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Yorkshire Whitby, North Yorkshire

Kippers to Count Dracula.

With Dracula, Captain Cook, Whitby Jet and fish and chips, Whitby has something for everyone as well as narrow cobbled streets to explore and the iconic 199 steps.


It is an attractive settlement nestled along the mouth of the River Esk and in summer months this is a popular spot for crabbing.


The remains of the abbey and the even older St Mary’s Church are set high above the east cliff.


These were what inspired Bram Stoker to write his Gothic Novel ‘Dracula’. The Goth culture still survives with the Dracula Experience and the popular twice yearly Goth weekend.

The headland has been settled since the Bronze Age. There was a Roman Signal Station here in the C3rd, which has since fallen into the sea. By the C7th Whitby was part of the powerful kingdom of Northumbria with an important monastic settlement on the East Cliff. Many Northumbrian kings were buried here. Caedmon, the first English poet was based at Whitby Abbey and is commemorated by a modern Anglian style cross in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church.


Although no visible remains of this can be seen, geophysical surveys indicate there are still substantial buried remains. There are displays of artefacts in the exhibition at Whitby Abbey.

The town suffered badly in Danish raids in the C9th. The monastic site on the East Cliff was abandoned although the fishing settlement and thriving port around the mouth of the River Esk survived. A new abbey church was built after the Norman Conquest, although none of the Norman church survives and the Abbey was completely rebuilt from the C13th to C15th. Now it stands ruined after the Dissolution of the monasteries in 1539.


Near it is St Mary’s Church, reached by the 199 steps which were used to carry coffins to the graveyard round the church. Each time I do them I get a different number. Last visit I made it 206.

The church dates from the C11th and the original Norman work survives in the round topped door ,windows and chancel arch. The inside however is Georgian with box pews crammed into every available space, a gallery and a three decker pulpit from which the minister preached hell fire and damnation. Don’t miss the hearing trumpets on the back of the pulpit which were used by the wife of the rector who was deaf.


Whitby was a thriving port in the C18th with an important fishing and whaling fleet, protected by two long breakwaters.


Alum and ironstone mined locally was also exported from here. It had shipyards, rope makers and sail yards. James Cook worked here as a merchant navy apprentice with John and Henry Walker, before volunteering for the Royal Navy. He learnt his cartography and surveying skills with them. All his ships used in his explorations of Australia and New Zealand were built in Whitby. The Captain Cook Museum in Grape Lane is in the house belonging to John Walker. It is a good example of a comfortable home belonging to a prosperous ship owner. The ground floor rooms have been furnished using an inventory from the early 1750s. The upstairs rooms contain an exhibition about Cook’s life and voyages. There are letters from James Cook, maps and charts as well as paintings and drawings by artists accompanying on his voyages.

A fishing fleet still sails out of Whitby and no trip to Whitby is complete without fish and chips. There is plenty of choice at a variety of prices. The Magpie cafe on the west side of the harbour has a reputation for good food but is expensive. I always head for the Monks Haven Tea Room on Church Street which was a lot cheaper with huge (and I do mean huge) helpings of fish and chips served with bread and butter. For those with smaller appetites they also offer small portions which are the size of large portions elsewhere.

Fortune’s Kippers on Henrietta Street, below the abbey ruins have been smoking kippers on the same site for nearly 150 years.


My father remembered visits to them on boyhood visits to Whitby between the wars. There is a steady stream of customers attracted by the appetising smells coming from the tiny smokery. If the doors are open pop your head in to see the kippers hanging there.


The shop hasn’t changed either with its green tiled walls and kippers still wrapped up in newspaper. They are completely different to the mass produced supermarket kippers.

The West Cliff in Whitby became a major tourist attraction in the C19th with its sandy beach and hotels.


The whalebone arch erected in 1853 is a reminder of Whitby’s whaling days. Whale jaw bones were attached to the mast of returning whaling ships to indicate a successful catch. Near it is a statue of James Cook.


Winding paths drop down the cliff to the beach. In 1931 a cliff lift was built to carry holiday makers to and from the beach. The Spa Pavilion hosts dances, shows and exhibitions. There is pitch and putt, crazy golf, bumper boats and a leisure centre.

Fishing charters are run from the harbour as well as trips in the old lifeboat. A replica of Captain Cook’s Bark Endeavour takes visitors along the coast to Sandsend. For those preferring dry land, the open top bus provides guided tours around the town, allowing visitors to hop on and off as much as they like.

The Whitby Museum in Pannett Park also has information about Captain Cook as well as collections of fossils (the rocks are famous for their ammonite fossils), archaeology, social history and paintings. The park with its colourful displays of flowers is an attractive place to drop out away from the bustle of Whitby.

And finally there is Whitby Jet, an unusual souvenir. This is actually fossilised wood form Jurassic times which washed out of the cliffs and can be collected on the beach. Deep black in colour and taking a high polish this has been made into jewellery for over 200 years. Queen Victoria made it popular as Whitby jet was the only ornament she wore when in mourning. it is still carved and made into jewellery with many shops selling it.

Whitby has been a popular tourist destination for over 150 years and still draws in the crowds. Most come by car but some still arrive by train at the splendid station built at the start of the tourist boom. It is still possible to arrive here by steam train from Grosmont, on the North York Moors Railway.

Whitby makes an excellent day out, or the base for a longer traditional sea side holiday. Go and find out for yourselves.
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Some more good photos and an interesting report on a place we visited recently as well. We would certainly concur. The ruined abbey makes for great photographic opportunities, and the brewery just down the road is welcome refreshment break.

And this very large hairy person was found close by as well..... not quite sure quite he is meant to be but he was very photogenic ..

Isn't he lovely with his shaggy winter coat. I've not visited the brewery or tried their beers yet...
We loved Whitby last May and are returning in early June this year for another week. Ditto Restaurant is wonderful (open Wed-Sun, reservations essential). The snack shop in the Coliseum Center is a favorite with locals - great hot chocolate and scones and reasonable internet access rates if you need it. Under no circumstances miss a walk around the West Cliff - delightful area. Our favorite fish and chips is at Trenchers dead center in town (where I believe they have a take out window but we prefer the very nice sit-down fully licensed restaurant - not cheap but well worth it). I highly recommend a day trip by car to Eden Camp (45 minute drive) - it's a history of the UK at war built with emphasis on WWII when Eden Camp served as a prisoner-of-war camp for captured Germans. It is fascinating and we spent almost five hours here. It's worth a full day of your time in Whitby. Staithes and Robin Hood's Bay are both worth visiting despite steep climbs. In Whitby, don't miss the Abbey ruins, St Mary's Church, the 99 Steps, and the Captain Cook Museum. A luncheon served in the dining car on the North Moors York Railway was delightful. We cannot wait to return.

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