Dracula

Jo’s Monday walk : Whitby in Winter

In short supply, the winter sun sets over Whitby harbour

In short supply, the winter sun sets over Whitby harbour

I’ve taken you walking along the Whitby cliff tops in summer time, but winter can be a very different proposition. Yet I was amazed at how many people thronged the narrow cobbled streets, leading to Whitby Abbey, on New Year’s Eve day this year.

It was bitterly cold, but I expected the numerous steps around Whitby would soon warm me up. And on such a day, fish and chips would be almost compulsory.  Anyone fancy joining me?

James Cook has a beautiful, if chilly, view

James Cook has a beautiful, if chilly, view

The road across the York Moors had the merest dusting of snow- delicious and crisp, though I don’t know if the sheep would be impressed.  I didn’t stop to ask.  Stepping out of the car on West Cliff, the air was bitingly brisk.  The good news, though, was that parking, often scarce in this town, was free of charge until the end of March.

My destination was St. Mary’s Church, clearly visible on the cliff top across the bay.  That meant either steps down, a meandering road downward, or a combination of the two, and then steps up the other side. I paused for breath, and to admire the view, alongside the statue of James Cook, who served his apprenticeship in the town.  HMS Endeavour, commanded by Captain Cook on his voyage to Australia and New Zealand, was built in Whitby, in 1764.

I started down the steps from the Whalebone Arch, symbolic of the town’s whaling past.  A ‘halooo’ in the ‘Screaming’ tunnel, allegedly associated with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, just had to be done.  Childish, I know!  If ghost walks are your idea of fun, it’s possible to tour the town with a guide who will point out all the Dracula connections.

Through the tunnel, the steps continue on down, winding between the backs of houses until you reach the quayside. Easy going from here, as you make for the Swing Bridge.

The Swing Bridge spans the River Esk

The Swing Bridge spanning the River Esk

There are plenty of shops and cafes to distract you in the cobbled streets beyond the bridge, but inevitably you will arrive at the foot of 199 steps.  The Abbey, and St. Mary’s Church, await on the cliff top above.  Take your time.  It doesn’t matter if someone overtakes you.  There is space, and opportunity, to loiter and enjoy the view of Whitby harbour down below.  Fill your pockets with goodies from Justin’s before you start.  It might help!

Justin's can tempt at any time of year

Justin’s can tempt at any time of year

You may think I’m a sadist dragging you up here, but there is a purpose.  Originally the Church Stairs were wooden steps leading to St. Mary’s.  The church can be reached by road, by a circuitous route, but more often a coffin would be carried up the steps for burial in the churchyard.  There are resting places to make this an easier passage.

Our journey today is not so sad.  I’m climbing the steps to see the Christmas trees donated to St. Mary’s by local businesses each December.  Schools take part as well, and it is a lovely enterprise. I noticed this year a Prayer tree where you can tie on a shred of ribbon to leave your personal prayer.  My Six word Saturday featured many of the tree decorations so here I’ll concentrate more on the church.

There was a lovely atmosphere as people came and went, and the volunteers shared their knowledge of the church, some of which dates from the 12th century.  The link will give you much more information.  Meantime, I had a rendezvous with the pier in mind.  The decision whether to have your fish and chips before or after is up to you.  I should tell you that Rick Stein favours The Magpie Cafe, over on Pier Street, but I have a preference for Hadleys, which is just around the corner from here, at 11 Bridge St.

At the bottom of Church Stairs there is a right hand turn into Henrietta St., a row of fishermen’s cottages.  If you follow it past the Smoke House, where you might catch the delicious aroma of smoking fish, it will take you down steeply to one arm of the pier.  This is the point at which you will need that warm hat!

Access to the pier is a little steep

The steep descent to the pier

Beware people doing a crazy dance

Beware people doing a crazy dance (to keep warm?)

And turn your attention to the view

And turn your attention to the view

Or look out to Saltwell Nab

Or look out to Saltwell Nab

I think it must be time to go

But I think it must be time to go

Retrace your steps to the Swing Bridge and you will see a narrow street ahead of you, rising towards the West Cliff. It’s a little steep for the first few yards, but then you can distract yourself by looking in the shop windows as you follow the gentle curve back around to the car park.

