Visiting Dracula’s Whitby in Second Life

Whitby: Birth of Dracula, October 2021

Tucked into the mouth of the river Esk on Yorkshire’s rugged coast is the town of Whitby. It’s a place that many from outside of Great Britain might not have heard of, yet it is a place steeped in history and literature. It was, for example, the place from which Captain James Cook learned the ropes (literally and figuratively) as a merchant navy seaman. In fact, the ship on which he completed his first great voyage to the Pacific Ocean (1768-1771), HMS Endeavour, was originally a Whitby “Cat” collier (called the Earl of Pembroke). It is a town overlooked by the ruins of a once great Abbey that, in 664, hosted a synod called by King Oswiu of Northumbria, in order to set fast the rule that his kingdom would calculate Easter and observe the monastic tonsure according to the customs of Rome.

In terms of writing and literature, Whitby was the home to the first known Anglo Saxon monk, Cædmon, who resided at the Abbey during the abbacy of St Hilda (657–680). It was also visited by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, whilst the likes of Elizabeth Gaskell, Lewis Carroll and G.P. Taylor all used it within works of fiction and short stories. And most famously of all, in terms of literature, it was in part the inspiration of, and setting for, Bram Stroker’s masterpiece of Gothic fiction (although arguably, it is far more than that): Dracula.

Whitby: Birth of Dracula, October 2021

All of which acts as a long way of introducing the latest public build by Hera (zee9): Whitby: Birth of Dracula, opened as a part of the Halloween season in Second Life, and which is reached via her “Neverland X” landing point, sharing the space with the teleport to Drune Gotham, which I wrote about in September 2021. Now, given I am a huge fan of Hera’s work (and oft wish my photographs could do it real justice), when I say this is yet another superb build, some might opt to see my words as fangirl fussing. However, as one explores Whitby: Birth of Dracula, slowing peeling open its layers of composition, then it becomes obvious that it really has been cleverly brought into being.

The first thing to note about the setting is that it is not intended as a representation of Whitby past or present. Nor is it entirely the Whitby glimpsed through the pages of Stoker’s novel. Rather, it is a rich melding of elements, from the actual locations that feature in the story and are present in Whitby to this day, to representations of the things that are said to have influenced his ideas for the story and elements of Victorian life with which he would have been familiar, through to interpretations as to how Stoker might have imagined scenes from his story as he walked through Whitby’s streets, attempting to thresh out the tale he’d been working on since well before taking a family holiday to the town.

Whitby: Birth of Dracula, October 2021

Thus it is that visitors arriving in the setting (DO make sure you have your viewer set to Use Shared Environment via World → Environment) find themselves on the east bank of the river Esk, a stylised version of Whitby’s waterfront hugging the feet of the coastal hills behind. Caught in a brooding night, these streets offer clever little points of interest for those who walk them. There is the bookshop, for example, displaying a large volume on Vlad the Impaler, a touch that evokes both the idea (now regarded by scholars as mistaken), that the character of Dracula was inspired by the infamous the Wallachian prince, and the reality that Stroker first came across the name “Dracula” whilst perusing Whitby’s library. Across the street sits a tavern – pubs being very common in Whitby, it being a sailor’s town – that both suggests a place with Stoker himself might have partaken the odd tipple and a place where, within the novel, rumours of night terrors might be softly spoken by frightened townsfolk.

Further along the streets visitor will come across the place of business of Madame Blavatsky, offering both funeral services and occult / spiritual services. It offers a clever linking of many of the underpinning themes within Stoker’s novel on matters of religion, life, death, and afterlife with the life and work of Madame Helen Blavatsky. Whist Stoker may not have met her, her thinking did much to elevate matters of the occult, spiritualism and life and death amongst Victorians, which may also have influenced his writing.

Whitby: Birth of Dracula, October 2021

Then there are the famous Whitby steps. While the ones within this setting may not count 199, they do wind up to the headland where sits Hera’s interpretation of both St. Mary’s Church and the ruins of the Abbey that formed such a backdrop to Stoker’s tale. The church, carefully aligned east-to-west, as one would expect, is furnished within and sits with gravestones without. The real St. Mary’s offered further inspiration for Stoker; whilst walking through the graveyard, he came upon a headstone bearing the name “Swales”, which in turn became the name of Dracula’s first victim, after he came ashore at Whitby thanks to the ship he was travelling board ran aground close to the town’s East Cliffs.

