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  • Writer's pictureMike Shepherd

PLACES IN ABERDEENSHIRE VISITED BY BRAM STOKER, AUTHOR OF DRACULA

Updated: Sep 21, 2022


Deeside

The author of Dracula visited Aberdeenshire at least thirteen times between 1892 and 1910. A part-time writer, Bram Stoker took his annual August holiday in Port Erroll (now called Cruden Bay) and wrote his books there. Two of his novels are set in the Cruden Bay area: The Watter’s Mou’ (TWM) and The Mystery of the Sea (TMOTS). On occasion, he would explore beyond Cruden Bay, notably his visit to the coast between Banff and Gardenstown in 1896, and a visit to Deeside in 1897 (three months after Dracula was published). His Deeside trip probably involved a bicycle ride from Braemar to Aberdeen - a similar journey is described in The Mystery of the Sea, and is clearly based on first-hand experience. Here are the places in Aberdeenshire linked to the author of Dracula written in the form of a gazetteer.





Aberdeen: A scene in Stoker’s 1902 novel The Mystery of the Sea is set in the Palace Hotel, which was located on the corner between Union Street and Bridge Street. The hotel was destroyed by fire in 1941, and later demolished.


Ballater: A bicycle trip from Braemar to Aberdeen is described in The Mystery of the Sea.


‘Round and round we swept, curve after curve yielding and falling back and opening new vistas; till at the last we passed into the open gap between the hills around Ballater. Here in the face of possible danger we began to crawl cautiously down the steep hill to the town. Mrs. Jack had proposed that we should make our first halt at Ballater. As, however, we put on pace again at the foot of the hill Marjory said: “Oh do not let us stop in a town. I could not bear it just after that lovely ride through the mountains.” ‘


‘When we had passed Ballater and climbed the hill up to the railway bridge we stopped to look back; and in sheer delight she caught hold of my arm and stood close to me. And no wonder she was moved, for in the world there can be few places of equal beauty of a similar kind. Right above us to the right, and again across the valley, towered mountains of rich brown with patches of purple and lines of green; and in front of us in the centre of the amphitheatre, two round hills, looming large in a delicate mist, served as portals to the valley which trended upward between the hills beyond. The road to Braemar seemed like a veritable road of mystery, guarded by an enchanted gate.’


Banchory: In 1897 Stoker visited the Park estate near Banchory which had been rented by his London neighbour Henry Rivière (Henry Irving Correspondence). This may have been a stopping-off place for the cycling trip through Deeside which provided the basis for the fictional trip in The Mystery of the Sea.


Boddam: Boddam is mentioned several times in Stoker’s 1895 novel The Watter’s Mou’. ‘the distant lights of Girdleness and Boddam.’ Also: ‘They could get out at Peterhead or at Boddam, and so I have set a watch at these places.’ TMOTS.



Boddam



Braemar: ‘We shall be staying at the Fife Arms Hotel, and she will be very happy if you will breakfast with us at nine o’clock a.m. room No. 16.’ TMOTS


Bridge of Potarch: ‘We did not stop at Aboyne, but ran on beyond Kincardine O’Neill, and took our second rest close to the Bridge of Potarch where we had tea at the little hotel on the right bank of the river.’ TMOTS


Bullers of Buchan: Mentioned in The Watter’s Mou’ and The Mystery of the Sea. ‘The little harbour beside the Bullers O’Buchan’ TMOTS


Cambus O’May:


‘Beyond Cambus-o-May there is a lake on the northern side; we can ride round it and come back to the road again at Dinnet. If you like we can have our lunch in the shelter of a lovely wood at the far side of it.’


With a sigh we turned our backs on all this beauty, and skirting the river, ran by Cambus-o-May and between woods of pine in an opening vista of new loveliness... “Oh, was there ever in the world anything so beautiful as this Country! And was there ever so exquisite a ride as ours to-day!”


‘skirted by the crystal lakes of Ceander [Kinord] and Davan to the wood in which we were to have our al fresco lunch.’ TMOTS





Collieston: The wedding guests at Port Erroll in The Watter’s Mou’ - ‘came from all sorts of places between Peterhead and Collieston... Not a few of the Collieston men on their Saturday journey home from Peterhead and their Saturday journey out there again made a detour to have a glass and a chat and a pipe...’


Crathes:


‘From under the splendid woods of Crathes Castle we saw the river running like a blue ribbon far to the east and on either side of it fields and gardens and woods spreading wide. On we sped with delight in every moment, till at last through miles of shady woods we came to the great stone bridge, and ended our jaunt over the rough granite cobblestones of Aberdeen.’ TMOTS


Cruden Bay (Port Erroll): Stoker’s main residence while on holiday in Aberdeenshire, which he visited at least twelve times. He stayed at the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel on at least two occasions, and is also known to have lodged in Hilton Cottage and Roselea Cottage. Buildings mentioned in his novels include the grain store (now the Cruden Bay Garage), the doocot (‘pigeon tower’), the ‘ruined barley mill’, the rocket house and the salmon shed. Landmarks such as Ward Hill, the Back Burn, the Watter’s Mou’ and Port Erroll Harbour also figure.


