Whitby is a place like no other, with a busy fishing harbour, lots of interesting little shops and many reminders of how it used to be.
This was where Saint Hilda built her Abbey in the 7th Century and the ruins of its successor stand proudly on the cliff top. Now the 10th most visited site in the care of English Heritage, a wonderful new Visitor Centre now occupies the old Banqueting Hall.
According to legend, it was Saint Hilda who turned the local snakes to stone – and you can still find the famous ‘Saint Hilda’s Serpents’ just lying on the beach. Today we call then Ammonites, a distinctive group of fossil sea shells from the Jurassic period. Whitby Museum in Pannett Park has one of the best collections of Ammonites in the world.
Whitby is the port where the young James Cook learned his seamanship, before becoming a Captain, joining the Royal Navy and emerging as the world’s greatest explorer. The nautical charts he surveyed in the 18th Century were so accurate that they were never really surpassed until the arrival of satellite cartography. The Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Grape Lane is in the very building where young James learned his trade.
The Scoresbys were also important master mariners sailing out of Whitby. Scoresby Senior was Captain of a whaling ship and sailed further North than anyone had ever done before. His son accompanied him on a trip to the Arctic at the age of ten and later, as a Captain and a scientist working for the Royal Navy, he sailed further South than anyone had ever done before, in an experiment to perfect the magnetic compass for the Royal Navy. Whitby Museum has lots of information and artefacts.
Frank Meadow Sutcliffe was a Victorian pioneer of photography based in Whitby. He is credited with turning photography from a scientific curiosity into an art form. He recorded everyday life in Whitby at the turn of the century and his work can be admired and bought at The Sutcliffe Gallery in Flowergate.
Whitby today is a bustling place, with a healthy mixture of local residents going about their daily lives and visitors coming to experience a town which still has a unique historic character. Rick Stein, the TV Chef, says ‘the Best Fish and Chips in the World’ are from Whitby at the Magpie Cafe (so it must be true).
Robin Hood’s Bay is a very popular village about 6 miles South East of Whitby. Steep narrow streets and traditional fishermen’s’ cottages lead down to the slipway, where the National Trust have recently opened a wonderful Visitor Centre. ‘Bay’ (as it is known to us locals) has become a bit too popular for its own good and is best avoided on Sundays and Bank Holidays.
Staithes, about 10 miles North West of Whitby, is a very different kettle of fish. Still largely undiscovered, it is the last of the traditional Yorkshire fishing villages. There is still a good smell of wet fish and you will still find lobster pots next to cottage doors, awaiting repair.
The Cleveland Way National Trail is a 110 mile long National Trail starting in Helmsley and it runs along the coast for 50 miles, from Saltburn in the North, via Staithes, Runswick Bay, Sandsend, Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay, Ravenscar to Scarborough and finally Filey in the South.