The wrecking of Dracula’s ship within the novel actually draws upon a piece of local legend from Stoker’s time: the beaching of the Russian vessel Dmitri. Within Whitby: birth of Dracula, Hera directly references Dracula’s arrival, a sailing vessel lying aground just off the headland, bloody bodies of her crew on her decks, victims of his insatiable appetite, and her precious (to Dracula, at least) cargo still in her hold.

Whitby: Birth of Dracula, October 2021

Up on the headland is a further building, representing the manor house said to have been erected in the 1500s part part using stone from the ruins of the Abbey (which fell to the Danes in a series of raids along the coast between 867-870). Here, the building is offered as a combination of potential settings from the book. The hearse and gargoyles to the front suggest it is the place of shelter for Dracula, as do some of the pictures on the walls inside. However, the interior with its large, uncurtained conservatory, mirrored washrooms and comfortable bedrooms, perhaps also suggest it to be the house in which Mrs. Westenra, her daughter Lucy and Lucy’s friend Mina stay whilst holidaying in Whitby; whilst the placement of certain items on tables and within carry cases suggest it might also represent the living quarters for Dr. John Seward at his asylum, the place from which he, Harker and others used to execute their hunting of the vampire under the guidance of Professor Abraham Van Helsing.

To the rear of this house is a garden that extends out to a crypt. This offers further echoes of Dracula, although the glass coffin within the tomb itself is perhaps suggestive of the resting place for fair Lucy, after her being turned, but before her final fate befell her after death. Or, perhaps, it is presented as a place for Mina, once her fate is sealed (unless Dracula is first killed).

Whitby: Birth of Dracula, October 2021

And therein lies the magic of Whitby: birth of Dracula. Just is the novel has no singular protagonist, but is instead presented as an epistolary novel, speaking with multiple voices, so does Hera’s setting speak in many voices, each whispering a different interpretation of the places we come across whilst visiting, with some telling the story in their own words and those telling a broader tale of Stoker’s relationship with the town. Different they may be, but together they nevertheless offer the harmony of a setting that perfectly encapsulates the atmospheric essence of Stoker’s novel whilst living our imaginations free to call forth all of the characters within its pages – and even Stoker himself as he vacated in the quiet town of Whitby in the 1980s.

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Elysium’s summer fields in Second Life

Elysium, October 2021 – click any image for full size
Enjoy the luscious fields, magic forests, bridges over the abyss, horses, cows, and rabbits; take a pause in our tropical greenhouse or relax on the dock; and last but not least, enjoy our rustic mill right by the water. Photography encouraged.

So reads the introduction to Elysium, the Homestead region designed by Wassilian and Amelie (Amelie9 Sautereau), a setting I was recently encouraged to visit – although it has taken me a while to make a visit to it.

Elysium, October 2021

Coming at the time of year when many public regions are rich in the colours of autumn and/or heavy with the trappings of Halloween, my visit found Elysium a refreshing place that is still sitting within that period when late summer is considering allowing autumn to take its place on the the seasonal stage.

Comprising a large western island and three smaller island to the east, this is very much a pastoral setting, the large island home to an extensive farm which in turn is the location of the region’s landing point. The northern end of the island offers a highland area on which the farmhouse sits, complete with large greenhouse that has been converted to other uses – be sure to say hello to the two main occupants, Sophie and Levi. This greenhouse sits bracketed between a garden and orchard to one side and the farmhouse itself, open woodland falling away down the northern slope to a open deck. A further copse, leaves turning golden brown as the change of the season approaches, sits before the farmhouse, the garden paths winding between the trees as they form a natural screen between the farmhouse and its view to the east.

Elysium, October 2021

This entire corner of the region is a setting unto itself, but it is just a start. To the south, the land drops to fields and barns. The fields look ready for harvest, a scarecrow standing guard to keep birds away – although it has failed to keep the farm’s horses from wandering among the crops and taken the odd snack or two. These lowlands are also home to a comfortable inlet of water from the channels separating the islands, a home to swans and the water mill mentioned in the region’s About Land description.

