black dog, leaping from the ship to bound up the cliffs to the abbey.

Victorian values

“Dracula’s animalistic representation of the occult loomed large in the Victorian imagination.”

“The beastly incarnation was both shocking, yet fascinating, to Victorian society,” says Mark Williamson, Site Manager for English Heritage.

Read the full story in i Travel, A Very Gothic Grand Tour.

More from https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/whitby-abbey/things-to-do/

How to celebrate 100 years of afternoon teas at Bettys Cafe Tea Room, York

To York on the hottest day of the year for a magazine assignment for Immediate Media.

It was a special birthday party.

This year marks 100 years of Bettys Tea Room Cafe, a Yorkshire institution for its afternoon teas with a frisson of Swiss style.

Plus the fact it has done away with its possessive apostrophe.

The Swiss baker, Frederick Belmont, first founded the company in 1919, creating a niche in Yorkshire for high-quality cakes and pastries, served the old-fashioned way.

Today, the third generation of the family runs the business with two Bettys in York, including the Art Deco-style café at St Helen’s Square, plus the first café in Harrogate.

The company is hosting a series of events, and offering special souvenirs, as part of the year-long centenary celebration.

A recreation of one of Frederick’s famous cakes currently takes pride of place in Bettys front window [pictured above].

But the must–try treat is a Yorkshire Fat Rascal, Betty’s signature fruit scone, served warm with a pot of Taylors tea.

I combined afternoon tea with a visit to York Minster and stroll around the walls, the resulting city-break guide to York due out this winter — watch this space.

More: Visit York

To Hull and back on a culture quest


The taxi driver was unimpressed.

“It’s a fingers-crossed job,” he grunted.

He sprawled back in the driving seat and folded his arms at the lights, revealing a tattoo snaking down his fleshy forearm.

It read: “Blessed to be born in Yorkshire.”

“The problem is,” he added, “City of Culture only interests about two per cent of local people.”

Running late

Hull has a problem. It has been chosen as the UK City of Culture and the blue touch paper for the fireworks is due to be lit on January 1st.

But Hull clearly isn’t ready. The street works are causing chaos, the regeneration projects are running behind and the city suffers a major dearth of hotels rooms.

With an extra 1m visitors expected in the year ahead, the new Hilton hotel looks unlikely to be ready before September and a rumoured Radisson Blu hasn’t even broken ground yet.

Local people are either feeling frustrated, or completely disinterested.

After successful cultural-regeneration projects in Derry and previously Liverpool (as a European City of Culture), Hull is feeling the heat.

Weekend away

I came to Hull for a half-term break, introducing the girls to the city closely associated with the poet Philip Larkin [his statue at the train station pictured above].

Larkin described his home town:

This town has docks were channel boats come sidling; Tame water lanes, tall sheds, the traveller sees … His advent blurted to the morning shore — Arrivals, Departures (1954)

Today much of the industry is gone. The Fruit Market area of the old docklands is a work-in-progress building site with hipster hang-outs closing as fast as they open.

Only The Deep, the family-bustling aquarium with its perennially popular penguins, rises with any certainly above the shifting cityscape beyond the waterfront.

I want Hull to hit its stride. I plan to return with the right commission.

But, meanwhile, the taxi driver wasn’t holding his breath.

“When it happens,” he added, dropping us at the station for the journey home, ” then it will be more luck than planning.”

More: Hull City of Culture 2017

Story of the week: Last of the summer wine in Holmfirth, Yorkshire


A wintery Friday afternoon and Ashley Jackson is holding court.

In the upstairs office above his West Yorkshire gallery, the 68-year-old, Barnsley-born landscape artist is nursing a crystal tumbler of well-aged single malt.

In the background an array of photographs show him receiving his courtiers: Sarah Ferguson, Rudolf Giuliani and professional Yorkshireman Fred Trueman.

“The quarry and mill men started the creative tradition of Holmfirth,” he chuckles to himself.

“The town had poets, musicians and intellectuals long before Last of the Summer Wine arrived. I had a gallery in Holmfirth for many years BC – before Compo.”

According to Ashley, Homfirth’s appeal is simply its visceral beauty – and the people inspired by it.

“Holmfirth is masculine country. If you appreciate the moors and nature, you’re welcome in Holmfirth with open arms,” he winks. “But the moors breed a certain type of person. They don’t breed bankers, that’s for sure.”

Coach parties

Ashley has granted me an audience to help me discover why this small West Yorkshire community is booming with house buyers chasing the life-work-balance dream.

To the outsider, the proposition seems unfathomable with dark, satanic mills looming over rough, forbidding moorland.

