Tag Archives: Whitby

Staycation 2020 – North Yorkshire

As for everyone else, the Covid pandemic made rather a mess of travel plans for this year.

We made it to Cyprus in March just ahead of the crisis but then had flights cancelled to Spain in April and to Lisbon in June. Only recently Easyjet cancelled our September flights to Sicily but I have to say that I was not desperately disappointed by that.

Once a year I like to go away with my grandchildren and we have got into the habit of finding somewhere in England. Encouraged by our previous good fortune with the weather in Suffolk in 2018, Cornwall and Yorkshire in 2019 and with some easing of the lockdown restrictions, I found a cottage in North Yorkshire in the coastal village of Staithes, a place that I have wanted to visit for some time.

So, in the last week of August we crossed the Humber Bridge and made our way north and whether they wanted one or not a planned an itinerary that included some history lessons.

Half way through the journey we stopped at the village of Stamford Bridge close to the city of York where there was an important battle in September 1066.

The death of King Edward the Confessor of England in January 1066 had triggered a succession struggle in which a variety of contenders from across north-western Europe fought for the English throne. These claimants included the King of Norway, Harald Hardrada who launched an invasion fleet of three hundred ships and an estimated nine thousand soldiers.

The invaders sailed up the Ouse before advancing on York and things went well at first and they defeated a northern English army at the Battle of Fulford close to York.

At this time the English King Harold was in Southern England, anticipating an invasion from France by William, Duke of Normandy. Learning of the Norwegian invasion he headed north at great speed and completed the journey from London to Yorkshire, a distance of nearly two hundred miles in only four days, enabling him to take the Norwegians completely by surprise who until the English army came into view the invaders remained unaware of the presence of a hostile army anywhere in the vicinity.

Harold’s victory was emphatic and as terms of the surrender the Vikings promised never to bother England again so the Kingdom seemed safe. A fortnight later Harold was dead at the Battle of Hastings and William was pronounced King. Harold’s victory at Stamford Bridge was important to William as it meant the north was secured and William could get on with organising the Norman Conquest.

There is another famous Stamford Bridge in England, in London, the home of Chelsea Football club. It is close to a river, a tributary of the Thames and the name means “the bridge at the sandy ford” and has nothing to do with the village in Yorkshire.

The first history lesson over we continued our journey north-east towards our destination.

The drive across the North Yorkshire Moors is rather tedious it has to be said and patience was running out in the back seat of the car and there was a chorus of complaints “How many more miles?” “When will we get there?” “How many more minutes?” but there was little point rushing, it was a nice day and we couldn’t get into the cottage until four o’clock which was a couple of hours away. I tried my dad’s favourite tactic – a challenge to see the sea first but that didn’t work.

We stopped for a short while at a place called Sandsend which was so busy with staycationers and it was difficult to find a parking place. Once we had managed it we strolled for a while along the front and let the sea air and the fierce wind refresh us after three hours in the car, queued forever for an ice cream and then carried on.

The children would have liked to go onto the beach but I am a bit of a spoilsport in this regard and didn’t relish the prospect of clearing a tonne of sand out of the car which they would have been sure to deposit. In a moment of madness I promised them a visit to the beach later when we had reached our destination and settled in.

We arrived safely in Staithes and it was everything that I was expecting it to be. A charming tangle of narrow winding streets leading down to a walled harbour and pastel painted cottages in a labyrinth of narrow passages and built vertically into the sides of the cliffs. It is quite possibly one of the most photogenic seaside towns in the whole of the country. It was once one of the largest fishing ports on the North East coast and famous for herring, so much herring that special trains had to be laid on to transport it away, the cottages all belonged to the fishermen but they are mostly holiday lets now.

I was happy to sit for a while on the terrace and enjoy a beer in the sunshine and Kim a glass of wine but the children hadn’t forgotten my earlier rash bribery/promise and in the late afternoon we were at the muddy beach down by the harbour.

Yorkshire – Seaside, Countryside and a Train Journey

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We started the second day in Yorkshire by returning briefly to the town of Whitby which at mid-morning was beginning to stir briskly into English seaside action.  Day trip busses growled into the car parks, breakfast cafés were doing energetic business and noisy amusement arcades were clattering with early coin action and temporary lost fortunes.

