Day 4, Friday 30 September 2022
Not having learnt his lesson from yesterday, Grant again attempted a cooked breakfast this morning. This time though I stood by the alarm box with the fob key waiting to reset it the minute the smoke alarm began to blare. I didn’t need to wait for long. Seriously though, what brains trust would put a smoke alarm almost directly above a cooker? Whatever.
It’s a cool and misty, drizzly morning for our drive to the coast today.
The drive to Whitby is a lovely one and takes us through the North York Moors National Park. It’s bleakly beautiful – especially in this grey light.
At about the midway point through the moors is the rambler’s car park for the beginning of the hike to the Hole of Horcum – a massive natural amphitheater in the moors. (The landscapes are grand here in Yorkshire.) Aside from being (apparently) quite the sight, it’s the myth about how the hole was created – when Wade the Giant scooped up a handful of soil to throw at his wife during an argument – that interested me. In any case, it’s an 11km circuit and we have neither the time nor the clobber for a hike of that distance. One day, probably when we’ve both finished day jobs, we’ll spend some decent time in this area and do some of these hikes. One day.
It’s cold when we get to Whitby and scarves and beanies are needed for a wander around the perimeter of the old abbey and the churchyard way above the town. One hundred and ninety-nine steps above the town, to be precise… more on that soon.
The first monastery was built here on the headland above Whitby Harbour in about 657AD, only to be abandoned at some point in the 9th century – probably because of viking raids. The abbey that we see today was built in the 13th century in the Gothic style and suppressed (as were many monasteries) in the 16th century.
The ruins we see today are a result of a combination of abandonment, weather, and even German shelling. It is, however, atmospheric, and quite beautiful.
Whitby is also the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Bram Stoker arrived in Whitby in July 1890 and his wanderings around the town inspired the novel he later wrote. It’s not hard to see why – the spooky Gothic ruins of the abbey; the cliff-top churchyard with many headstones marking empty graves of seafarers who were lost at sea; the story of the Russian vessel that ran aground carrying a cargo of silver sand.
In Bram Stoker’s story a London-bound ship, The Demeter, runs aground. From that ship jumps a large black dog who bounds up the 199 steps to the churchyard…and things go horribly wrong from there.
These days the Dracula legend is so well ingrained into Whitby that some tourists forget it was a story.
Back down the bottom of the cliff in the town we managed to jag a car park and head out for a wander through the old town. This is the side of Whitby I love. Over the bridge are the fish and chips shops and the touristy shops and attractions, but here are cobbled streets, cute shops and pubs that back onto the water and probably served the sailors that manned the whale ships.
It’s also on this side that you find the shops selling jet – a semi-precious stone used in mourning jewellery, particularly in Victorian times.
I bought a pair of jet earrings and a mini cookbook. Of course I did.
Robin Hood’s Bay
Back in the car, we head down the coast to Robin Hood’s Bay – somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a while now.
Like Staithes and Saltburn-by-the-Sea, the town is in two parts – separated by a very steep hill. Just like Staithes, though, it’s the old town at the bottom of the hill that we’re here and these cobbled streets and a maze of stone cottages with their interconnecting passages that we’re here to see. It’s easy to see how it became such a hot spot for smugglers in the 18th century, with a fine trade in contraband such as tea, gin, rum, brandy and tobacco coming into Yorkshire from the Netherlands and France.
It was risky, but the profit on a single parcel of tea or silk or a bladder of Dutch gin exceeded a week’s legally earned wage, and with geology, topography and hydrology on their side, the entire community, as tight-knit as a fisherman’s gansey, was in on it. Rather than being a place built for smuggling, smugglers were made by this place.Amy-jane beer for The Guardian, Dec 2021
By now the rain is coming down and I’m wishing the jacket I wore was more functional than fashionable – and that my shoes had better tread. Heigh ho.
We escape the rain at The Bay Hotel for some lunch – a very good roasted tomato soup with a pint of Theakston’s Best.
A group of school kids beat us back up the hill and we decide that as the rain doesn’t seem to be letting up, we’ll head back to Westow… stopping in at Pickering for tea and Eccles Cakes… as you do.
The rest of the afternoon was spent back at the house by the fire. Grant watched some telly, I caught up on my journal writing and read a book. Bliss.
The Bay Horse
For dinner tonight we’re back at The Bay Horse where we’re greeted with ‘It’s the Australians!’
We both choose the grills – lamb for me and pork for Grant – and after we’ve finished are joined by a local couple who have a horse stud just down the road and want to chat about Australia and horse racing. Then Matt, the South African bar manager pulls up a chair and we talk some more about South Africa.
It’s the perfect way to end our stay in this part of Yorkshire.
Tomorrow we’re off to the Dales…