To the coach parties that clog up the triumvirate of main streets each weekend, the unique draw is the long-running television series Last of the Summer Wine, which first started filming in the area in 1972.

But to the converts, Holmfirth is a burgeoning arts hub with the Picturedrome Cinema, a glorious arthouse institution dating from 1912, the trail-blazing CragRats Theatre and a slew of well-regarded art galleries.

Ashley is right too – there was life before Compo. Bamforth & Co a publishing, film and illustration company based in Holmfirth, not only pioneered the saucy seaside postcard, but also preceded Hollywood as a film-making centre, making its first monochrome films in 1898.

Well connected

Located ten miles south of Huddersfield, Holmfirth is the main settlement in the Holme Valley.

A mill town since the Industrial Revolution, it’s overflowing with bucolic charm – think local stone-built cottages perched precariously on steep, twisting roads.

It’s also very centrally located for commuting to Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester, all university towns, and all within one hour’s drive. Within 20 minutes you can be cruising down the M1 or M62.

Despite the rural location, house prices are well above the district average and there is a high demand area for housing, while 11.3 per cent of economically active locals are self-employed compared to a national average of 8.3 per cent, according to figures from Kirklees Council.

“Holmfirth is small enough to feel friendly but big enough to be worth coming to.”

“It’s come of age as a destination with the advent of broadband,” says Max Earnshaw, Managing Director, EarnshawKay estate agents.

The broad range of housing stock ranges from a farmhouse with 30 acres for £1m to a two-bed cottage for £125,000, while a typical, four-bedroom detached house with a garden sells for around £250,000.

Particularly popular for conversions are the three-storey weavers’ cottages, as are the outlying villages of the Holme Valley, such as Upperthong, Netherthong and Wooldale.

“We get quite a young clientele – typically people in their early thirties who have done their time in London. People who want to retire head for North Yorkshire,” says Earnshaw.

“We have mill conversions with aspects of new build, but they cost £200,000 plus, so there’s not much for first-time buyers. But there are lots of empty old mills, which are ideal for setting up a business,” he adds.

Time for tea 

Sue and Chris Gardener moved to Holmfirth seven years ago from Harpenden and did just that.

They bought the Wrinkled Stocking Tea Room, part of the building used as the film location for Nora Batty’s cottage in Last of the Summer Wine, as a going concern.

Downstairs an exhibition of memorabilia marks the 25th anniversary of the programme. But, as outsiders to Yorkshire, they are known as ‘comer-inners’ in the local parlance.

“We weren’t fans of the show. I always took the theme music as my cue to leave the room on a Sunday evening,” says Sue, as we sit amid floral tablecloths and china cups with an array of mouth-watering homemade cakes on the heaving sideboard.

“It’s okay as a comer-inner. People are genuinely warm and friendly. They may take a while to get to know but, when you do, you have a friend for life,” explains Chris. “And the countryside is stunning.”

“We walk the dogs every day and love the space. In Harpenden, we used to queue just to get into the car park at Waitrose.”

Cultural life

The Last of the Summer Wine set still draws the crowds but, in recent years, it’s the town’s cultural scene that has really captured the imagination – leading to a new influx of comer-inners. The HD9 postcode is now the second-highest theatre going audience in the region.

CragRats, a theatre, communication and education business, founded in 1991 and housed in a converted woolen mill at the edge of town, is the best exponent of the thriving arts community.

The company employs 80 staff and has over 300 actors on its books, running training programmes for companies as diverse as Diageo and West Yorkshire Police. The sprawling labyrinthine building is home to a theatre, a multi-media department and a corporate training facility.

“People think Holmfirth is the back of beyond but there’s a lot of raw talent in this area,” says David Bradley, Chairman of CragRats and co-founder of the business.

“The arts scene started with the film industry and I think the sense of creativity has been built into the fabric of the area ever since.”

“We chose Holmfirth for the building, the location and as a geographical centre as it’s close to Manchester and Leeds,” he adds.

“Most of all, I wanted to live somewhere that has a strong sense of identity and community.”

 Your round

Back at the Ashley Jackson gallery, we’re draining our whiskies and bracing ourselves for the icy bite of winter.

“People round here tell it straight and I enjoy their directness. It comes from the moors. But go into any pub in Holmfirth and you’ll soon find out if you’ve been accepted,” chuckles Ashley.

The secret? “It’s the greatest gift you can give a Yorkshireman,” he winks.

“You know they’ve accepted you when they ask you to get a round in.”

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

This article was first published in the Weekend FT in 2008.

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