The North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitby is one of my favourite places to visit in the UK. A small fishing port with just 20-30 houses in the 15th century and a population of just 200, it’s now a popular seaside resort with a historic twist having hardly changed in last 100 years.
From being an important producer of Alum in the 16th century Whitby began to grow in size expanding its talents to shipbuilding and later Whaling. It then became a fashionable victorian spa town with hotels and lodges cropping up on the west cliff side to accommodate the influx of tourists.
Despite being a target in both world wars it has gone from strength to strength ever since.
That’s why I love this place so much.
There’s this huge amount of history and you can just feel it as you walk through it’s streets.
It’s got that old school, proper British seaside feeling to it in a way that other coastal towns just don’t seem to have.
To whet your appetite a little more here are 7 reasons to put Whitby on your ‘places I need to go to now’ list:
1. The Abbey
Set atop the east cliff of the town the ruins of the Abbey are a well known landmark of the town. Conserved by English heritage, it is a pay-to-enter attraction although the beauty of the ruins can be seen for miles around.
The Abbey church would have originally sat in the middle of a group of monastic buildings that are believed to date back to the 13th century onwards.
The monastery itself however, was founded by Hild in the mid 7th century and shortly after Whitby became one of the most important religious centres in Anglo-Saxon world.
The later Benedictine monastery (the remains of which are what you can see today) was built by the Normans in what is now referred to as early english gothic style. It grew into one of the richest in Yorkshire until the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII.
You can learn more about the Abbey and plan a visit by visiting here.
2. Discover Dracula’s Origins
After a visit to the seaside town, Bram Stoker used Whitby as inspiration for his now classic novel Dracula.
Sitting on the cliff top between the town and the Abbey you will come across the Church of St. Mary. An Anglican parish church founded in 1100. You can walk into town from here down the 199 steps from the church and it is the graveyard of this church which forms the setting of the book.
The Gothic styled Abbey and the novel have inspired a loyal following of fans and has become an almost site of pilgrimage for goths. So much so twice a year Whitby plays host to a goth weekend where they takeover the town.
You can however spot the odd goth on other weekends as well the homages to dracula around the town.
One such favoured site is known as Dracula’s seat and is a bench with views across the bay of the Abbey. It is the view from this bench that is said to have inspired Stoker and is lovingly adorned with fresh flowers all year round.
However Whitby doesn’t overdo it with the Dracula merch’ and you can easily avoid the whole Dracula scene if it isn’t really what you’re into.
3. I’m on a Boat
Yes that’s right, Whitby still has an active harbour.
There are many opportunities to get on a boat and head out onto the open seas. From fishing trips to pleasure cruises whatever kind of boating is for you Whitby can provide.
My personal favourite is the authentic replica of the Endeavour.
HMS Endeavour was a Royal Navy research ship and was commanded by Captain James Cook on the voyage of discovery to Australia and New Zealand from 1769 to 1771.
Captain Cook, born in Marton near Middlesbrough learnt his trade as sailor on vessels in Whitby before joining the Navy and quickly rising through the ranks.
Interestingly HMS Endeavour was also built in the Whitby shipyards and now a 40% scale replica cruises the waterways allowing you take a step back in time.
If that doesn’t take your fancy you can always step aboard the old whitby lifeboat. Commissioned into service in April 1938 the boat became on of the longest serving lifeboats in the RNLI fleet saving over 200 people.
It is now available for pleasure cruises.
4. Take a Stroll Along the Pier
Boating not your thing?
That’s fine take a stroll along the promenade and onto the pier.
Keep going right to the end if you can brave the large gaps in the timbers and you will be rewarded with a feeling of being out in the ocean without having ever stepped on a boat!
Both the piers have been around since before 1500 but by 1540 they had been partially replaced with stonework before being rebuilt in 1735 both measuring 183m.
The west pier was further extended in 1814 to reach a length of 309m.
Both piers are home to 2 lighthouses each although only 1 on each pier is still used. For a small fee you can venture up one of the lighthouses on the west pier for a spectacular view of the town from ‘out at sea’.
Be warned though, the pier can often be very windy and although very accessible to those with disabilities and with lots of places to stop for a rest it may not be the best to place to explore in bad weather.
5. Chippy Tea?
It wouldn’t be a proper British seaside holiday without eating some chips (with or without fish) by the sea. As I mentioned in my last post, my favourite place for some takeaway chips is the quayside. However, Whitby just doesn’t seem to be able to produce a bad chippy tea.
Some (myself included) even claim that it is home to the best fish and chips in the UK. To be fair its many eateries have won various awards over the years making it worthy of this claim.
For those of you too cool to slum it and eat your tea out of a cone or box (gone are the days of newspaper) on the pier or by the harbour there are plenty of sit-down restaurants to cater for you as well.
So there really is no excuse for sampling Whitby’s cuisine.
6. Get yourself some Whitby Jet
Whitby’s very own gemstone, Jet, is the fossilised remains of wood from trees similar to that of the Monkey Puzzle or Araucaria Tree.
It is so dark and intense in colour it coined the phrase black as jet – or jet black.
There are several specialist jet jewelry shops in the town catering for all budgets with some even allowing you to see their workshops.
Following the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria took to wearing Whitby jet jewelry and soon the black gemstone became synonymous with mourning jewelry. However today you can get all kinds of pieces for any occasion.
7. Jump on a Steam Train
To go with this historic, picturesque, seaside town is its very own working steam train. Take yourself back in time and catch a ride on one of the North York Moors Railway’s locomotives from Whitby to Pickering (and back).
Or perhaps you will just go part way and explore one of its stops along the way?
Perhaps Goathland station will catch your eye?
A.K.A Hogsmeade station.
Yes, you read that right.
You can visit the actual filming location for Hogsmeade station -and all for the cost of a train ticket!
Just be forewarned that you may not bump into Hagrid here or even stumble upon Hogsmeade itself but there are some beautiful walks here. Including the rail road walk, Wade’s Causeway (or Roman road) and you can even venture up to Mallyan Spout waterfall – a 70 foot high waterfall (you can find more information about these walks here).
These are just some of things and places to explore in Whitby but there are many more for you to discover. I mean I haven’t even mentioned going for Donkey rides, the folk festival or the regatta.
Whitby holds a special place in my heart and I hope by giving you just a glimpse into this unique place that it will inspire you to come and discover this place for yourself.
Until next time