Drac­ula’s fortress

Men­ac­ing cliffs and an eerie cas­tle were an en­dur­ing in­spi­ra­tion for Bram Stoker, says Fer­gal MacEr­lean

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents - Dublin-born Bram Stoker (1847-1912) wrote a dozen nov­els and many short sto­ries. His 1897 mas­ter­piece Drac­ula was an in­stant best­seller.

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.

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