Whitby, North Yorkshire

10th - 12th September 2004


It is nothing short of a truly long drive from Hertfordshire to Whitby in North Yorkshire on the north-east coast of England, with the historic town of York en route, 47 miles away. Bonnie Parker and her son Connaugh requested a lift and in fact, on the way back on Sunday, we stopped in York for tea and a bit of moseying around the town. Our accommodation in the town at the Backpacker's Hostel at Harbour Grange, Spital Bridge, could best be described as adequate, even comfortable. Being in the town centre itself, it is a short walk from restaurants and the town's main attractions. Nowadays it is a fishing port and tourist destination, at the mouth of the River Esk and spreads up the steep sides of the narrow valley carved out by the river's course. At this point the coast curves round, so the town faces more north than east.

The history of Whitby dates back to 657, when Oswiu or Oswy, the Christian king of  Northumbria (one of the kingdoms in the early Middle Ages), fulfilled a vow by founding a monastery there. In 655, he defeated Penda, pagan king of Mercia (roughly in the Midlands) and granted 12 estates for the purpose of building monasteries. One of them was later known as Whitby Abbey. In 867, Danish Vikings landed two miles west of Whitby and moved on to attack the settlement and to destroy the monastery. It was only after the Norman Conquest of 1066 that the monastery was refounded (1078). In 1540, Whitby had consisted of only around twenty to thirty houses and had a population of about two hundred inhabitants. In that year Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, including Whitby Abbey. Even up to the reign of Elizabeth I in 1558, Whitby was little more than a small fishing port. At the end of the 16th century, a thriving alum industry developed in Yorkshire, owing to it being abundant in areas around North Yorkshire. Alum was used as a dye-fixer for wool. Up to this period the Vatican had maintained a virtual monopoly on the production and sale of the product. With this, two new, rapidly growing activities were promoted in the port of Whitby, the transport of the alum itself and that of the coal necessary for its production.

Over the centuries the town spread inland and onto the West Cliff, whilst the east Cliff remains dominated by the ruins of Whitby Abbey and St. Mary's Church. Several alum centres were established close to Whitby and with this, the town's wealth increased and Whitby began to grow, extending its activities to include shipbuilding, using the local  oak as raw material. Taxes on imports entering via the port raised the necessary finance to improve and extend the town's twin piers, thereby improving the harbour and permitting further increases in trade. In 1753 the first whaling ship set sail from Whitby to Greenland. This initiated a new phase in the town's development, and by 1795 Whitby had become a major centre for the whaling industry.

The modern Port of Whitby, strategically placed for shipping to Europe, with very good proximity to the Scandinavian countries, is capable of handling a wide range of cargoes, including grain, steel products, timber and potash, used in the manufacture of soap and as a fertilizer. Whitby has a fish market on the quayside, which is not set to any particular day of the week, instead taking place when the need arises.This ready supply of fresh fish has resulted in an abundance of "chippies" in the town.







Images of Whitby harbour, the River Esk, West Cliff and East Cliff, the latter dominated by Whitby Abbey.



Robin Hood’s Bay is a small fishing town (hardly more than a village), five miles south of  Whitby. The origin of the name is uncertain and probably has nothing to do with the legendary figure of the same name. The town, which consists of a maze of tiny streets, has a tradition of  smuggling, and there is reputed to be a network of subterranean passageways linking the houses. The main legitimate activity had always been fishing, but this started to decline in the late 19th century. These days most of its income comes from tourism. The town connects to the A171 allowing access to Whitby and Scarborough. I was fascinated by the collection of old sepia photographs on sale in the town. Our route was quite simple - it involved a walk along the coast to Robin Hood's Bay, south-east of Whitby, where we stopped for a beer and some lunch, enjoying the sunshine in the process. Back at the hostel, I lay on the couch reading a book, inadvertently dozing off for a short nap. In the evening we adjourned to the upstairs room of a local restaurant in St. Ann's Staith, just off Bridge Street, which crosses the River Esk. It was a pleasant surprise to meet up with another South African girl whom Vanda had got to meet whilst working in Leeds.







Images above of Robin Hood's bay, our lunchtime hiking destination.


View of Whitby Harbour with Whitby Abbey Ruins forming a backdrop on the East Cliff hillside.



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