Ecclesgrieg Castle (near St Cyrus): Often said to be linked to Bram Stoker, but with no evidence he ever visited the castle. This is wishful thinking inspired by the castle’s gothic appearance.


Ellon: Referred to as ‘Yellon’ in the short story Crooken Sands, and Ellon in TMOTS. Ellon was a key stopping off point for Stoker on his regular trips to Cruden Bay. He took the train from Aberdeen to Ellon and before 1897 would have hired a pony and trap to take him from the station to Cruden Bay. The Ellon to Boddam branch line opened in 1897, and from then on Bram Stoker took the train to Cruden Bay.


Fraserburgh:


‘In the meantime we despatched two of the Secret Service men up to the north of Buchan. One was to go to Fraserburgh, and the other to Banff.'


'Montgomery and MacRae were the first to arrive, coming on horseback from Fraserburgh.’ TMOTS


Fyvie: ‘Then the rest of us drove over to Fyvie and caught the train to Macduff.’ TMOTS


Gardenstown: Misspelled by Bram Stoker as Gardentown in The Mystery of the Sea (1902). Bram Stoker spent at least one night in the Garden Arms in 1896, the year he was completing Dracula. Henry Irving, his boss at the Lyceum Theatre, sent Stoker a telegram to the Garden Arms, dated 25th July 1896.


Quotes from the Mystery of the Sea:


‘Some seven or eight miles east of Banff was a little port in a land-locked bay called Gardentown.’


‘...the rest of us drove over in a carriage to Gardentown. It is a lovely coast, this between Banff and Gardentown...’


‘I might have got here in time if I had known enough; but I never even heard of Gardentown till your wire came to me. It isn’t on the map’. ‘When we got together in the hotel at Gardentown...’



Dacre Stoker, great-grand nephew of Bram Stoker, in Gardenstown.


Hatton: Dr James Harvey Stewart, based in Hatton, probably treated Bram Stoker when he fell seriously ill from pneumonia on a Cruden Bay holiday in 1899.


The story is told about Dr Stewart inviting Bram and Florence for Sunday dinner at their house in Hatton (Woodville). They accepted but made an unfortunate oversight in doing so. No trains ran on Sunday from Port Erroll to Hatton, so Bram and Florence had to walk two and a half miles along the railway line to get there (Mike Shepherd, 2018. When Brave Men Shudder).


Peterhead: Bram Stoker knew Peterhead well. In 1904 he was invited to open the Peterhead Flower Show.





Some of the action in The Mystery of the Sea takes place in Peterhead.


‘I rode on my bicycle to Peterhead, and walked on the pier. It was a bright clear day, and a fresh northern breeze was blowing. The fishing boats were ready to start at the turn of the tide; and as I came up the first of them began to pass out through the harbour mouth. Their movement was beautiful to see; at first slowly, and then getting faster as the sails were hoisted, till at last they swept through the narrow entrance, scuppers under, righting themselves as they swung before the wind in the open sea. Now and again a belated smacksman came hurrying along to catch his boat before she should leave the pier.’


‘One of my first visits was to Peterhead which seemed to be in a state of absolute activity, for the herring fishing had been good and trade of all kinds was brisk. At the market place which was half full of booths, could be had almost everything required for the needs or comfort of life such as it can be on a fishing boat. Fruit and all sorts of summer luxuries were abundant. Being Saturday the boats had returned early and had got their nets away to the drying-grounds, and the men had been able to shave and dress tidily. The women, too, had got their dressing done early —the fish first and themselves afterwards.’


‘The eastern pier of Peterhead is guarded by a massive wall of granite, built in several steps or tiers, which breaks the fury of the gale. When a northern storm is on, it is a wild spot; the waves dash over it in walls of solid green topped with mountainous masses of foam and spray. But at present, with the July sun beating down, it was a vantage post from which to see the whole harbour and the sea without. I climbed up and sat on the top, looking on admiringly, and lazily smoked in quiet enjoyment.’


Slains Castle: Mentioned by Bram Stoker in both his Aberdeenshire novels. Castles resembling Slains are prominent in Stoker’s other books. It’s plausible that part of the floor plan for Slains Castle was used for Castle Dracula.


Turriff: Stoker visited Mountblairy near Turriff, invited there by his London neighbour Henry Rivière. (Henry Irving Correspondence)


Whinnyfold: Bram Stoker’s last visit to the Cruden Bay area was in 1910 when he stayed at the Crookit Lum Cottage in Whinnyfold. Whinnyfold, which was probably his favourite place in the area. It figures prominently in both The Watter’s Mou’ and The Mystery of the Sea. In the latter novel he builds a house at Whinnyfold, possibly something he had wanted to do in real life.


‘I arranged to take a feu at Whinnyfold and to build a house overlooking the Skares for myself. The details of this kept me constantly going to Whinnyfold, and my house to be was always in my thoughts.’


Whinnyfold provides the scene for a procession of ghosts in The Mystery of the Sea.


‘The silence of death was upon the little hamlet of Whinnyfold. There was not a sign of life; not a dog barked as the grim procession had moved up the steep path or now filed across the running stream and moved along the footpath toward Cruden.’



Whinnyfold



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COPYRIGHT MIKE SHEPHERD 2022






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The walls of the octagonal hall inside Slains Castle

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