This week’s article will be slightly different from the usual articles you’ll find on the site, as it will be written by a guest writer and will have more of a personal tone to it. My name is Alex Simpson, and I’ll be this week’s guest writer/blogger.
As we make our way through the quaint market town of Pickering, the scenery becomes more and more rural and picturesque. Grey houses and commercial buildings are swapped for rolling hills and dramatic heather-laden moorland. As we climb higher and higher, the views get more and more spectacular. Then, far away in the distance, we see the world-famous ruins of Whitby Abbey, overlooking the sea, and all of my worries about this being just another generic British seaside resort holiday fade away and I know I’m in for a treat.
For years as a child, I’d enjoyed many a holiday by the sea in the UK, yet once in my teens, like most teenagers, family holidays were swapped for cheap booze-filled holidays with my friends abroad in the sunshine. Don’t get me wrong, these were fun, but by the time I reached my mid-twenties, I couldn’t handle more than one night on the ale anymore, and it took me two days to recover from a hangover. As I grew and matured, I wanted different things from my holidays, namely peace and quiet, beautiful countryside, amazing food, and of course – the sea.
Some people just tend to have an affinity to the sea, and for me, that’s definitely the case. For as long as I can remember I’ve been drawn to it. There’s just something about being by the seaside that seems to soothe my soul and put me at peace. Everything from the call of the psychotic gulls, to the scent of sea salt, seaweed, and fish and chips in the air puts me at peace yet whenever I’d been to the British coast in the past, it was as if something was missing. The second we walked into Whitby for the first time, I knew I’d found it.
I’m fairly sceptical when it comes to things such as past life regression yet if I was to undergo past life regression therapy and be told that, in a former life I used to live by the sea in Whitby, everything would make more sense than ever. The second I got out of the car, took in the sea air, and my surroundings, despite never having been to Whitby before, it was as if I’d lived there my entire life.
As I walk down the narrow cobbled streets, I pass adults in black makeup, long leather jackets, gas masks, Victorian-inspired steampunk costumes, and some of the quirkiest outfits I’ve seen in my life, yet the people on the street barely bat an eyelid. Where I’m from, if people dressed that way, people would look at them like they were from another planet. This is yet another reason why I know this first holiday in Whitby is going to be something very special. And it was.
Visiting the surrounding beaches
Don’t get me wrong, Whitby is certainly my ‘happy place’ but what I really loved about my various holidays to North Yorkshire, was the fact that there were so many stunning beaches and stretches of coastline a few miles away from where we were staying.
Robin Hood’s Bay was the first non-Whitby beach that we visited, and again, I’d never been before so didn’t know what to expect. I was wondering, due to the name, whether or not there was a connection to the legendary outlaw Robin Hood, despite him being allegedly from Nottinghamshire, though apparently there is no connection at all. In fact, historians aren’t quite sure why Robin Hood’s Bay is named as such.
One story goes that Robin Hood encountered a dastardly group of French sea pirates who had made their way over to the North Yorkshire coast to pillage the many fisherman’s boasts and steal their catches and their belongings. Robin Hood, no doubt with the help of his ‘Merry Men’ defeated the pirates and returned the fish and the belongings back to the grateful fishermen. In honour of his kind act, the fishermen and the locals named the bay ‘Robin Hood’s Bay’ and the name has stuck ever since.
The problem with the above is that there is not one single piece of evidence to suggest that the legendary outlaw ever even visited North Yorkshire, let alone defeated a group of pirates. In any event, it’s a good story.
With its steep pathway and quirky shops, almost hidden from view, the walk down to the beach itself was very interesting, though walking all the way back up was a great deal tougher.
We also visited Runswick Bay, which was recently voted the best beach in England, and went hunting for fossils. Runswick is a hotbed for fossils and I can see why. While there, I found countless Ammonites, along with a small dead squid, and a one-clawed crab which I actually fed the dead squid to, and he couldn’t get enough of it.
My one regret is never having really gotten the chance to explore the fishing town of Staithes. We visited and spent an hour there, but unfortunately, we had to cut this trip short due to an incredibly severe sea fret, which is basically a cold sea fog that makes it virtually impossible to see. Because of that, we had to head back to the car early and carefully drive back to the cottage we were staying in.
General touristy things
The first time we visited Whitby, we all got ready nice and early and made our way into the town.
The parking in Whitby isn’t the best, especially on busy days so it’s best to get there nice and early to find a parking space, or alternatively walk, get a taxi, or use public transport. We got parked okay and took a stroll along the harbour.
In the distance, overlooking the town was Whitby Abbey, which we would be visiting later. Before that, though, we took a quick boat ride out to sea and back, before hopping on an open-top bus and having a guided tour through Whitby before being dropped off at the Abbey.
