Yorkshire is everything Emily Bronte promised in her most successful book, Wuthering Heights. Vast, wild and breathtakingly beautiful. I stayed recently at Gisborough in the heart of the moors and took a day out to explore the coastal town of Whitby which has literary links to another famous writer, Bram Stoker, creator of Dracula.
I took the local bus from Gisborough into Whitby which took around 40 minutes and provided the opportunity to gaze wide-eyed at the coutryside as we passed through. It was also a great opportunity to travel sustainably, having left the car back home in Hampshire.
Whitby is situated on the headland of the River Esk, on either side in fact. The old town and the new are linked by a swing bridge which closes from time to time to allow ships to pass. The ruins of Whitby Abbey lend a deliciously Gothic air, but the town is also reminiscent of Cornwall with hidden alleyways, fishing boats, lobster pots on the harbour walls and narrow hidden allwayes with steep flights of steps.
Standing sentinel over the town is the ruins of the Gothic Abbey. The once-great Benedictine monastery was founded in the 11th century. The medieval abbey stands on the site of a much earlier monastery, founded in 657 by an Anglian princess, Hild, its first abbess. It is claimed the abbey was Bram Stoker’s inspiration for his famous creation “Dracula”. The Abbey and the Church of St. Mary are reached via a dramatic 199 steps. It brought to mind Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller The 39 Steps (1935). The cultural flashes were coming thick and fast here!
The abbey is maintained by English Heritage so there is a charge to visit which includes a museum. It’s worth a leisurely visit to explore the whole site and the marvellous views.
Victorian Jet Industry
The area is also famous for a thriving jet industry which began in the early 1800s. Jet is a natural organic gemstone mined from the shale cliffs. The Museum of Whitby Jet in the old town is a good place to appreciate the imagination and skill of the jewellery makers. Jet was used to design not only jewellery, but love tokens, chess sets, letter openers and much more. Queen Victoria worn black and jet mourning jewellery throughout her widowhood which lasted a remarkable 40 years.
A thriving fishing industry
Whitby is a fishing port and fishing has been a way of life in the town for many centuries. While it’s no longer a staple way of life the tradition of fishing is still very much alive. I watched a fisherman cleaning his catch on his boat and it was good to see the traditional life still in evidence. Whitby native oysters are famed. As with French oysters, years ago they were a staple dish for the poor although now they are on the best meus worldwide. There are many restaurants to enjoy the these and the British staple of fish and chips as a treat in Whitby.
The train from Kings Cross will whisk you up to Yorkshire in no time. You can book your ticket online in advance for a good deal which was even better with a rail card. The journey allowed time to catch up on reading. Make sure you book a seat as the service is popular and gets busy. I travelled (unsponsored) on the James Herriot Grand Central train which was very clean, comfortable and bang on time. I was in Yorkshire reviewing a hotel and more on that when it’s published.