As a child living in Yorkshire, my family went on many holidays and day trips to Whitby and it’s a place I have wanted to revisit for a long time. International exploration has taken me to different corners of the globe since then and I haven’t been back in around 30 years – until now. This week I drove the two-hour journey from my family home near Leeds to show my fiancé the beautiful seaside town. The drive itself is beautiful and goes through the heart of the North York Moors, offering stunning views on either side of the road. As Whitby gets closer, the sea takes up more and more of the horizon. The road takes you to the Marina car parks, which are also next to the railway station, in case you prefer to take the train. The car park we chose overlooks the Marina and was less than a 5-minute walk from the main town.
Whitby Swivel Bridge
We wanted to see St Marys Church and Whitby Abbey first so we crossed the old swivel bridge to get to the upper harbor area. A plague half way along the single lane bridge says it opened in 1909. The bridge can be opened by the operatives for two hours either side of high tide for taller boats to pass along the River Elk.
St Mary’s Church
As a child, the 199 steps up to St Mary’s Church seemed like a very long and high stairway, which seemed to go on forever. I remember trying to challenge myself to run all the way up to the top without stopping. On the rainy day that we went last week, as an adult, the steps didn’t seem anywhere near as far as I remember and we were at the top in no time at all!
The graveyard starts at the top of the steps and from there we could see the St Mary’s Church on the left. We could see the Abbey in the distance in front of us. We went inside the church and went through to the chapel on the right. All of the aisles within the church are separated by high booth walls to separate the locals from the strangers and the rich from the poor. This is unlike any other church we’ve seen on our travels around the world and made for an interesting visit. Some of the booths are still ‘for strangers only’ and much of the inside of the church doesn’t appear to have been changed for decades, if not longer.
As we were trying to keep costs low, we chose not go inside the English Heritage owned Whitby Abbey. Admission is under £8 for adults or under £5 for children should you wish to explore the area that inspired Bran Stoker to write the gothic novel Dracula.
We chose to walk around the outside of the walls and enjoy views down the coastline. At the top of the hill, to the side of the Abbey is Whitby Brewery, where we chose to escape the rain for a while.
This is a relatively new microbrewery, opening in 2013. On the day that we visited, they had 5 different beers on offer within their (very) small bar beside the brewery. We were able to sample each of them first and then choose the one each of us wanted. I chose the Abbey Blonde and my fiancé chose the Smuggler’s Gold. Having just come back from Iceland and fallen in love with liquorice all over again, I had expected to like the Jet Black which was a liquorice, toffee and chocolate infusion. Unfortunately for me, as a drink, this didn’t work. Instead, I chose the citrus fresh taste designed for summer. There are 5 chairs and 3 tables within the bar, which sheltered 4 people and 2 dogs adequately from the rain. For a sunnier day, there are more tables and benches outside.
From St Marys Churchyard we looked down on the East and West piers and noticed that the East pier only had access half way along, whereas the West pier had full access. On the way to the West pier, we walked back down the 199 steps and looked for the house which Captain James Cook lived in whilst being an apprentice in Whitby. The house was owned by Captain John Walker (another great explorer) and was near the end of Grape Street.
Very close to the West pier is the RNLI museum. This was the site of the Lifeboat Station for a long time, but the station is now in a new building, and this Victorian building showcases the history of the crews who have saved lives in the surrounding seas.
Along this road there are numerous ice cream stalls, sweet shops and amusement arcades. The seagulls hanging around for scraps were bigger than some of the dogs being walked and tourists are asked not to feed them as they are getting brave and will happily take food from people’s hands.
The West pier has beautiful views along the coastline, back to the town, to the East pier and up to the Abbey. At the end of the pier, we chose to walk down the steep staircase to the lower layer which is predominantly used by fishermen. No-one else was brave enough to descend the steep steps and so we had a rare moment of seclusion.
As with a lot of smaller towns in England, there are still come cobbled streets and interesting back streets to explore. Amongst the regular high-street shops there are also many shops selling Whitby Jet jewelry, sweets and chocolates and local food stuffs.
There is something for everybody in Whitby and it is a real family destination. We only stayed for a few hours and thoroughly enjoyed our time, despite the weather. Had we stayed longer, it would have been nice to explore some of the parks, go into the Captain Cook Memorial Museum and to take a whale watching boat. Some of the wildlife that can be seen in the North Sea includes seals, dolphins and whales, not to mention all the various species of birds. This leaves something to look forward to next time.