NB. You can walk out along the other arm of the pier, which is less strenuous but just as chilly!

I hope you have enjoyed our outing today.  I know some of you will have seen parts of this walk before, but I thought that it was a story worth telling.  As time goes by I will probably need to revisit a few old haunts, but they look different as the seasons change.  I will try to keep them fresh for you.

walking logo

Over the festive season, people have been too busy to do much walking, but I’m happy to say that I still have some walks to share with you.  If you’d like to share a walk in the future, that would be great!  My Jo’s Monday walk page gives you the details, or you can just click on the logo.

Extra special thanks to my contributors this week.  Let me just pop that kettle on and we’ll  start.

It was so peaceful with Jude this week, I was compelled to sit a while.  Yes, even me! :

Garden Portrait : Harmony and Balance

Meanwhile, Drake has excelled himself, again!  Don’t miss his beautiful mill in Samso :

The Walking Mill

Gilly has a gentle riverside walk for us and you’ll love it!

Strolling the Byes

Anyone chased their grandbaby round a zoo lately? And in the heat of the day, too!  Thanks a lot, Rosemay  :

Zoo tales from Perth 

Hope to see you all out walking again next week.  Till then, take care!

A Special Place

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We all have places that we regard as special.  St. Mary’s Church at Whitby holds that special quality for me.  During the Summer I was there, proudly showing my Polish neice, Basia, our English Heritage.  A lovely elderly gentleman was holding court, comfortably seated, with coffee in hand.  He explained that he was waiting for his wife to finish walking the dog, a task he was no longer up to.  Whilst he did so, he was more than happy to entertain all comers, with tales of the church and it’s history.

Reluctantly, we pulled ourselves away.  My own elderly gentleman (dad) was waiting in the car, not able to walk too far himself, and we still had awe-inspiring Whitby Abbey to see.  Before we did so, we were urged to come back again in December, when the church would be alight with dozens of Christmas trees.  On Monday I returned, and this is what I found.

Trees in every style and colour

Trees in every style and colour

Each sponsored by a local business

Each sponsored by a local business

A local gallery

A local gallery

Craft shop

Craftware

Commemorative trees

Gift shops

Natural products

Natural products

Modern style

Modern style

Ornate

Ornate

Traditional

Traditional

The Captain Cook Museum

The Captain Cook Museum

Put the kettle on Ma!

Put the kettle on Ma!  Teashops galore.

And, of course, the fishmongers

And, of course, the fishmongers

Just to complete the occasion I was treated to a carol service from one of the local schools, busy rehearsing for the real thing.  They sounded wonderful.

Small voices raised to celebrate the birth of Jesus

Small voices raised to celebrate the birth of Jesus

St. Mary’s is a delightful church.  The tower and basic structure date from Norman times, around 1110.  A hodge podge of styles have been added since, but it is the box pews that draw the eye, each carpeted and upholstered with cushions.  Overhead galleries are rarely used today, but the large charcoal stove is an essential element with our coastal chill.

Whitby is probably best known for its association with Bram Stoker.  He lived there from 1890 to 1896, and set an important scene from Dracula at the church.  I imagine that the graveyard on a dark Winter’s night is a scarey place indeed, but the church interior is a joyous space.  It was described by Simon Jenkins in “England’s Thousand Best Churches” as “part folly, part museum, part large parlour”.  You should see it for yourself, and I can think of no better time than when the Christmas trees are in residence. (10.00- 15.00 daily until 3rd Jan., excepting Christmas and Boxing Day)

The graveyard and Whitby Abbey

The graveyard and Whitby Abbey

St. Mary's from the Abbey grounds

St. Mary’s from the Abbey grounds

Looking back at church and Abbey from Whitby pier

Looking back at church and Abbey from Whitby pier

It is a bit of a climb up to St. Mary’s and the Abbey, but it’s also possible to get there by road if you can’t manage the steps.

Do you have a special place to share?  Please do.