The ruins of the abbey are well worth a visit if you’ve never been before, though in the years that followed, we visited during Halloween when the abbey is illuminated with bright green, pink, red, and blue neon lights, and it looked amazing!
There’s also the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, in honour of Captain Cook, who sailed his very first voyage of discovery on the HM Endeavour, which was built in Whitby. That too was very interesting as a first-time visitor.
Whitby and Goth Culture
Another thing which I absolutely adore about Whitby is the fact that people are allowed to be themselves there and feel so comfortable in their own skin. Walk down a high street in a busy city and come across a man or woman kitted out in goth/steampunk fancy dress, and you’d be surprised, to say the least. In Whitby, countless people dress like that every day.
Whitby has a deep-rooted goth culture, which some believe is thanks to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. While staying in Whitby, Bram Stoker took inspiration for the character of Dracula and even set a chapter of the story there.
Back in 1994, the very first Whitby Goth Festival was held in the last weekend in October, to coincide with Halloween. Since then, Whitby Goth Festival has evolved to become Whitby Goth Weekend, whereby goths from all over the globe flock here in their droves in fancy dress, to party, listen to live music and generally have a great time.
The weekend became so popular in fact, that they added a second one in April, which is almost as popular as the one around Halloween.
We stayed in Whitby twice for Halloween and it was absolutely awesome during Goth Weekend. The costumes on display were incredible, there were gimmick vehicles such as souped-up hearses, VW camper vans sprayed black with goth decals, motorcycles, and even gothic-themed boats.
Goths, Steampunks, and everybody else for that matter is made to feel more welcome than ever in Whitby all year round, but if you can visit during Goth Weekend. Please do.
One thing I will say is that because Goth Weekend is so popular, finding accommodation can be very difficult so you will need to book in advance, possibly one year in advance. It also gets very crowded on the narrow, cobbled streets during the day, but in my opinion, it is well worth it, and a whole lot more besides.
The food and drink
I like my food, possibly a bit too much, and another thing I loved about Whitby was the food.
Needless to say, as Whitby is a fishing town the seafood here is divine. I’ve had plenty of fish and chips in my days but the fish and chips here have got to be the best I’ve ever tasted.
The very first meal we enjoyed was fish and chips at the Magpie Café. Now, the Magpie Café is legendary in Whitby, as people queue for hundreds of yards to get a table. Directly opposite the Magpie is a fish market where fishermen flog their catches of the day, supplying numerous restaurants and chippies in Whitby, including the Magpie.
Needless to say, the fish is incredibly fresh and is prepared beautifully. The very first time I ate there I had the garlic butter prawns to start, and lemon sole and chips as a main, with a side of mushy peas, curry sauce, and bread and butter.
Over the years we ate at numerous restaurants and chippies here, although obviously the Magpie Café really stands out in my mind, as does an Italian restaurant called Moutrey’s.
Moutrey’s is a small Italian restaurant on Grape Lane which serves amazing food, including wood-fired pizza. I’ve eaten there three times now, and each time I’ve ordered the seafood pizza with extra chillies and each time it was wonderful. Complete with prawns, anchovies, tuna, smoked salmon, mussels, squid, langoustine, and cod, this wasn’t your typical seafood pizza from the local takeaway, this really was special, and I can’t recommend it enough.
If you have a sweet tooth, Justin’s Chocolatiers make some incredible homemade chocolate, including their signature ‘Captain Cook’s Cannonballs’ which are giant rum and raisin truffles, coated in white, dark, or milk chocolate, and shaped like a cannonball. I may, or may not, have made myself sick by greedily eating nearly 5 of these decadent treats one night, but wow, was it worth it.
Whitby has everything a foodie could want, from award-winning fish and chips to homemade pie and mash, and everything in between. If you like your grub, like me, you’ll certainly be spoilt for choice.
Where is your happy place?
The worst part about any holiday has to be the last night.
As we pack our cases and prepare for an early night so as to set off nice and early to beat the rush hour traffic the next morning, that sinking feeling of realisation that something very special is about to come to an end sets in.
As I lay in bed before going to sleep that night, I’m already browsing the web on my phone, looking at availability for the same accommodation for the following year, just so I know that it’s definite, that we can definitely come back again. This can’t be my last trip to Whitby, it just can’t. And it wasn’t.
In all honesty, I could sit here writing about how awesome Whitby is all day long, but words, and even pictures, don’t do this place justice.
Whitby is one of those places you have to experience for yourself, but if you do, be prepared to fall in love and be prepared to go back again, and again, and again.
I found my happy place, now can you find yours?
Until next time stay safe, stay curious and don’t stop wandering!