FOR AN unassuming little seaside town, Whitby has quite a connection to the supernatural, and to horrors that creep and crawl by night.
The most dreadful vampire of them all – Dracula himself – landed on these shores at Whitby, according to novelist Bram Stoker.
In the novel, Mina Harker posts a cutting in her journal for the night of August 8, sometime at the turn of the century, which describes the great storm which accompanied the vampire's arrival. "The day was unusually fine until the afternoon, when some gossips who frequent the East Cliff churchyard... called attention to a sudden show of 'mares' tails high in the sky to the north west. Shortly before ten o'clock the stillness of the air grew quite oppressive... then without warning the storm broke."
That change in the weather was to herald dreadful and frightening things... and you could say Whitby, with its annual Goth weekend, has never been the same since.
Yet there are more awful creatures of the night stalking this pretty seaside town's streets that just one Victorian vampire, as author Chris Firth reveals in his latest collection of ghost stories, Ghost Stories from Whitby – The Mulgrave Tales.
Having lived in Whitby for almost 20 years, Chris, a writer and English teacher at Caedmon College, is well versed in Whitby’s spooky goings on. Although he doesn’t believe in ghosts himself, he continues to remain intrigued by those who do.
“I'm fascinated by how and why other people believe in ghosts and are frightened of them. I don't quite believe in them as physical, see-able things, though I've had a few spooky experiences and know that psychic phenomena is real. I guess if a ghost stepped in front of me I might believe in them.”
Chris’s latest collection, which contains adaptations of local folk-lore and his own creations, includes hair-raising tales that will have you running out to buy a night-light. Pad-pad, an unnerving story set in Mulgrave Woods, describes the terror inflicted by a murderous part-panther, part-goat, part-human monster, in the dead of night.
Locker 13, another spine-chilling tale, tells of a young girl who perished after being trapped in a school locker, while Green Man, the second tale in the book, describes what happens to a group of five children who dare to venture into haunted woods.
For good measure, there is even a terrifying tale from York: the story of the Mal-Beast, York’s very own golem. The narrative, which centres around a man by the name of Jazeb Jonahs and his immortal, murderous beast, was inspired by the many marbles that are embedded in the pavements of York, providing a fascinating (if not deadly) reason for the singular red stone.
“I want people to look at the pavement as they walk about the beautiful streets of York and think about what they are seeing –- the amazing layers of history and the gorgeous Yorkshire stone. And to laugh a bit at the ridiculous believability of the tale. I hope long-bred York folk aren't too scared though,” Chris says.
Ghost Stories From Whitby - The Mulgrave Tales by Chris Firth (Electraglade Press, £5.99; 77p Kindle edition)
Review by Charlotte Wainwright