Gothic Enlightenment


Self-consciously I traced my way around the grassy labyrinth. Glancing up I caught the eye of a fellow pilgrim and sheepishly we exchanged wry smiles as I wondered, “Does he think I look ridiculous? Do I?”. The answer was an emphatic no, as I took a deep breath and continued on my way.

100_6682Arriving earlier at Whitby Abbey the cement bunker where we bought our tickets had been gloomy and disappointing, however on walking around the corner and up we were transported in time as chanting Benedict monks beckoned us forward across the sunny plain. Clad in long sweeping brown or white habits, heads adorned with flat round hat, their presence brought alive the ethereal spirituality of centuries ago as with heavenly voice their hymns awed the visitors into silence.

Quietly a monk explained the concept of the Path to Paradise, a circular interloping path cut from the grass, a time for inner reflection and meditation. There was only one way round, leading to the centre and here upon the granite altar we were requested to place a blessed stone from his basket and with it make a wish or prayer.

Soon thoughts drift from myself to the abbey, looming ahead, bathed in sunlight, the gothic ruins vibrating with life. Time slows, my son runs on ahead, diligently following the path and I enter a new dimension of total serenity and I immersed myself in contemplation. Here views of the long harbour wall, tiny dots of people meandering along, their children scampering between the fallen pillars of the abbey, some clambering on them.


100_6679Shattered as a clear voice breaks through and a monk recites a story; there he is, sitting in the middle of the circle, surrounded by fellow pilgrims. Just then my son places his stone upon the granite rock and without a pause dashes away to find his friends. The End


With only a week until our holiday in North Yorkshire I recalled this piece I wrote as my first assignment for a creative writing course. Gothic Enlightenment describes our fortuitous visit to Whitby Abbey during their Path to Paradise celebrations.

“A good part of the business of fiction is performed half-consciously, even sub-consciously. So I’ll do a little scene and then another little scene and try not to think of the extent of the task ahead.”

Hilary Mantel