Friday, 23 June 2017



The coastal resort of Whitby on the East Coast has long been a favourite destination of ours.  Every year we would spend a week there with our girls and family members, usually around the first week of the school holidays, so that the girls could spend time playing together and we could start winding down.

Famous for the setting of Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula" and the place from where explorer Captain Cook set sail on his adventures, there is plenty to do for a week, but when we recently returned for a nostalgic visit, it was just for the day.

The story of Count Dracula has enjoyed notoriety in the media of film and ballet, telling the story of how the vampire ran aground in Whitby aboard the Russian ship Demeter.  Fans of this ghoulish tale can hear all about the story and its legend at the Dracula Experience on Marine Parade - but do be aware this is definitely for the tourists.

The town itself is dissected by a single carriageway bridge which rises when larger vessels sail into the harbour.  Whitby is still a live fishing port, but there are many tourist boats which take visitors through the harbour and out to sea - including on board the former Lifeboat. Serious anglers can also take fishing trips out into the North Sea, though children tend to do their fishing from the promenade wall, where we saw a young man catching crabs with no more than a hook and line.

Because of its fishing heritage, there is an abundance of lovely old fisherman's cottages, many of which are now converted to holiday accommodation, and which line the harbour, though parking cars may be something of a problem as access is down tiny picturesque alleyways - built in the days before cars.

The Captain Cook Museum sits almost next to the bridge, in Grape Place, and details the explorer's amazing adventures.  As a museum there are also a number of visiting exhibitions, lectures and activities for children - so a great place to go if it's raining.

We have a couple of favourite restaurants in Whitby, so headed to the White Horse and Griffin for lunch on this occasion - a traditional old inn, and former meeting place of Captain Cook.  They also do accommodation, though we have never stayed there - but we can recommend the restaurant - the food is superb!

The famous 99 steps lead up to the ruined Gothic abbey (circa AD657) which features in the Dracula stories. There is also a wonderful abbey museum detailing Whitby's sea-faring history, with lots of summer activities, all housed in a beautiful old mansion, which is the former home of the Cholmley family, landowners and a prominent local family.

There are of course, lots of tourist shops, but look out for jewellers selling highly polished Whitby jet jewellery - made from fossilised wood, compressed over millions of years. Jet is mainly found in north east England, and particularly from an area between Robin Hood's Bay and Boulby.  It became fashionable in Victorian England after the death of Queen Victoria's beloved husband Albert, since she wore the jet black jewellery in his honour.


The new town leading to West Cliff is what you might expect from a British seaside resort. With amusement arcades, ice cream parlours, clairvoyants and fish and chips galore, the road leads directly down to the beach.

The wide expanse of sand is perfect for the children with their buckets and spades, and you can hire a wind break and a deck chair for less than £5 - perfect for a hot afternoon after a quick dip or a paddle.

The West Cliff is also home to some of the larger Victorian hotels, and B&B accommodation. Most of these are situated around the Royal Crescent (where Bram Stoker stayed in the late 1890s).  There are a couple of landmarks in the form of a striking statue memorial to Captain Cook, presented in 1978 to the town by the people of Canada to mark the 250th anniversary of his birth. The nearby 20 foot whalebone arch commemorates those seamen who sailed off Greenland in search of these magnificent creatures to hunt for whale oil - which would have guaranteed prosperity and riches to those who returned - but many did not as the inhospitable seas claimed many lives and ships.

Having lunched at the White Horse and Griffin, it is worth mentioning another of our favourite restaurants, which is Trenchers - a modern fish and chip restaurant serving locally caught fish, but with some modern variations - including gluten free batter on the fish! When we visited all those years ago, we pushed the boat out and ate our traditional fish and chips with a bottle of champagne, as we were usually celebrating a summer birthday.

Another famous Whitby fish restaurant, The Magpie, is currently closed as two fires in early May destroyed the roof.  The original building dates back to 1750 and was a merchant's house, before being used as a shipping office and by whaling crews.  It wasn't used as a restaurant until 1939, and has since won many international awards. 


We didn't usually stay in Whitby, but in a village just outside Robin Hood's Bay called Fylingthorpe.  This is a small village with a butchers, a post office and a pub, from which it was a short stroll through woods into Robin Hood Bay.  However, if you drive to the Bay, be aware that you cannot take a car down to the sea, which must be left in the car park, and the hill is very very steep (since my accident last year I'm not sure I could walk up it now!).

In fact Robin Hood's Bay was initially a much more important town than Whitby itself, appearing on ancient charts dating back to the 16th Century.  It had a thriving fishing industry, largely because it was relatively safe from piracy, and the topography meant sailors could walk into the village straight from their boats. It later became much more famous as a smugglers cove, due in part to its isolation, and the marshy land which surrounded it on three sides.

Robin Hood's Bay is also noted for its fossils - many of which can still be found today at low tide - something the children loved to hunt out when they were younger.  Beware the tides though - it is easy to find yourself cut off as the sea comes in very quickly.

It is also worth mentioning Sandsend - just a few miles along the coast, with a beautiful beach on which our girls spent hours playing in the sea, which had a small inlet and was great for paddling and sailing in a blow up boat!  The lovely Estbek Hotel served yummy toasted sandwiches and scones, though having just looked at their website, it is now boasts a posh restaurant!

And our girls always loved to hire a rowing boat at Ruswarp, just outside Whitby, which was also next to a small Crazy Golf with a cafe.  We enjoyed such simple pleasures before they both grew up, and yet they both look back on these holidays with such happy memories!

A final note from Anne C - Whitby is such a great base for a traditional English seaside family holiday.  I once asked my own daughter, who was aged about nine at the time which type of holiday she preferred - our annual trip to Greece, or our week in Whitby.  She chose Whitby!

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