In Bram Stoker's Gothic thriller, Count Dracula was 400 years old; the story was published 120 years ago, in May 1897, and still scares readers in 44 languages. Over the years, surmising Stoker's sources for both Dracula the character and for his castle has caused vampire enthusiasts to go batty, and two areas of Britain have fangs bared over British inspirations for the bloodsucking count.
In 1890, Stoker visited Whitby in northeast Yorkshire, making notes on a supernatural tale he had heard of the living dead. In his story, he wrote of Dracula coming ashore there, functioning from the grave of a suicide, and attacking his first English victim. But Cruden Bay, a village on the coast north of Aberdeen, Scotland, boasts Dracula legends to get your teeth into. Even some lampposts carry Dracula effigies.
Stoker discovered the area while on a walking holiday along the arduous cliff track. The isolated dramatic North Sea coastline, turbulent seascape and ferocious weather awed him; it is this area which, legend has it, provided the inspiration for writing about the Dracula character. And it even had a suitable castle. Stoker set Dracula's castle in the east of Transylvania, where, to the best of knowledge, he never visited. According to local lore, Slains Castle, now a spectacular range of roofless ruins clinging precariously to a headland, influenced Stoker's conception of the vampire's eerie fortress. In the author's day, Slains was an intact large mansion; its construction over 340 years resulted in a conglomeration of styles and building materials, some of which can be discerned today.
On a chilly autumn afternoon, I and my travelling companion, Australians exploring northeast Scotland, optimistically judged the weather fit for a visit to Slains before the clouds racing across the pale blue sky turned sinister. We trudged along the muddy track to poke around the gaunt remains. At the castle, we trod warily trough the knee-high clumps of dank weeds and over sharp-edged masonry.
We retreated to the welcome warmth of the historic local pub, where Bram Stoker wrote the first chapters of the book. Over coffee with a whisky chaser, we heard the story of how, after he'd eaten one helping too many of the local crab, his nightmare revealed a master vampire!