A walk along the cliffs from Robin Hood’s Bay to Whitby

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We’d been wanting to walk along the cliffs from Robin Hood’s Bay back to Whitby during our recent holiday. Unfortunately the weather hadn’t been particularly promising. But on the Friday the forecast was for sunshine until the evening, so we laced up our boots and took the bus the few miles to Robin Hood’s Bay and set out along the coastal path. It was easy walking at first but we soon had to negociate a series of “ups and downs” along the cliffs.

Looking back shortly after setting out.

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A short distance along the route we came across this “rocket post”. Devices similar to this were used by the coastguard to practice rescuing shipwrecked sailors. Rockets were used to fire ropes across to stranded ships.

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It was a beautiful day, if a little windy. There were great views of the cliffs ahead and the sea was a beautiful shade of blue.

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“Scars” could be seen under the water. It was high tide but these rocky selves that make this stretch of coastline potentially treacherous for shipping would soon be revealed as the tide receded.

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Looking out to sea.

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Moving along the coast

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This must be the shortest lighthouse I’ve seen.

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A cliff face of Kittiwakes

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A short distance after the lighthouse we passed this disused foghorn station. I wouldn’t have liked to be walking past when this was blasting out.

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Carrying on the cliffs

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Getting closer to Whitby. We passed the bay where we’d been foddiling earlier that week.

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The Abbey came into view

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Looking down to the ship wreck we’d walked past during the fossiling trip

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Whitby harbour came into view.

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Getting closer to the Abbey

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We finished the walk with tea and cake in the YHA café next to the Abbey.

An enjoyable walk of about 8 miles. 

Evening walks around Whitby Harbour

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One of the things we enjoyed during our stay in Whitby was taking an evening walk along the harbour. Two evenings were particularly pleasant for a stroll down to the pier.

On the way down to the town centre we passed the pleasure boats moored in the harbour

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Looking out from the west pier

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Looking along the west pier

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A coble crew, no doubt practicing for the Whitby Regatta

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Looking over to the East Cliff

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As the sun began to sink it lit up the east cliff which looked particualrly dramatic with the grey cloud behind.

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The lifeboat returning to port – the crew had been out on a training run

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We climbed up the west cliff. Looking down to the piers

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The whalebone arch

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The sun was starting to set and Captain Cook’s statue was silhouetted against the sky

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Looking back as we walked past the harbour returning to our holiday home

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The next evening we went out again. Starting with a stroll along the east pier

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Jurassic cliffs to the east

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Looking across to the west pier

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and the West Cliff

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The sea in the bay was a beautiful shade of milky blue

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Along the west pier

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A rain shower came in and created a rainbow over the east cliff

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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.

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!

Captain Cook Memorial Museum

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James Cook was a renowned 18th century explorer and navigator who is best known for three epic voyages of exploration and whose accomplishments included mapping the Pacific, New Zealand and east coast of Australia. We have a particular interest in him as he’s in my wife’s family tree – she’s descended from one of his siblings (as are my children, of course!). So a visit to the Cook Memorial Museum in the centre of Whitby was a must during our recent holiday there. Especially on a wet Monday afternoon.

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Cook was the son of a farm worker, born on 27 October 1728 in Marton, a small village near Middlesbrough, which was then in Yorkshire.  At the age of 17, Cook moved to Whitby to be apprenticed to Captain John Walker, a Quaker, who was a coal merchant and ship owner. During his apprenticeship he sailed on Captain Walker’s ships and when ashore lived with the other apprentice’s in the attic of the ship owner’s own house  in Grape Lane on Whitby’s harbour on the east side of the river. After learning his trade as a seaman he joined the Royal Navy in 1755, working his way through the ranks.

The museum website tells us

Built in 1688, the house is a good example of a Whitby master-mariner’s dwelling, both a comfortable home and the centre of the family shipping business. It retains much of its original internal decoration and has been carefully restored.

The atmosphere recalls that of a prosperous Quaker shipowner’s home.

Passing From here Captain Walker and his apprentices would be able to view his ships.

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Entry into the museum is via the extension on the back of the original house.

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The ground floor rooms are furnished according to an inventory made in the early 1750s. The rooms on the upper floors have exhibitions about Cook’s life and career.

This model on display inside the museum shows how the back of the house would have looked

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The original kitchen floor was discovered relatively recently

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The dining room

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A sitting room

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The view over the harbour from one of the windows on the landing

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I found the exhibition rooms on the first and second floors very interesting. There were volunteers in a couple of the rooms who were very well informed and keen to tell curious visitors about aspects of Cook’s life and times. The volunteer in the room about navigation explained how ships in Cook’s era would work out their position and speed. There was a model of the Resolution, which also showed the crew and typical supplies that the ship would carry. The following picture is from the museum’s website as it was difficult to photograph due to reflections from its glass case

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We learned that one of the officers on the expedition was a certain William Bligh – yes the same person who went on to captain the Bounty. The room volunteer pointed out the likeness of the figure in the model to Charles Lawson who played the part of Bligh in the well known film about the Mutiny on the Bounty!

The ships used on Cook’s expeditions were all adapted Whitby-built collier barks. The museum website tells us

These were sturdy and reliable, built to service the coal trade. They were capacious and an extra deck could be inserted into them in order to carry a far larger crew, together with stores for up to two years.

Another advantage was that collier barks were flat bottomed. They could therefore land on any flattish beach, rather than needing to tie up at a quay in a proper harbour. This was particularly useful when no-one knew what landing conditions would be like. Small boats were also carried for inshore work.

In Cook’s time the apprentices would have been quartered in the attic. They slept and spent their spare time here. It’s now used for the museum’s annual special exhibitions.

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Looking out of the attic window

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It was an excellent museum. I’d expected to spend about an hour there on a wet afternoon but we ended up staying much longer as there was a lot to see in a relatively small building and we learned quite a lot about Cook, life in a Whitby ship owner’s house, the architecture of houses during this period and also about aspects of seamanship.

Coming back out into the yard we spent some time reading the two information boards. One about the house

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and the other about the various types of sailing vessels built in Whitby. I found this one particularly interesting and learned that a ship was originally a specific type of three masted  vessel. You live and learn!!

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Whitby houses

Until the 19th Century, Whitby it was a small fishing port with few houses. But as shipbuilding and other industries as well as tourism took hold the town began to develop. Not surprisingly, then, many of the buildings in the older parts of town are from the Georgian period. These are a few examples of Georgian style houses we spotted around the town.

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Some of them rather grand

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including Whitehall, next door to our holiday home

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The grandest buildings, such as the Bay Royal Hotel and Royal Crescent, are up on the top of the West Cliff. It’s the only historic area we didn’t really explore during our visit so no photos!

There were some examples of earlier buildings scattered around the town

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The Tudor ‘Manor House’ of Bagdale Hall on the west side of the river is one of the oldest buildings in the town. It’s been restored and converted to a hotel and restaurant.

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We spotted this interesting house on Church Street on the East side of the river. A little piece of Amsterdam in East Yorkshire!

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We speculated as to whether the original owner was from the Netherlands or had spent some time there.

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!