I like Whitby, personally I think it is the best of the Yorkshire East coast seaside towns, just edging out Filey and Hornsea but better by a mile than scruffy Scarborough and the really dreadful Bridlington.

Whitby is a fishing town and the harbour was busy this morning as tired working boats came and then rested went and sorted the catch at the quayside before the men on board went about their maintenance duties under the watchful eye of the visitors who wandered without purpose along the quay as they waited for the dozen or so fish and chip shops in the town centre to open at lunchtime.

I would happily have stayed longer at Whitby but we had a very full day ahead of us so we left the town and made our way to nearby Robin Hoods Bay, a charming place which was once a busy fishing village but is now a thriving tourist magnet with narrow picturesque streets, quaint houses, seaside souvenir shops and a wide sandy beach liberally punctuated with rock pools.  The sort of place that I remember from family holidays when I was a boy and where I wished I still had myI-Spy at the Seaside’ book.

Northumberland Seaside Painting

The origin of the name is uncertain, and unless he was on holiday it is highly doubtful if the famous outlaw Robin Hood was ever in the vicinity because it would be a long walk from Sherwood Forest. An English ballad and legend tell a story of Robin taking on French pirates who came to pillage the fishermen’s boats and the northeast coast. The pirates surrendered and Robin Hood returned the plundered loot to the poor people in the village in his most famous way.

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We walked down the steep hill to the sea, stayed a while and then walked back through green fields and a herd of inquisitive cows because our plan now was to take a steam train ride on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

The train runs from Whitby to Pickering but car parking is difficult and expensive in Whitby so we started instead at the next station along the line at the village of Grosmont from a railway station that has been restored faithfully in the style of 1950s British Rail.  I am always amazed at what lengths people will go to in England to recreate the past.  We certainly love our history.

The eighteen mile North Yorkshire Moors Railway carries more people than any other heritage railway in the United Kingdom and even claims to be the busiest steam heritage line in the World, annually carrying more than three hundred and fifty thousand passengers.

We purchased our (expensive) return tickets and waited for the steam engine to tediously make its approach to the station, hissing, spitting, burning and growling like an angry beast. I like steam trains and like a lot of people lament their passing (I am of course old enough to remember steam engines running regular services) but it is easy to see why there is no place for these dirty, temperamental monsters in modern Britain.

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The train advanced ponderously and took an hour or so to cover the short fifteen mile journey so it was looking to break any speed records but it was a pleasant journey through the countryside and through a succession of attractive villages along the way before finally arriving in the market town of Pickering.

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Pickering is a gentle sort of place, I doubt that anything especially exciting ever happens there but I found it pleasant enough and we climbed the hill in the High Street, found a place for afternoon tea and a cream scone.  Having recently been to Cornwall I enquired that is a Yorkshire cream scone eaten in the Cornish (cream on last) or the Devon (cream on first) way and was emphatically told cream on last which I was also politely informed was more correctly known as the Yorkshire way.  Cornwall? Where’s Cornwall?

The train journey back to Grosmont was just as painfully slow and several of our party fell asleep but at £25 return fare I was determined to stay awake. Later we dined at the pub restaurant where we were staying, I was presented with a surprise sixty-fifth birthday cake and a celebration balloon and we all declared the few days in Yorkshire a great success.

Yorkshir Railway

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Yorkshire, England’s Finest County?

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I have been challenged several times for neglecting to visit more places in the United Kingdom and so after many years avoiding UK travel opportunities we set off for a couple of days into neighbouring Yorkshire together with my sister Lindsay and her husband Mick .

It seemed appropriate to do so because they live in Gloucestershire in the south of England and confessed to me that they have never  visited England’s largest county.  After setting off we  passed from Lincolnshire, the second largest county, into Yorkshire across the stunning Humber Bridge which spans the estuary of the same name and which separates the two English heavy-weight counties.

