Pocket Britain

A Yorkshire fishing port full of history and drama

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Whitby is a pretty fishing port on the North East coast of Yorkshire at the mouth of the River Esk. Steeped in history and guarded by the haunting ruins of Whitby Abbey, the town has been a popular tourist destination since Victorian times. Quaint fishermans cottages line cobbled streets and winding lanes beside Georgian town houses, pubs, restaurants, craft shops and museums. All vie for the visitors attention, none more so than the English Heritage managed 11th Century Abbey ruins.

Whitby Abbey
Photo subberculture
Whitby was originally called Streonshal meaning Fort Bay. It was founded in 656AD by Oswy, the King of Northumbria, when he laid the foundations for the Abbey. The original Abbey was destroyed by a Viking attack in 867 and the site abandoned until a new Abbey was raised in 1078 by William de Percy. This Abbey was destroyed by Henry VIII in 1540 and the eerie ruins have since inspired many writers, poets and artists through the centuries.

The ruins of Whitby Abbey have inspired many writers
Photo James Whitesmith
It is not surprising that Whitbys history also boasts some famous nautical names including explorer and cartographer, Captain James Cook. James arrived in Whitby at the age of 17 and became an apprentice to coal merchants John and Henry Walker. The Walkers house is now the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, laid out as he would have known it; full of artefacts, maps and paintings relating to Cooks voyages and Whitby at the time. Cook set sail in HMS Endeavour in 1768 and sailed into the history books as the first European to land in Australia and map New Zealand. A statue to the great man stands on West Cliff. Today you can enjoy a trip around the Yorkshire coastline aboard the replica of HMS Endeavour and learn more about Cooks adventures.

Captain Cooks' Statue on West Cliff
Photo sk8geek
The adventurous and often dangerous whaling trade began out of Whitby, then the sixth largest harbour in Britain, in 1752. It became the most important part of the fishing trade. Success was not always guaranteed, however, but imagine the sight in 1814 when the busy quayside saw 172 whales landed in one season or the smell of the many tons of whale oil being produced in the four stores around Whitby. A whalebone arch can still be seen outside The Royal Hotel on West Cliff as a memorial to Whitbys whaling heritage.

Whitby Harbour still contains plenty of working boats
Photo Luaraj117
William Scoresby was not only central to the whaling industry here, but also a keen explorer. He even brought back a Polar bear from his artic adventures and trained it! People loved to watch as it swam in the harbour. On the quayside there is a statue commemorating William Scoresby and his invention of the crows nest to protect sailors from freezing conditions while on watch. An actual crows nest can be seen in the Whitby Museum, which tells the story of Whitby through the centuries and its many famous visitors.
One Whitby visitor, Bram Stoker, stayed at The Royal Hotel while he wrote his most famous book, Dracula, published in 1897. He was so inspired by Whitby, its rugged coastline and folklore that it featured as Draculas first landing place in England. He even discovered the name Dracula in the old public library on Marine Parade while searching through some papers! Whitby now holds a twice yearly Gothic Festival that attracts Dracula-ites from all over the world. The town also houses the spooky Dracula Experience and the Victorian Jet Works, famous for its ebony jewellery, favoured by Goths through the centuries.

Inside the Dracula Experience
Photo Glen Bowman
More recently television crews have arrived to film the successful series The Royal in and around Whitby. Fans will enjoy spotting the various locations used in the series. You may even like to climb the 199 steps to the top of the East Cliff to get an even better view of the town and harbour. But beware! You may feel a chill wind on your back or spy the stricken schooner Demeter crashing into the pier below. Perhaps you may even catch sight of an immense wild dog leaping onto the shore, disappearing through the churchyard and into the Abbey shadows before materialising as Count Dracula himself!

The 199 Steps to the top of East Cliff
Photo Steve Partridge
After all the excitement of a day in Whitby, enjoy a delicious Yorkshire tea at one of the many tea rooms or a hearty supper at the Magpie Cafe which Rick Stein described as being the best fish and chip shop in Britain!
Visitor Information
Whitby Abbey is open daily from 10am to 4pm (6pm March to September). Entry costs around £6 for adults, £3 children. Whitby, YO22 4JT. Tel: 01947 603568
The Captain Cook Memorial Museum is open daily from March to October, 9:45am to 5pm (11am to 3pm in March). Entry costs around £4.50 for adults, £3 children. Grape Lane, Whitby YO22 4BA. Tel: 01947 601900
The Whitby Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30am to 4:30pm (closed over Christmas). Entry costs around £4 for adults, £1 children. Pannett Park, Whitby, YO21 1RE. Tel: 01947 602908
The Dracular Experience is open daily Easter to October (weekends only at other times), 9:45am to 5pm. Entry costs around £3 for adults, £2 children. 9 Marine Parade, Whitby, YO21 3PR. Tel: 01947 601923

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