Robin Hood’s Bay

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Robin Hood’s Bay is a small picturesque fishing village just a few miles south along the coast from Whitby. In the past it would have been very isolated and was known as a haven for smugglers. Today it’s a popular spot for tourists with wide sandy beaches under the cliffs and flat rocky outcrops , known as scars, with plenty of opportunities for fossiling and exploring rock pools It’s also the end (or start!) of the popular Coast to Coast long distance walking route.

Barbara Hepworth used to holiday here with her family as a girl and there’s a watercolour of the village that she painted.

Another Yorkshire artist, Albert Wainwright (no relation to Alfred!) also painted scenes of the village. The Hepworth Gallery own some of his works and we saw an exhibition of them there a few years ago.

The old village nestles on a hill leading up from the beach with a steep, narrow, “main road” leading down to the slipway known as the Coble Landing.

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We arrived as the tide was going out.

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But it was a grey day and a bit chilly for messing about on the beach, although that wasn’t deterring plenty of families.

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After a brew and a bite to eat we decided to explore the village.

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Lots of old houses on steep, narrow streets and alley ways only accessible on foot.

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Some smart Georgian properties

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The rain came in during the afternoon, but we’d had a good look round – it didn’t take long as it’s only a small village. So we headed back to Whitby and spent the afternoon relaxing.

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Fossiling in Whitby

One of the highlights during our holidays in Lyme Regis was participating in the Fossil hunt organised by the local museum. Like Lyme, Whitby is flanked by cliffs of shale, clay and mudstones which are full of fossils from the Jurassic period. As the cliffs crumble and large sections of them fall down onto the beach as landslips, fossils of creatures that died when Britain was part of a massive land mass and located nearer to the equator many millions of years ago start to be revealed and can be picked up on the beach – providing you know where to look and what to look for. So during our recent holiday we decided to sign up for a fossil walk run by Byron Blessed, a local palaeontologist who is also the owner of the Natural Wonders fossil shop in Grape Lane.

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Although most of the participants were families with children, adults can still enjoy the trip and we were looking finding some specimens!

Byron doesn’t run his fossil hunts every day, but times them to give the maximum time on the beach between the tides. So you go out just after high tide so the water is receding, taking care to make sure the fossil hunters are safely off the beach before it comes back in. Fossil hunting can be dangerous and one of the main risks is being cut off on the beach by the tide.

We met outside Byron’s shop fairly early on Tuesday morning and set off up the 199 steps, past the Parish Church and the Abbey and along the cliffs until we reached the steps that took us down into Saltwick Bay, a small, sandy cove a mile east of Whitby.

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We stopped at the edge of the beach while Byron gave us a safety briefing and then talked to us about fossiling and what to look for, including the ubiquitous ammonites, belemnites, “devil’s toenails” (a type of mollusc), other bivalves, fossilised bone etc.

Having inspected the beach, Byron told us that he wasn’t optimistic as the sea hadn’t washed in many pebbles, where we would be likely to find what we were looking for. So he decided to take us further round the coast, passing a ship wreck on the way.

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We spent more than half an hour there, scrabbling around in the rocks and, as he promised, we started to pick up examples of ammonites and belemnites and other types of fossil. Our finds were mainly fragments, but we were surprised at how many we actually managed to pick up.

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Afterwards we walked back along the beach, and stopped in a couple of places where Byron showed us fossilised dinosaur footprints! We wouldn’t have noticed then as we passed but they were quite clear when he pointed them out, explaining how they would have been formed and what type of creatures made them.

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Unfortunately, although they were quite clear “in the flesh” they haven’t shown up on the photographs I took – there’s not enough contrast to see them on a flat image.

We carried on along the beach past another ship wreck and then stopped while Byron told us about Whitby Jet – a type f fossilised wood which is used to make jewellery and was very fashionable in Victorian times when the Queen herself favoured the jet black jewellery after the death of her husband. There are quite a few shops selling jewellery made from it today in Whitby. We spent a little time searching among the rotting sea weed but weren’t successful – although I think that other members of our party may have found something.

Then we walked along the beach back to Whitby and up the slipway by the east pier.

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And this was the result of our labours

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Not too bad a haul!

A week in Whitby

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We’ve just got back from a family holiday with our adult offspring in Whitby on the Yorkshire coast. The first time I’ve been there even though it’s not so far away and we’ve often been quite close when we’ve visited our relatives up in Sunderland.

