Whitby Travel Guide
Ever wondered what it’s like going on a Citylife trip? Matteo Everett gives us the lowdown on our recent visit to Whitby, and one particularly energetic tour guide…
As much a stunning resort as a Gothic lover’s Mecca, Whitby is a modern town thriving within the confines of its ancient architecture. The subtle scent of world-class fish and chips dominates the town just as the North Sea’s famous fog settles over St Mary’s ominous churchyard; food proves to be as much a driving force of the Yorkshire gem as its horrific past.
Whether you’re gazing out to sea from either of Whitby’s dramatic cliffs or exploring the narrow streets which wind their way round the Old Town, the aromas of traditional British treats are everywhere. Watch locals catch crabs by the Swing Bridge as you snack on nostalgic sweets from one of the town’s sweet shops that lining the seafront, or explore the lanes that open up to courtyards gracing the front of tea houses, little European squares in the gentle sun.
The best place to take a break from exploring the seaside paradise might well be Rusty Shears, a traditional tea house boasting brews from all over the world, as well as modern fusions – try the pistachio and marzipan blend for a sweet surprise. For a small town, Whitby has done well to cater to everyone’s taste, and Sherlock’s Coffee House is a must for fans of the famous Sleuth.
Walking round Whitby in typical British weather, it’s easy to see why it was crowned the UK’s “Halloween Town”. Bram Stoker was inspired to write Dracula as he looked out toward the ruined abbey, its broken windows splintered with shards of stone, fingers grasping for broken glass. Shipwrecks were a common occurrence, and the coastline has been known as a graveyard of ships, now overseen by the ghost of British explorer Captain Cook, whose statue gazes over the town. Twin piers, which curve toward each other but never touch, had been built to help ships dock from the perilous sea — but an arrow, sitting above a whale arch, points directly to the North Pole, warning of the freezing waters beyond.
The dramatic scenery of what is known as the Dinosaur Coast has influenced many artists, and our tour guide, Rose, took us to the guesthouses of famous authors Charles Dickens and Lewis Carrol, who helped carve out the British literary scene.
Rose, an enthusiastic Whitby native with a flair for storytelling and passion for the natural world, was sure to let us know that the town has always been a place of myth and legend, way before the Victorian time. The famous abbey was built by Norman invaders, but not until Hilda, the last high priestess of the Celts, drove poisonous snakes out from the holy land, severing, some believe, our connection to and admiration for nature.
But Whitby remained an isolated place long after that, and until the late 18th century was only accessible by sea. The first stagecoach, allowing mass transport to the town, opened in 1788; before then, locals didn’t dare crossing the moors beyond, which had once been known as a bridge to the dead.
After the stagecoach came the railways, leading to the development of the Victorian resort of today — but Whitby has not lost its connection to its rich past. When the mist rises above the town, it’s easy to see that mythology is still alive and well here; the shock of the moors just past the farmyard ensures any visitor they are still surrounded by nature. Nearby Robin Hood’s Bay, our second stop on our Yorkshire tour, was starker still; a sleepy village clinging to the cliffs, its beach swallowed at times by the rising tides of the sea.
Whitby is much more than its jewelry stores of night-black Jet and the pasty shops that line the seafront, much more than the small markets reminiscent of Old England and narrow Medieval lanes, much more than Dracula and gothic chic. It is all of these things, but more than anything it is alive, a place that is at once as close to nature as Britain can get, and a buzzing seaside town that still feels like it’s enjoying its heyday, even after all these years.
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