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  • Writer's pictureMike Shepherd

THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO SLAINS CASTLE AND DRACULA





1. Slains Castle did not inspire the plot for Dracula


Yes, I know it’s everywhere on the internet that Slains Castle inspired the plot for Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. It’s nonsense. Bram Stoker was planning the plot for Dracula from at least 1890, two years before he first visited Cruden Bay in 1892 when he saw Slains Castle for the first time.


Bram Stoker’s notes for Dracula survive and were published in 2013. An ‘old castle’ is mentioned in his notes from March 1890, and at this stage it is located in Styria, a mountainous state in southern Austria.



Slains Castle in Bram Stoker's time.



2. Slains Castle is, however, mentioned by Bram Stoker in two of his other novels.


Bram Stoker was a regular visitor to Cruden Bay (then called Port Erroll) between 1892 and 1910, and he wrote books while on holiday here. Two novels, The Watter’s Mou’ and The Mystery of the Sea, were set in Cruden Bay. Here are extracts mentioning the castle:



The Watter’s Mou’ (1895)


'At first the cleft runs from west to east, and broadens out into a wide bay of which one side a steep grassy slope leads towards the new castle of Slains...’


The Mystery of the Sea (1902


'My own section for watching was between Slains Castle and Dunbuy, as wild and rocky a bit of coast as anyone could wish to see. Behind Slains runs in a long narrow inlet with beetling cliffs, sheer on either side, and at its entrance a wild turmoil of rocks are hurled together in titanic confusion.'



3. Slains Castle also appears in disguised form in his other novels.


For example, in The Jewel of Seven Stars, Kyllion – the mansion where the final scene takes place – shares a cliff setting with Slains Castle. It is described as: ‘A great grey stone mansion of the Jacobean period; vast and spacious, standing high over the sea on the very verge of a high cliff.’ And where one could hear, ‘the crash and murmur of waves breaking against rock far below...’



'standing high over the sea on the very verge of a high cliff.’


4. Slains Castle provided a visual backdrop while Bram Stoker was writing Dracula in Cruden Bay.


Bram Stoker wrote the early part of Dracula in Cruden Bay in 1895, and he probably wrote most of it in the village. It is known that Bram Stoker behaved very strangely in 1895, behaviour explained by his wife Florence as an obsession with the novel while writing it. His biographer Daniel Farson, and a relative of Bram Stoker, wrote that Florence believed that her husband took over the mindset of his main characters to get authenticity of feeling into his books. I would argue, that it was a short step for Bram Stoker to also imagine himself as in a Transylvania with Slains Castle acting as a proxy for Castle Dracula.



The walls of the octagonal hall in Slains Castle


5. Although there is no direct evidence that the octagonal hall in Slains Castle was the inspiration for the octagonal room in Castle Dracula, I believe this likely.


An existing photograph of the hall from Bram Stoker’s time exactly matches the description of the room in Dracula: ‘The Count halted, putting down my bags, closed the door, and crossing the room, opened another door which led into a small octagonal room lit by a single lamp, and seemingly without a window of any sort.’


Compare this with the description of Slains Castle from a 1922 sales document: ‘On the Principle Floor: Entrance Hall (heated with stove) leading to Central Octagonal Interior Hall (heated with stove and lighted from above)...’


Dacre Stoker, Bram Stoker’s great-grand nephew, believes that part of the floor plan of Slains Castle was used for Castle Dracula. My view is that Bram Stoker wanted to pay tribute to Cruden Bay and the people he knew there by providing hidden allusions to the village in the novel. The octagonal room is one of these, as is a curious insertion from the local Doric dialect into Seaman Swales monologue in Whitby. Spoken mostly in a Yorkshire dialect, he slips in the Doric phrase ‘I wouldn’t fash masel’ (I wouldn’t trouble myself).



Cruden Bay beach


6. Curiously enough, a compelling case can be made for a link between Cruden Bay beach and Dracula.


Bram Stoker told a local resident that he took inspiration for his novels from the coastal scenery around Cruden Bay. His descriptions from his two Cruden Bay novels tie in with this.


The mouth of the sea gorge known as the Watter’s Mou’, located located close to Slains Castle is described thus: ‘The white cluster of rocks looked like a ghostly mouth opened to swallow whatever might come in touch.’


And in The Mystery of the Sea written after Dracula, we read: ‘If Cruden Bay is to be taken figuratively as a mouth, with the sand hills for soft palate, and the green Hawklaw as the tongue, the rocks which work the extremities are its teeth,’


This is a knowing reference to the beach where Bram Stoker thought about what he was going to write in Dracula. How do we know this? Here’s Florence Stoker:

'When he was at work on Dracula, we were all frightened of him. It was up on a lonely part of the east coast of Scotland, and he seemed to get obsessed by the spirit of the thing. There he would sit for hours, like a great bat, perched on the rocks of the shore, or wander alone up and down the sandhills thinking it out.'



COPYRIGHT MIKE SHEPHERD 2022 (Author with Dacre Stoker of Slains Castle's Secret History).


If you like my articles, why not read my latest book North Sea Heroes: True Stories from a Scottish Shore.In it are seven tales from the east coast of Scotland. 'Using rare original sources and well-researched analyses of events, Mike Shepherd has 'brought to life' epic adventures and historic events in and around the North Sea over four and a half centuries. Great reading.'



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The walls of the octagonal hall inside Slains Castle

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