To the east, two of the islands are connected one to the other by means of a bridge, with a further bridge linking them back to the highland gardens and woodlands of the farm.

Elysium, October 2021

Thus, by following one of the winding paths from the farmhouse over the first bridge and along the trail that offers a relaxing journey under the spreading boughs of the trees that top the island and then on to where a tower-like cottage sits. Along the way, the path runs past several places to sit and relax, while those who reach the tower cottage may find one of the farm’s cows has braved the bridges to get there first!

The remaining island in the group can only be reached from the southern farmlands, where a wooden bridge crosses the water to become a board walk that snakes along the side of the remaining island become snaking its way over an inlet to reach the second house in the region, which sits on a legs that allow it to reach over open waters, its decks offering uninterrupted views over the sea.

Elysium, October 2021

Elysium is a setting rich in wildlife as well as domesticated animals. Deer are to be found among the trees, whilst waterfowl can be found in or near the waters while rabbits also skip and play. For those who wait, the waters might offer further surprises in the form of a pair of orca swim through the channels separating the islands and from time to time, a humpback whale might be seen breaching off the coast or even within the channels, as it sometimes will follow the orca between the islands.

With tumbling waterfalls, the sounds of cows mooing and birds calling in time with the bleating of sheep, Elysium is a place that feels very much alive (visitors can even try a spot of farming with the tractor – but do take care!). Highly photogenic and welcoming, this is a region charming in its setting and facilities.

Elysium, October 2021

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  • Elysium (Silken Ropes II, rated Moderate)

Held by a Hidden Bottle in Second Life

Hidden Bottle, October 2021

Shawn Shakespeare recently poked me concerning Hidden Bottle, the Full region (complete with additional LI bonus) designed by Num Bing-Howlett (Num Bing) and Clifton Howlett, and which originally opened back in May 2021. In particular, Shawn wanted to let me know the region’s design has been updated, making it especially worth while paying a further visit.

Hearing things has changed both piqued my curiosity and my concern. As I noted back in May, Hidden Bottle offered a unique tropical setting of islands linked by cable car, with walks winding through them leading to event spaces and other points of interest. As such, I was leery of that design having been replaced – but my unease was unwarranted: Hidden Bottle retains much of its original iteration, whilst offering something new and different to explore.

Hidden Bottle: October 2021

Also still to be found are the setting’s two islands and its popular cable car system that provides a primary means of transport. Both of the islands are are both somewhat smaller than they were previously, leaving much more space for water and boats and swimming – although the shallows between the island are prone to being used by sharks for a little bit of paddling around – so swimmers be warned!

From the landing point – located on a deck extending over the water from the smaller, eastern island – it is possible to start explorations on foot, either up into into the rocky honeycomb of the east island, or via footbridge that rises by way of a single spire of rock to reach larger, western island. Or, for those that like to wait for a few minutes before setting out to wander, the deck serves as a station for the region’s cable cars as they sway their way around the eastern island and thence over open waters to the west island before dropping back to the deck.

Hidden Bottle, October 2021

Two other land masses rise from the water: a northern sandbar that is little more than a ripple rising above the waves, but which is nevertheless home to a quiet retreat; and a southern nub of rock that is home to a lighthouse warning of the shallows and rocks between it and the western island – although the wreck of a fishing boat on the edge of the shallows offers equal warning to their danger during daylight hours.

Of the two islands, the larger is perhaps the more natural in form, rising from its southern extreme to high cliffs at the north end, its flat centre forming a natural path with equally natural stone steps climbing down over its shoulders and slopes to connect highlands with lowlands and little nooks and places to sit – including one within a stone ring. At the northernmost end of the island sits a small beach from which two rocky pillars rise, one the home to the region’s bar and deck, only accessible via the cable car.

Hidden Bottle, October 2021

The smaller island is stranger in form – and potentially the more interesting to explore as a result. I used the term “honeycomb” above to describe it, and that is how it is; pillars of rock rising from the sands at the island’s base to support great slabs of rock that sit like table tops, the hollows beneath them offering more places that await discovery, their tops home to further places to sit in the open or under shade, bridges strung between them while wooden deck extending out into the air over blue waters.

