The road dropped away beneath us. About two hundred yards ahead it turned sharply to the right and vanished behind a mass of green. I confess I was anxious that we might not make it to our destination, that our little carriage might not survive the journey. I enjoy conducting research in the field but being thrown bodily onto the moors would not have been ideal.
I had escaped the claustrophobia of my study once more, perchance to read, to think and detect. I was on the hunt for clues and found them in abundance. My travelling companion and I were heading for the sea.
In York, the gothic Minster throws long shadows.
To my delight, there are great, musty stores of texts hidden in these patches of gloom, shops where you can find yellowing volumes whose stitched spines are coming unpicked. As I rummaged through the shelves a pattern of correspondence seemed to emerge. I bought a copy of the letters of Felix Mendelssohn and, most crucially of all, texts on Liszt. The green covers of old murder mysteries spoke out but were in no condition to be handled. They lay as dead on the shop tables as the bodies they describe slumped at the bottom of staircases. Their backs were broken.
From York we struck out into the wilderness, braving uneven road surfaces and uncertain conditions. We remained undeterred, however, and eventually came to rest in a strange hall of mirrors, a room of kitsch reflection and cultural detritus that stirred the imagination.
And then, finally, we arrived in Whitby. I stood on the East Terrace and looked across to the ruined Abbey, much as Mina Harker does in Dracula. I effected the literary pose. However, there were no eyes piercing the night, no ‘brooding presences’, no entranced women in white.
We, too, examined those gravestones, worn by the weather to look like melted stone. We too sat on Lucy’s favourite seat and looked at the harbour as the storm clouds passed out at sea. The gulls carved ever-widening gyres in the sky.
Whilst in Whitby, whilst living inside its literature, we took tea, my companion and I, in Sherlock’s Coffee Shop. Here, a violin was suspended from the right hand wall. A shelf was covered in medical bottles and jars. A deerstalker hung on a coat peg. And the cake...
Even though the literary critical detective, like the literary detective himself, can exist on little rest and even less food, cake never hurts. And here, in Sherlock’s, I had my fill.
That night I slept with the curtains open so as to be able to see the abbey.
We have returned. I am back at my writing desk and find myself dreaming of gravestones. My thoughts are rolling like thunderclouds and here in this room lit by a solitary candle. I might just experience the lightening strike of a critical idea.