‘THE ideas had long been brewing in Bram Stoker’s imagination but it was in Scotland that Dracula raged into the world,” explains Mike Shepherd, a Cruden Bay author whose books map out Scotland’s Dracula Coast.

We are battling to the gloriously Gothic ruin of Slains Castle, as Shepherd struggles to talk as the North Sea pounds a coast alive with shipwrecks and pagan ghosts; a coast where brave souls today can resurrect Dracula.

Shepherd tells me: “You have to remember that Stoker was more famous as the manager of the esteemed Lyceum Theatre in London than as a writer when he came to Cruden Bay in 1893. He was searching for peace, to get closer to nature and for inspiration.”

The National: Bram Stoker's entry in visitor guidebook Bram Stoker's entry in visitor guidebook

Stoker clearly found something here. He’d never been to Transylvania when he wrote Dracula but he returned at least a dozen times to holiday in what was then called Port Errol and in its environs.

We know Stoker stayed at the Kilmarnock Arms and is thought to have worked on the first chapters of his gory time here. It’s a surreal feeling staying in a hotel with the same views out over the garden Stoker enjoyed, as he shut himself off from his family, the world and the polite constraints of Victorian society to bring his undead protagonist to the world.

The more I read of Shepherd’s book When Brave Men Shudder – he has also written a book on Slains Castle with Stoker’s great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker – and explore this wild coast, the more I see beneath Dracula’s cloak.

It’s an elemental place – the big skies are a joy but when they glower black the sea can snatch a soul in seconds. And souls have been snatched here for millennia – fisherfolk and shipwrecked sailors alike. Shepherd writes of a coast “deeply embedded with the supernatural; a place where mortal human beings confronted the demonic and had done so for thousands of years past”.

Descending to Cruden Bay’s sandy beach, I’m walking with ghosts. Not just the fisherfolk, with their pagan beliefs, and those terrified sailors, but also the Vikings. In 1012, a Norse landing party was bludgeoned on the sands in a battle so brutal they fled without their dead. In the years just before Stoker’s arrival, workmen uncovered 100 human skeletons just a stone’s throw from the Kilmarnock Arms.

I’m walking with Stoker, too. Bella Cruickshank, who worked in the Post Office then and met Stoker, revealed in Shepherd’s book: “He got all his ideas for his stories when he was on holiday in Cruden Bay, walking the sands to Whinnyfold.”

It’s to Whinnyfold I head. The sea is so savage the fisherfolk used to haul their boats up towards the relative safety of the village. Stoker was particularly beguiled by the appositely named Skares, rocks that judder out the surf; the death of many a ship. And many a man.

Stoker would have heard first-hand accounts of real-life drama here, far more compelling than the Lyceum’s theatrics. He captured the rocks in his novel Mystery of the Sea.

I push on to Collieston, which inspired Stoker, too. Overlooking the picturesque village and the beach with my cousin, Colin McKelvie, who joined me from Aberdeen, he observes: “If this was Cornwall it would be on all the TV shows and full of holiday homes.”

It’s a pretty spot indeed, as is all this coast, but a bloody one too. During the smuggling years, local man Phillip Kennedy had his skull split open by the cutlass of an exciseman. The bench he bled to death on survives in a part of the world where the past and the present constantly intertwine.

Back at the Kilmarnock Arms, I dine on hearty cullen skink in the cosy wooden snug in the bar dedicated to Stoker. His portrait watches me as his writings chime all around. I feel closer to Stoker. Closer still when Elizabeth Penny from the Inn unearths the musky original guestbook Stoker signed.

“I didn’t know much about Dracula until I worked here”, she says. “I got to meet Dacre Stoker and he told me our Slains Castle is the castle, which amazed me”.

I MAKE a final visit to Slains Castle. I’m arrested en route by The Watter’s Mou’. Shepherd had told me this treacherous rocky inlet fascinated Stoker, who found the “white cluster of rocks looked like a ghastly mouth opened to swallow whatever might come in touch”. The theme of the sea and nature as something conscious and alive runs through the pagan legends of this coast, legends Stoker learned from the fisherfolk.

I reach Slains and stand all alone, bar the sea: Stoker’s “devouring monster”. It’s later than I’d planned and the sun is losing its battle with the waves. It’s too dangerous to delve into the ruin these days, but the drama is admiring it on its craggy clifftop granite perch. It’s home to the windowless octagonal room that is described in detail in Dracula.

The light is failing. My mind is starting to wander. Is that a cloak-clad figure crawling the sheer stone walls? I turn and walk briskly back towards the welcoming, warm embrace of the Kilmarnock Arms. The ghost of Stoker haunts behind me, here on Scotland’s Dracula Coast.

Tourist info – www.visitscotland.com

Events are marking the 125th anniversary of Dracula’s publication in May, see www.bramstoker.org for more information. A trio of walking trails curated by Mike Shepherd will come online too.