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The weather was mixed, so unlike last year’s break in Lyme Regis we didn’t have long days of warm sunshine. But we didn’t have any days when it rained all day. Although we took it relatively easy, we kept ourselves busy with fossil hunting, visiting museums, hanging around the sea front and harbour and even managed a walk along the coastal path.

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The small port and resort is located at the mouth of the River Esk, which cuts through high Jurassic cliffs.

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The town developed following the establishment of an Anglo Saxon monastery high up on the East Cliff in 656 by Oswy, the Christian king of Northumbria. The Synod of Whitby , which established the dominance of the Roman Church over the Celtic tradition, was held there in 664. Inevitably a settlement grew up nearby on both sides of the river.

The original Anglo Saxon monastery was destroyed between 867 and 870, probably as a result of raids by Vikings from Denmark, and the site was deserted until the foundation of a Benedictine monastery some 200 years later after the Norman Conquest. (The same story as at Lindisfarne and Montrose which we visited back in April). Originally there was a Romanesque structure which was replaced by a Gothic building which was constructed over a protracted period between the 13th and 15th Centuries. It’s in ruins today, of course, and under the stewardship of English Heritage.

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Part of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was set in Whitby.

Bram Stoker …… stayed in a house on the West Cliff and was trying to decide whether it would be suitable for a family holiday. (BBC)

The Dementer, the ship carrying Dracula ran aground, its crew missing, its dead skipper lashed to the wheel was wrecked on Tate Hill Sands, below the East Cliff (his inspiration for this was the beaching of a Russian ship, the Dmitry, on the sands in 1885).  In the guise of a black hound, he ran up the 199 steps up to the top of the East Cliff and the Abbey after the shipwreck. One of the novel’s characters, and Dracula’s victim, Lucy Westenra, was attacked by the Count in St Mary’s Churchyard, the Parish Church that stands in the shadow of the Abbey.

Today, industry has declined (although some shipbuilding and repairs still take place), and it is mainly a holiday resort. But the town has been quite savvy in building on it’s association with Dracula holding Goth and Steampunk weekends and other themed events.

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Although it’s in an isolated position on the coast to the east of the North Yorkshire Moors, and would have been difficult to reach overland in the past, before the Industrial Revolution, communication was largely by sea and Whitby was in a good position on the main sea route along the east coast. It’s harbour was a safe haven for ships transporting goods, particularly coal, from the north east to London.

Until relatively recently it was very much an industrial town with alum quarries on nearby cliffs and shipbuilding was a major industry – it’s hard to believe that in the 18th century it was the third largest shipbuilding port in England. Not surprisingly it was a fishing port and in the mid 18th century it also became a centre for whaling.

Whitby developed as a spa town in Georgian times and tourism really took off in the mid 19th Century with the arrival of the railway. This led to development on top of the West Cliff.

Looking up to the Abbey ruins and the Parish Church on the East Cliff

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The Abbey ruins from the churchyard

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The Abbey shrouded in mist – better watch out for vampires!

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The 199 steps up tot he Parish Church and Abbey

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Looking down the steps into the narrow streets of the town.

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Looking over to the West cliff from the churchyard

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The whalebone arch, a monument to the town’s past as a whaling port

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The monument to James Cook, who, as an apprentice seafarer, was based in the town

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We stayed in an excellent three storey property – Little Whitehall.

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It was a new build Georgian style house built in the grounds of a large Georgian house – Whitehall – which was originally the home of one of the towns major shipbuilders. It stood on the hill immediately above the shipyard so the owner could keep an eye on what was going on! Today the shipyard is no more and blocks of apartments have been built on the site

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Another good, relaxing holiday, but, as usual, we kept ourselves busy. So plenty to write up!

Kentmere Hall

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This is Kentmere Hall. It’s a 14th century tunnel-vaulted pele tower which had an extension built on the side during the 15th or 16th century. Today it’s used as a farmhouse.

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Pele towers were defensive structure to protect the local population from marauding Scots and Border Reivers.

They were small stone buildings with walls from 3 to 10 feet thick, square or oblong in shape. Most were on the outskirts of the Lake District, but a few were within its boundaries. Designed to withstand short sieges, they usually consisted of three storeys – a tunnel-vaulted ground floor which had no windows which was used as a storage area, and which could accommodate animals. (source)

Today some, like the one at Arnside, are in ruins, others, like at Sizergh and Muncaster, were extended and incoprorated into grand houses while the one at Kentmere was extended to become part of the residence of the local big wigs, the Gilpins.