One of the secrets of this eastern island comes in the form of a portal. Find it, and you can make your way to  Zamonia, the other setting created by Numb and Clifton, and the gallery there (both of which you can read about here). Similarly, portals from that region and the gallery will drop you at the eastern island of Hidden Bottle.

Hidden Bottle, October 2021

Also – and if you can find your way into them – there’s a series of tunnels and caverns to be found winding under the west island. These offer further places to be discovered – including the pirates’ hidden still area referenced in the region About Land description. To make your way into them, look for the pool beneath the south hull’s ribs.

Perfect for photographing under a range of EEP setting and finished with a rich soundscape, Hidden Bottle remains an engaging visit.

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A Scottish flower in Second Life

Flower of Scotland, October 2021 – click any image for full size

I’m not entirely sure why, but on my arrival at Flower of Scotland I immediately found myself mentally quoting the opening lines of Shakespeare’s Scottish play:

When shall we three meet again
I
n thunder, lightning or in rain?

I’ve honestly no idea why; while the region is intended to offer a taste of Scotland and there is rain over a part of it, the setting is very far removed from any notion of Scotland of old, and the theme is hardly one of vaunting ambition or anything one might associate with royal murder – although there is a touch suggestive of witchcraft awaiting discovery as one explores. Perhaps it was the mist swirling about me at the landing point, but whatever the reason, the misty landing point made for an atmospheric start to my visit.

Flower of Scotland, October 2021

Occupying a Full region, Flower of Scotland is a veritable tour of the highlands and more remote parts of the Scottish coast created for our enjoyment by Eloo Lionheart (Neutron Nebula). Within it, we can wander from a small coastal hamlet where fishing plays a major role, through to the uplands where an old fortification sits, the lands between home to farms, bubbling streams, lavender fields, ruins and even a beachy cove.

The landing point sits on the region north-east coast, a slightly rickety-looking bridge connecting the local farm with the aforementioned fishing hamlet, the mist rising from the waters that cut into the land to form a shallow inlet. While the village may only have a single waterfront street and small row of four houses, the wharves and warehouses standing at the far end of the street from the bridge suggest this is a busy place for fish processing / packing, as do the number of fishing boats either alongside or in the bay, while the concrete ramp up to wharves suggest this work is a modern addition to the simpler days of fishing that may once have been the village’s source of income, but that’s purely conjecture on my part.

Flower of Scotland, October 2021

On their arrival, the landing point uses local chat to inform visitors that the  castle offers further information on the region, referring to the fortification located up on the rocky hills to the south-west.

The best route to reach the latter is to cross the bridge into the farm, and then follow the winding the road that makes its way through the setting, taking a left turn at the old telephone kiosk and then follow the footpath, trail up past a crofter’s cottage and outward up and around the shoulder of the hills to reach the castle. Following track and path will take visitors past several of the inland points of interest in the region: the ruins of an old chapel that is set – very appropriately – within a field of poppies, its more recent replacement lying just across the track, plus views over the fields and a second path that can be used to reach the southern beachy cove that backs onto the fishing warehouses and wharves.

Flower of Scotland, October 2021

Eastwards from the telephone box, the track leads to a rather fanciful cottage that is distinctly “unScottish” in its styling, but looks like the kind of place that one should be able to find when exploring the wilder parts of Scotland. Boards outside proclaim it to be an apothecary and place where psychic readings  are offered. Inside, it is curious mix of potion-making, magic (offering that suggestion of witchcraft that offers a tenuous link back to Macbeth), soft toys and bric-a-brac that is both oddly cosy and also eclectic, suggestive of the occupant’s nature without actually revealing them in person.

Beyond the cottage sits an old ruined tower on the hump of a low coastal hill. by far the tallest structure in the setting, it seems long deserted, although for the daring, an aging wooden stairway winds its way up to its uppermost chamber. Here, views back across the region can be enjoyed; in particular, this gives a good view of the northern coast, where the rain is moving in, and the local sheep show they are familiar with the turn of weather by making their way eastwards, out of the rain and over another bridge – this one covered – that provides a route back to the the farm.

