It was the most beautiful day for a trip to Whitby. The sky was as blue as it ever gets in Eccentric England, and the double figure temperatures were very welcome after a long and challenging snowy winter. Could spring be on its way? A day out at the seaside was just what the doctor ordered.
We parked at the little town of Sandsend, about three miles outside of Whitby town centre and popped into the Witsend cafe for a coffee and a date slice. It’s a cute little place, popular with walkers, but don’t try and get in if you’ve got a dirty dog.
We set off to walk into Whitby itself along the top of the cliffs, and gradually descended to the beach as the tide crept out. This ancient port town perched around a steep tidal inlet remains perennially popular with locals and visitors from further afield alike. We passed the rows and rows of beach huts which add a colourful edge to the coastal horizon.
There is no place like Whitby to go to sample the no 1 British national dish – fish and chips. In fact word is that it serves the best fish and chips in the world! Some of the cafes are so popular that people are willing to queue for some time to get their fix. The Magpie cafe is one famous such establishment which always has gathering of fans, but my brother Robin said Hadley’s, was just as good, so we went there instead, and I did enjoy my haddock and mushy peas immensely.
As you stroll along the narrow Victorian streets you pass the stalls selling oyster and crab, winkles and mussels and other edible things harvested from the sea. Whitby crab is also very good indeed, and a brown bread crab sandwich is another local treat.
A word of warning for the seaside day tripper. Watch out for the seagulls which have become pterodactyl-like in proportion, due to a high calorie diet of chips, batter and fish, and they can get rather aggressive in pursuit of your hard earned lunch. There are even special signs discouraging visitors from feeding them #yourfoodisnottheirfood. Urban seagull populations are exploding in line with our penchant for take away food and habit of throwing it away in a casual manner. It’s only survival of the fittest (or fattest) at work.
Whitby is in the Borough of Scarborough in North Yorkshire. It is located at the mouth of the River Esk, and has an established maritime, mineral and tourist heritage. Its East Cliff is home to the ruins of Whitby Abbey, where Cædmon, the earliest recognised English poet, lived. The fishing port developed during the Middle Ages, supporting important herring and whaling fleets, and was where Captain Cook learned seamanship. Fishing has given way to tourism as the main business here now. The houses of the old town are all red-roofed and pile up the hillside to foot of the 199 steps which lead up to the ruins of the Abbey. The winding streets are full of hippy shops selling gifts and clothes and souvenirs, tempting cafes and shops selling beautiful black Whitby Jet jewellery. Bram Stoker’s featured Whitby in his novel Dracula, published in 1897 and the townscape has probably changed little since that time.
We passed my favourite pottery shop, the Washhouse Pottery in Blackburn’s yard, and I had to go in and buy one of their unique wall planters which are modelled on a human face – I think it’s the actually the son of the potter who is the model for them all. I’ve been buying them from this tiny pottery for over twenty years from when I used to come here with my mum, and they are still a ceramic favourite of mine. Whitby always has attracted top street performers and buskers too – I love the Moaning Lisa. We even stopped for an action shot at arguments yard! Whitby is riddles with little yards and alleyways but the name actually refers to a Thomas Argment who lived in the vicinity. It is believed Argument is actually an Anglicisation of the Flemish name Argomont. Not so much fun though.
Whitby is a colourful and characterful place. There’s always something new to see, and it retains its quaint historic and eccentric air. It has a real Victorian charm which the modern world has totally failed to eradicate, and I hope it’s not too long before I get to return to its cobbled streets and sample the best fish and chips in the world once more.