“Presently, with an excuse, he left me, asking me to put all my papers together. He was some little time away, and I began to look at some of the books around me. One was an atlas, which I found opened naturally at England, as if that map had been much used. On looking at it I found in certain places little rings marked, and on examining these I noticed that one was near London on the east side, manifestly where his new estate was situated.”
The “he” in that passage – you probably guessed - is Count Dracula, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula has been on my mind because I was walking again with Foster Spragge, a woman who draws rings on maps. Although perhaps to be more precise she probably uses the rings to create maps of a unique kind, but either way you understand the connection.
Dracula, like many a well-heeled immigrant before and since, moves to England and starts buying up property – a house in Piccadilly and another in Purfleet – that’s the place that’s “near London on the east side,” and that’s where Foster and a group of us walked – from Rainham to Purfleet, both in Essex – a mere five miles, but a vital and final part of Spragge’s 150 mile walk - Drawing Dialogue London Loop.
It was a terrific section of the walk to be on – starting early afternoon and ending at dusk, by which time the light was extraordinary and I was thinking of the opening of Heart of Darkness:
"The day was ending in a serenity of still and exquisite brilliance. The water shone pacifically; the sky, without a speck, was a benign immensity of unstained light; the very mist on the Essex marshes was like a gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from the wooded rises inland, and draping the low shores in diaphanous folds. Only the gloom to the west, brooding over the upper reaches, became more somber every minute, as if angered by the approach of the sun."
Along the way there were giant sheds and giant hogweed:
Cats (more than just this one):
And much more besides.
Better scholars than I have asserted that there isn’t and has never been a house in Purfleet that fits the description of Dracula’s property there, named Carfax. However I did see this place which with some modifications might be turned into a very cool, quasi-industrial home, though I suppose you'd have to work pretty hard to give it the Gothic qualities Dracula was looking for.
In Chelsea the next day I took a walk past Bram Stoker’s former digs at 188 St Leonard’s Terrace. That didn’t look very Gothic either.
Zoopla estimates its current price as £9,183,000 which is strangely precise for an estimate, and seems a bit steep even for Chelsea, but what do I know?