Flower of Scotland, October 2021

All of the above barely begins to scratch at the wealth of detail within the region or the opportunities for photography it offers. Presented under an evening sky, the region lends itself to a wide range of EEP settings – I opted for more of a daytime look for the photos here – and comes with a rich sound scape to add to the sense of immersion. I would note that with many of the buildings in the setting being either fully or partially furnished, as well as the general landscaping, animals, etc., this is a texture / mesh heavy region, so those on mid- or low-end systems may need to adjust settings (I found it easier to turn off shadows when moving / camming around). However, this doesn’t detract from Flower of Scotland being well worth a visit.

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GLTSL 3: Dreamshire Village, Second Life

Dreamshire, October 2021

Back in April of 2021, I paid visits to the Zany Zen Railway and the Valkyrie Light Transport Railroad, two members of a small group of railway systems in Second Life called The Great Little Trains of Second Life; the “little” here not being because they are necessarily small in terms of distance travelled, but rather the fact they celebrate narrow gauge trains and rolling stock (with a distinctly English lean to things in places!).

Those interested in learning more about those lines can do so by catching up on the Zany Zen here, and the Valkeryrie here. However, there is a third stop in any tour of GLTSR that deserves mention – and one I should have written about a lot sooner, given I also dropped in a couple of times in April and May, but due to assorted failures on my part, the article has been delayed in leaving the station, so to speak. As such my apologies to Nimoui Chenier (Nimoui) and Lily (LilyChenier), the creators of Dreamshire, home to the Dreamshire village, district and railway.

Dreamshire, October 2021

The overall design is that of an English village dating from the Victorian era, although the old gate towers looks older, whilst other aspects of the village – such as the fires station with its Landrover fire truck, make it clear the village has left the Victorian era so distance in the past. At the time of my most recent visit, the village also lay decorated in the modern style for Halloween., so there is already something of a rich mix here.

The railway system – which runs a narrow-gauge tram rather than steam locos – runs around the island passing through a number of little stations that present the opportunity to hop on and off. The largest of the stations – Winkle – sits just below the landing point and serves Dreamshire village, Other ports of call include Dragonspire, Wobbly Knot, Promenade and Dolphin Bay. Some these  – like Promenade and Dolphin Bay – offer hints at to what might be found on dismounting the trams. Others, such as Winkle and Wobbly Knot might sound like contrived names, but when it comes to village names here in England, do remember we have places like Nether Wallop (Hampshire), Matching Tye (Essex), Blubberhouses (North Yorkshire), and many more, they aren’t that out of place as local names with an English bent!

Dreamshire, October 2021

A complete ride around the tracks of the region takes around 10 minutes if taken without jumping off), and offers a good opportunity to gain visual familiarity with the setting, which in places is rather eclectic in its mix. Dragonspire, for example, not only evokes thoughts of the stories by James E. Wisher, it actually includes both dragons and a fantasy castle (with rooms to explore).

Similarly, the south-western corner of the setting offers an interesting mix of very Victorian steam boat drawn up alongside the stone wharf that sits between Wobbly Knot and the Promenade, with a very 1950’s American style diner sitting at the far end of the latter, the two providing an interesting mix of times within easy reach of one another. In addition, Wobbly Knot offers a nice walk out to the gardens and tower of one of the two lighthouses that watch over the region’s western coastline.

Dreamshire, October 2021

The stop at Dolphin Bay provides access to the beach on one side, sitting below the tall finger of the second lighthouse, and the animal sanctuary and bay on the other. The latter offers the chance to sea a range of waterfowl and and wildlife, but I confess that – not being overly fond of the modern take on Halloween – I found the seasonal elements there a little too OOT, resulting in the use of the Derender option in the viewer when taking photos.

Across the far side of the animal sanctuary grounds, and tucked under the east hills is a small train yard and shed. Here can be found a couple of “traditional” narrow-gauge trains (one a scratch build by Nimoui) and information boards on narrow gauge railways and trams. A short walk from Winkle Station (and the landing point), it might nevertheless be easily missed, but is well worth visiting. And talking of the eastern hills, do please be aware that these are the home of two private residences – one clearly visible, the other cunningly hidden but the path to it clearly signed as private, so do please respect people’s personal space, as either one may be in use.

