Menacing cliffs and an eerie castle were an enduring inspiration for Bram Stoker, says Fergal MacErlean
Bram Stoker’s Cruden Bay, Aberdeenshire
On a summer’s day, the fine sweeping views across the golden sands of the Bay of Cruden are among the most pleasant in the UK.
The scene – of a blue-green sea with crops waving in the fertile fields, and farmyard geese – is a tranquil one. Yet the bay is framed by the ominous Slains Castle, perched upon jagged cliffs, and the wave-piercing Skares Rocks. For author Bram Stoker, these reefs inspired him to pen his Gothic novel, Dracula.
For much of his working life, Stoker was known as the personal assistant of actor Henry Irving and manager of London’s West End Lyceum Theatre. But in 1890, he discovered a reference to Dracula in a public library in Whitby, and his fascination with vampires was born.
The inspiration for Stoker’s famed novel is said to have come from a number of places. Whitby, of course, and Eastern Europe’s Carpathian Mountains. It is also thought that he based the mannerisms of Count Dracula on his close friend and colleague, Irving. And then there was Cruden Bay and the 16th-century Slains Castle, igniting Stoker’s imagination from the moment he arrived at the coast.
CRUDEN BAY LOVE AFFAIR
For 17 years, he would return to the north-west Scottish town and its surrounding landscape, absorbing its atmosphere and folklore. It is said that the red-bearded Irishman could be seen sitting on a rock for hours, like a seabird, with his notebook in hand.
Stoker spent much of his time at the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel – referenced in his 1895 novel The Watter’s Mou. Today, his affection for the lodging can be seen in the hotel’s visitors book: “Delighted with everything and everybody and hope to come again.”
LEFT IN RUINS
At Port Errol, a mile-long footpath leads to the cliffs for a spectacular view of the castle with its multitude of turrets. The ruined castle is currently closed to the public, and a restoration project, granted in 2007, has been put on hold. Extreme care must be taken in the building’s vicinity and on the cliff walk approach. The site is best avoided in poor weather. An alternative walk to the castle can be taken from a car park to the north.
“To evacuate his sealed castle and grandiose coffin,” writes Stoker in Dracula, “the count slithers headlong down the walls of his battlements like a lizard.”
Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire is thought to have been the inspiration for Dracula’s home, described by Stoker as “a vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light, and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the sky”
Fergal MacErlean is an outdoors writer who loves exploring Scotland.