If you’re looking for the perfect base to appreciate North Yorkshire’s varied coastline of wide sandy beaches and rugged cliffs, then Whitby is for you. But it’s not only about the coast. With the expansive heather-clad North York Moors right on the doorstep, the town is perfectly placed for anyone exploring the area. However, you need to like steep streets!
Whitby has a population around 13,000 and is split in two by the River Esk. As mentioned, it’s a hilly town and plenty of streets will leave you puffing, none more so than Donkey Road. This cobbled street runs parallel to the 199 steps leading up to the iconic Whitby Abbey and you almost need climbing ropes to complete its ascent.
This higgledy-piggeldy working town oozes atmosphere and is full of tiny streets and walkways twisting and turning in all directions. Its layout, designed over the centuries, is part of its charm. And as a local guide, Discover the Yorkshire Coast, states: “Fish and chips and ice cream; history and culture; vampires and Goths; it’s all on offer at Whitby.”
The Yorkshire resort is not only famous for providing inspiration to author Bram Stoker when writing his Gothic novel, Dracula, but it’s the town where Captain Cook learnt to be a seaman; more recently, it was frequently used for location filming in ITV’s much-loved series, Heartbeat.
The old town is situated on East Cliff where you’ll find the lion’s share of alleys and steep, narrow streets. West Cliff, across the water, is largely Victorian and edges the sands. Whitby dates back to Saxon times when a monastery was built on East Cliff. Today, many historic buildings remain but none are more prominent or iconic than Whitby Abbey. Okay, only the ruins of this fine abbey remain, but they are impressive and act as a symbol of Whitby. Standing in a lofty position overlooking the town, the impressive site can be seen from afar. On this windy headland, it’s easy to see why the abbey’s haunting ruins inspired Stoker’s legendary story. If you’re heading for the abbey from the town, you’ll have nearly 200 steps to negotiate; if you’re driving, there is a council-run car park some 100 metres from the site.
The town has its fair share of museums but two worth visiting in particular are the Captain Cook Heritage Museum (open February-November) and the Lifeboat Museum, situated harbourside. Cook, the great explorer, lodged in a house on Grape Lane whilst serving his seaman’s apprenticeship and it’s within this 17th century house that you’ll find the museum. It’s won the coveted Visit England gold award and affords visitors the chance to celebrate not only Cook’s achievements but the work of those travelling alongside him.
My favourite museum was dedicated to the local lifeboat and the brave souls who risk their lives to save others. Situated on Pier Road, it’s free and contains lots of fascinating information about the lifeboats operating since 1802. Housed in a double boathouse used by the RNLI between 1895-1957, items on display include medals, paintings, kit and information concerning famous rescues. It’s a well organised and informative exhibition.
Within the main hub of the town is Whitby train station where you can jump aboard one of the steam trains plying its trade along the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, running from Whitby to Pickering. Regarded as among the world’s greatest heritage railways, I’d highly recommend a trip on a heritage diesel train or atmospheric steam engine. The line weaves its way through 24 miles of Yorkshire’s finest countryside and, although the frequency of trains is rather restrictive, it’s a must-do for anyone visiting this part of the UK.
Whitby has its fair share of restaurants and cafés, including a plethora of fish and chip shops. But if you’re looking for a cool, stylish, family-run place to eat or drink, pop along to Cranberry Swamp on Skinner Street. There’s a retro vibe running throughout this cosy caff with its brightly-coloured wallpaper, wooden floors, vintage armchairs, sofas and tables.
Specialising in gluten-free food, you’ll also find several tasty vegan and veggie dishes on the menu. It’s one of those cafés where the proprietors are keen that their customers enjoy their experience to the full, so they’re more than happy to tweak dishes to suit an individual’s needs.
During our visit, we experienced a mix of weather. One morning, conditions were inclement and wandering the streets of Whitby or exploring the quaint fishing villages dotted along the coast, such as Robin Hood’s Bay and Staithes, didn’t appeal. Instead, we opted for some indoor entertainment for the kids and visited Mini Monsterz, just on the outskirts of Whitby (also based in Scarborough).
Among the biggest indoor play areas in North Yorkshire, the centres cater for all ages – even adults. Since opening in 2008 (the Scarborough branch opened in 2012), the owners have introduced at least one major improvement each year, including a large toddler area extension, drop slide, climbing wall, laser tag and, most recently, a party balcony.
Prices have remained stable since opening and are very reasonable. While adults (if non-members) pay £1, children aged 18 months to 16 years cost £5.99. If you opt for the “Play & Eat” ticket, £7.99 gets you a child and adult’s admission plus a child’s meal, worth £3.99.
A fairly extensive “Free From…” menu has recently been added to the café, Max’s Bites and Beverages. We were pleased to see Quorn products available and, again, at decent prices.
Overall, Whitby and its surrounding area – not forgetting Scarborough, just down the coast – have much to offer, including plenty of accommodation. I travelled with my family and stayed at Larpool Hall, overlooking the town. The long-established walking and activity company, HF Holidays, run guided walking, self-guided walking and family adventure weeks from the imposing Georgian country house. If you haven’t experienced an HF break before, it’s worth checking out their website.
Whitby Abbey, www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/whitby-abbey, tel: 01947 603568
Captain Cook Memorial Museum, www.cookmuseumwhitby.co.uk, tel: 01947 601900
North Yorkshire Moors Railway, www.nymr.co.uk, tel: 01751 472508
Cranberry Swamp, www.cranberryswamp.com, tel: 01947 228080
Mini Monsterz, www.minimonsterz.co.uk, tel: 01947 821106
For more information about attractions in and around the area, visit the official tourism website for Yorkshire, www.yorkshire.com
For more information about HF Holiday’s country house, Larpool Hall, which is situated on the outskirts of Whitby, visit www.hfholidays.co.uk or call 0345 470 8558 (01947 602737 for the Hall).
Reviewed: March 2016[/fusion_text]