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There’s a good paper about the Hall published by the Staveley and District History Society.

Today the Hall is part of a working farm. Returning along the road back towards the church and Capplerigg, we passed a large barn full of sheep – obviously a lambing shed with the ewes brought down from the fells ready to give birth. Hearing a loud high pitched bleating we peeped inside to see a new born lamb.

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(Unfortunately not a perfect picture but I hope you like it Barbara Winking smile )

A short break in the Peak District

Our visit to Eyam was the start of a short Autumn break in the Peak District. We booked into a rather nice B and B near to Baslow – Heathy Lea.

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It’s an old farmhouse that’s been converted in a B and B and self catering accommodation right on the edge of the Chatsworth Estate which meant we could leave the car and walk over to the house and gardens.

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This was the view from our bathroom. A loo with a view!

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Our bedroom – very posh!

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Some neighbours

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The first evening we booked Rowley’s restaurant in Baslow village. Only 20 minutes walk away, although for a short stretch there wasn’t a pavement and we had to take our chance walking along a potentially busy road.

The food was extremely good. I had breast of partridge as a starter

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followed by venison

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and then a tarte Tatin

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Some extra shots of insulin needed after that!

Ardtara House

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After a long first day in Northern Ireland, we checked into Ardtara House, the first of the hotels we were to stay in during our short break. On the outskirts of Upperlands in County Derry. The village, located between the Antrim coast and Lough Neagh, used to be a mill town producing linen. Ardtara House is a Victorian house set in 8 acres of woodland that was the residence of the Clark family who owned the linen mill which was established in 1736. There’s still a working mill in the village  today.

We had a large bedroom at the front of the house on the first floor. It was furnished and decorated in a traditional style but had all the modern amenities and a view over the front lawn.

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We had a very nice meal in the restaurant the fist evening. According to the hotel website the restaurant isn’t open Monday and Tuesday but it seems that this isn’t the case during the summer. That was good news as we didn’t fancy having to drive out to find somewhere to eat after a long day.

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The hotel was very comfortable and the staff were extremely nice and helpful. The food – dinner, bar meals and breakfast – was of a very high standard. The only criticism was that service could be a little too “relaxed” at times. But overall a very enjoyable stay

Downhill Demesne

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A short drive from Hezlett House brought us to the The Bishop’s Gate, one of the entrances to the Downhill Demesne that surrounds the former home of the Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry. The word ‘demesne’ is used throughout Ireland. It indicates the part of the estate that was usually enclosed by a demesne wall and was for the use of the landowner only. Today the house, having been abandoned after the Second World War.

Donning our boots, we set off for a walk around the grounds.

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We took the path that led through the Black Glen

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A short sharp climb up some steep steps took us to the Belvedere

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We continued along the path that runs along the top of the cliffs and were treated to views of a fabulous beach and coastlineDSC09824

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A short walk brought us to Mussenden Temple, perched on the edge of the cliff

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Built in 1785 and based on the Temple of Vesta in Italy,  it once held the Earl Bishop’s library. It is dedicated to his cousin Frideswide Mussenden with whom he may, or may not, have had a relationship. At one time it was possible to drive a coach and horses around the temple, but not today. Over the years the erosion of the cliff face at Downhill has brought Mussenden Temple to the very edge of the cliff, and in 1997 The National Trust had to carry out cliff stabilisation work to prevent the loss of the building.

Three other people entered the temple at the same time as us – a young man and two young women. They then proceeded to stand motionless staring into space, moving position occasionally but otherwise standing like statues. Weird and a little creepy!

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Leaving the temple we took the path towards the remains of Downhill House.

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The house was built for Frederick Augustus Hervey, the Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry. Hervey’s brother George, who was the Earl of Bristol became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1766 and arranged for him to become Bishop of Cloyne in Ireland the following year and then Bishop of Derry (a wealthier and more prestigious See). He also became the Earl Of Bristol in 1779 on the death of his brother.

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Although the house is in ruins it is still an impressive structure. Built in three main phases, it must have been enormous in its heyday.

Perched on the high ground above the sea, it has fantastic views

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but with no shelter would also have been battered by the wind.

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Leaving the house behind us we headed back across the lawns to the Bishop’s Gate, passing the Mausoleum dedicated to George, the Earl Bishop’s brother. The very least the Earl Bishop could do to show his gratitude to the brother responsible for his fame and fortune.

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There used to be a statue of George on top of the structure, but it was blown off by the “Big Wind” of 1839