Whitby (from Still Growing) 2007
The town of Whitby, located on the north east coast of England, is probably best associated with the literary character Dracula. Thanks to Bram Stoker, the town has become a Mecca for Goths and those who love their fiction with a bit more bite. My association with Whitby is a little less to do with Transylvanian Vampires, and more to do with a bible I found in my parent’s attic some years ago.
I found it in a long-forgotten brown cardboard box full of dust and other collected trinkets. I was drawn to it immediately, not because I have any religious leanings, but because it is a book. Books fascinate and intrigue me, as you might imagine, and I love spending hours in bookstores looking through their vast shelves of wonders. I can’t pinpoint exactly why, but bookstores relax me. Their smell, the quiet slowness of the whole endeavour of choosing a book to buy is unlike any other shopping experience, which, when it comes to past-times, I mainly loath. Whatever the reason, or combined reasons for loving books and bookstores, here I was crouched in my parent’s attic with an brown faux-leather bound bible, fascinated.
I transferred the small handheld torch I was carrying into my mouth, and shone the light down at the book. I wiped the years-old dust away with my hand and opened the bible. Thumbing through its old discoloured pages I came to a handwritten inscription, that read: To Sandra, Give to the world the best you have, and the best will come back to you. Love Dad. Whitby, 1956.
I realised it must be my mum’s bible, I didn’t know my mum had a bible, she certainly wasn’t religious. I imagined that back in ’56 kids were either forced to study the bible in school or were, like myself when I was younger, subject to the right of passage known as Sunday School. Whatever the reason for needing the bible, I found out from mum it was bought for her by her father in Whitby, hence the inscription. I loved the sentiment of those few short words so much I put them in the front of my first book of poems Still Growing.
What an amazing thing, I thought, my grandfather, the one I had sadly never met as he died before I was born, was a poet!? That’s where I get it from, I thought, as my eyes read over and over his handwritten note to mum. For years I thought he was the reason I had the urge to write poetry. That somehow poetic DNA had been passed down directly from him. Some years later I would find out the line was taken from a poem called, Life’s Mirror by Madeline S Bridges. Still, he obviously read some poetry to know of that line, and that, in my own head is enough to keep the idea that some genetic love of poetry was passed down. I had always been told by mum that we would have got on well, my grandfather and I, so any insight into his psyche was always welcome.
It was my fascination with my never met grandfather that lead me to Whitby. I knew of Whitby, of course, England is not a big place, but to my knowledge I had never been. I was wrong on that front too, my parent’s took me there when I was very young, so mum said, but we had never visited since. I needed to change that. I was so fascinated with going there since discovering the bible. Some deep part of me knew I had to go.
Me and my best friend Chris visited Whitby in early April 2007 and, as I suspected, I fell in love with it straight away; its marvellously crooked cobbled streets, its ancient houses and buildings, the church of St Mary – which has one of the most hauntingly stunning graveyards I have ever seen, and of course, the Abbey, towering over the town like some eroding monolith. The whole place captivated me. It came as no surprise to me that it had inspired several writers aside from Bram Stoker, although he by far has left the greatest mark on the town.
My own small contribution to the literary story of Whitby was conceived shortly after returning from this trip. Not many places I have been have inspired me enough to put pen to paper in tribute, but Whitby, for me is no ordinary place. Before I left Whitby on that visit in 2007, I took a panoramic picture of the whole town as I was stood at the top of the one-hundred and ninety-nine steps. I wanted to capture the place in hope that I could transport some of that magic back home with me. It worked, because it was while I was looking at this photograph that the first lines of the poem came. I recreated the panorama during a recent visit to Whitby with my wife. I was so excited to show Heather round and see her experience for the first time, this place I loved so much. I have to say, I lived vicariously through her and was able to recapture some of the wonder of my own first visit.
Whether it be the legend of Dracula, the historic Abbey, St Mary’s Church and it’s magical graveyard with salt eroded tombstones, the smokey kippers eaten straight from a newspaper or merely being by the sea, I hope if you haven’t been to Whitby, you will have the opportunity to go and experience it for yourselves. There really is something magical in the air there. Thank goodness I found that bible and for my grandfather’s inscription in that bible to my mum. I must remember to credit Madeline S Bridges for writing it in any reprints of Still Growing, as well as my grandfather for rewriting it for a grandson he would never know to read. As for me and Whitby, I have been back several times since that visit in 2007, and I never tire of it. It remains to this day one of my favourite places on earth.
Here on the hill by the Abbey
an almost silence caresses your ears.
The whispered crash of the sea
on the sand below; the soft
sighs of salty air.
A distant memory may touch
your thoughts but the breeze
will blow it away. Wash it out of mind
and make you think like new again.
And as you lift your face to the sun you can
almost feel the sea spray on your skin,
and your troubles ebbing away.
Oh how I love this quaint little town.
It’s winding hilly streets so narrowly filled with feet.
The smell of smoking kippers in the air,
the gulls that swoop and soar.
The Jet as black as Dracula’s heart,
the seaweed on the shore.
The 199 steps to count as you climb,
a heaven to ascend, a dream to find
the sweeping panoramic view of the town,
as standing alone you look down
to see the boats on the Esk,
coming and going,
leaving white tails behind them
in a foaming bottleneck.
Copyright Phillip Mellor 2007, 2017
Taken from Drawing Outside of The Lines: Poems 2007 – 2017
Available to purchase 1st July 2017