Dreamshire, October 2021

Gently charming, with touches of whimsy, Dreamshire makes for an engaging visit And should you prefer not to walk, a choice of bicycle or (for couples with the right penchant!) a pony cart is available to ride around the village and outlying paths and roads.

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Dreamshire (Midnight stars (rated Moderate)

Darya’s island fantasy in Second Life

DARYA, October 2021

DARYA (Da-ry-a) is, we are informed by the region’s About Land description, Persian for “sea”, and given this Homestead region held and designed by Zaffy Kiyori  Bailey (Zaffy Kiyori) sits as a island caught within the calm waters of a broad sea, the name is apt.

However, this is no mere tropical or temperate isle; the largest among a small group of islands (the rest being elements of an off-region surround), DARYA is very much a place that straddles the lines between realism and fantasy to present a setting that is at once familiar and also full of whimsy and the unexpected whilst mixing into itself a measure of artistic expression.

DARYA, October 2021

The latter commences t the landing point, imaginative set on a little off-shore pergola that is connected to the island by means of a short bridge and dark tunnel. A sign at the landing point encourages visitor to enable Shared Environment in their viewer (if not already active – go to World → Environment and make sure Use Shared Environment is checked). This is because the region makes use of several different environment settings as a part of the region’s artistic statement / atmosphere, and these should be properly experienced.

To further this, walking across the bridge from the landing point and into the short tunnel leading onto the island, will prompt visitors to accept the local Experience. The idea here is to allow the scripted environment cubes that mark parts of the region to automatically change your environment settings as yo pass into their influence; as such I would recommend accepting the experience when prompted. However, do be aware that this is not the most ideal way of applying environment settings, although I do understand why it has been used.

DARYA, October 2021

The first of these environments is to be found up on the crown of the taller of the islands two hills. Reached via a path that winds itself around the hill from an initial set of steps guarded by a cylindrical folly, this hilltop is marked by the darkness of night presided over by the stars, the path up to it lit by mystical mushrooms that cast a lavender light into the darkness. At the crown of the hill, the path gives way to a stone circle that holds within itself the green swathe of a faery ring to present a place rich in a sense of enchantment.

The second environment cube sits over a circular island that extends from the southern end of the islands’ east headland and reached via a bridge-like causeway. To be honest, I would was simply have parcelled the land here and applied the environment settings rather than use a cube. It’s a minor difference, but it would allow those on this little island to make some adjustments to the environment settings for photographs without getting kicked by into the region-wide settings. However, this minor quibble doesn’t change the fact that this little artificial headland offers another evocative setting that is palpably spiritual in nature.

DARYA, October 2021

It is these contrasts from the normal – the cottages (furnished and inviting to guests) and the quaint lighthouse over on the western headland, the arc of south-facing beach caught between the two – and the unusual: the high stone circles, the garden-like eastern setting with its tall fountain statue, the strange mix of plants across the entire region, and so on, that adds a whimsical, engaging and eclectic depth to DARYA that is quite captivating.

Take for example the footpath that winds around the northern shore of the island after emerging from the landing point’s tunnel. Bounded on one side by waters from which lilies and more exotic flowers grow and over which a small pavilion offers a tea party setting with faint echoes of Alice’s tea party; it offers on the other an equally exotic mix of giant mushrooms that cast shade over their more normal-sized brethren and the flowers that grow around them. With all of  this presided over by a gigantic mechanical teapot that is gently watering a spray of flowers growing within a large pink tea cup, visitors are immediately informed in the most natural way possible, that they have entered a place of art and fancy, as well as local beauty.

DARYA, October 2021

DARYA is a place that, wherever you wander, there is something awaiting to catch your eye, from the multiple statues and other artistic statements that sit quietly alongside patch or on shingle shore or on rocky outcrop, to the smaller more eclectic touches, such as a the little Shaolin monks carved along the side of the paved footpath or the cheeky winged sprite with dyed hair lurking among the flowers, or simply the pleasure of seeing the island’s wildfowl.

Engaging, photogenic and with places to sit throughout, DARYA is rich in mood and contrasts and very worthwhile the time taken to visit.

DARYA, October 2021

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  • DARYA (Dark World rated Moderate)