Was Stoker’s Inspiration for Dracula’s Castle Bran Castle, Transylvania or Slains Castle, Scotland?
A commonly-held belief in the world of literature is that Irish author Bram Stoker based his classic novel Dracula on the legend of the 15th-century Vlad Tepes “The Impaler” and placed the lair of the vampire at Bran Castle in Transylvania. According to a few more recent studies, however, it seems quite likely that the image of Dracula’s castle was partially taken from Slains Castle, which lies between Aberdeen and Peterhead in Scotland.
Slains Castle, Scotland
Stoker first encountered Slains Castle while on an 1888 research tour with an acting troupe. They were preparing a production of “Macbeth.” Stoker mentioned the castle in his diary, but it was five years before he would return for the summer to lodge at a nearby village. There is also indication that he may have been a guest at Slains.
Slains Castle was built in the late 1500s by the 9th Earl of Erroll, Francis Hay. It remained in the noble family until 1913, when Sir John Ellerman purchased it and leased it out. In 1925, the owner removed the roof to avoid having to pay taxes, and they allowed it to fall into ruin since that time. The castle’s skeleton lies high on a cliff overlooking a body of water known as the North Sea, near Cruden Bay. The description in Stoker’s novel of Dracula’s castle is eerily similar to what remains of Slains Castle:
…always ascending…(to) the courtyard of a vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light, and whose broken battlements showed a jagged line against the moonlit sky…. The castle stood…reared high above a waste of desolation.
Some literary archivists have even claimed that in early versions of the novel the ship carrying the vampire came ashore at Slains, instead of the landing at Whitby, which appears in the final version of the novel.
Timing of the Novel is the Clue
The timing of the writing of the novel is a mystery. Some scholars credit the writing of the entire novel during summers spent holidaying near Cruden Bay, while others place the writing of the first version of the book before he had ever seen Slains Castle. But Stoker’s grand-nephew reported that: “in August (of 1895) Stoker started work on ‘Dracula’ at Cruden Bay.” In 1897 the novel was published.
It is unclear if Slains Castle was a direct model for the setting of Stoker’s novel, Dracula. However, he did write about the area in books such as The Watter’s Mou, Crooken Sands, and The Mystery of the Sea.
In 2004 a report surfaced that the holding company, Slains Partnership, was planning to fix up the castle to turn it into a 30 unit vacation rental. However, the economy took a downturn, and in 2009 the company put a hold on the plans. Today, stripped of the storybook glory, the barren castle appears much more sinister than it had in Stoker’s time, and certainly much too humble for Count Dracula.
“In the Shadow of Slains Castle”, Celtic Heritage, Nov/Dec 1999.
“New Slains Castle“