At almost one and a half miles long the Humber Suspension Bridge is the seventh largest of its type in the World.  This statistic used to be even more impressive because when it was first opened in 1981, and for the next sixteen years, it was the longest single-span suspension bridge in the World and the distance by road between Hull and Grimsby was reduced by nearly fifty miles as a consequence of the construction and put the ferry company immediately out of business.

We were making our first stop at the Cathedral City of York which is somewhere that I have visited several times before.  This is me in 1980, I used to really like that jacket, it was reversible, burgundy and grey and I think the sleeves zipped out but I always preferred the burgundy!

York 1980

I don’t know why I keep going back to York because I would never include it in a top ten of favourite places in England.  It is touristy and busy and getting in and out in a car is really, really difficult because the old medieval road layout is completely unsuitable to cope with the volume of modern day traffic and there is almost always severe congestion.

And parking is at a premium and expensive.  Yes, there is Park and Ride but who wants to leave their car five miles out in a field and then crawl into the city on an overcrowded bus?  We found a car park near the centre and eventually paid a whopping £11 for two and a half hours parking.  If I was staying any longer I would have needed to arrange for a bank loan.  I couldn’t help but notice that there was defribillator placed conveniently next to the pay station.

Kim tells me that I am getting old and grumpy and that my expectation of fees and charges has been firmly left behind in about the year 2000, maybe even 1990,  but the plain fact is that I just find York expensive.  The Castle Museum costs £12, the Jorvik Centre £20 and York Minster (second largest Gothic Cathedral in Northern Europe after Cologne in Germany) is £11.50.  I really resent paying to visit a Cathedral, last week I went to Madrid and it was free.  Lots of Cathedrals charge these days, Westminster Abbey is a massive £22 which makes Lincoln look a bargain at only £8.  The most visited Cathedral in England is in Durham and that is free!

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To be fair, I have to say that my favourite museum in York is the National Railway Museum which doesn’t charge an entry fee but spoils that with extortionate car parking charges.  I’ll tell you about the National Railway Museum in another post.

Another thing that I don’t like about York is, and this has to be said, it isn’t especially attractive.  Yes in the centre there are one or two well preserved medieval streets around The Shambles area but there is also an awful lot of ill conceived and inappropriate 1960s redevelopment from a time when town planners and architects were tearing down historic buildings and replacing them with concrete and steel.  These people who were responsible should be retrospectively tracked down and sent to prison.

York is a city for tourists…

York Souvenir Shop

In consideration of all of this negativity you won’t be surprised that I wasn’t too disappointed to drive out of York and make our way in a North-Easterly direction towards the North Yorkshire coast at Whitby.  I expect I will go back again, I always do.

North Yorkshire is a truly magnificent county and not far out of the city we were motoring through wonderful countryside, rolling hills and green fields, wild flowers and hedgerows and punctuated every so often with picturesque and delightful towns and villages.

I could stir up a hornet’s nest of debate here but I ask the question, is North Yorkshire England’s finest county in respect of scenery and countryside?

Blogging pals may disagree and offer their own nominations, Sue from Nan’s Farm would probably agree with me but Derrick would surely argue for Hampshire and the New Forest, Brian for Gloucestershire and the Cotswolds, Lois for Somerset and the West Country, Simon may make a strong case for Nottinghamshire and Sherwood Forest, my friend Richard would say Rutland and its reservoir, but no, for me, there is something wild, ragged and romantic about the North and I include here of course Northumberland and Cumbria, and it is my favourite.

My pal Dai Woosnam would have none of it and say Wales is the best (and he has a point) and Anabel would surely make a case for Scotland but I am talking here about only England.

After the Dales we crossed into the Moors, a wild and striking Emily Brontë and Kate Bush landscape of boulders, heather, peat and gorse, both remote and enchanting in equal measure.  I liked it.

Eventually the North Sea came into view, surprisingly blue and sparkling brightly in the afternoon sunshine and we made our way towards the busy town of Whitby.  First to the Abbey where English Heritage charge £9 to visit what can only be described as a ruin and is an admission charge which makes York Minster look reasonable.  So we skipped it and enjoyed an hour or so in the traditional seaside resort port which I swear has more fish and chip shops in one place than I have ever seen before and afterwards heading out and towards our overnight accommodation just a mile or so out of the town.

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