Standing atop the eastern headland there are the evocative ruins of Whitby Abbey. It was founded in the year 657 and became the most significant monastic centre in northern England. It accommodated both monks and nuns and the first abbess was St Hilda. She is associated with Caedmon - an illiterate cowherd - who miraculously received the gift of language and became a renowned Anglo Saxon poet. Along with Viking raids, the Synod of Whitby, Norman influence and Henry VIII's dissolution there is very much more that might be said about Whitby Abbey.
The section of coast upon which Whitby stands is sometimes known as Yorkshire's Jurassic coast. Many large fossils of prehistoric sea creatures have been found in the cliffs along with many thousands of ammonites. In addition, it is one of the best places in the world for finding the semi-precious black gemstone known as jet. In the town there are several jet workshops and jewellers. Jet is essentially the compressed and fossilised remnant of monkey puzzle forests that thrived almost 200 million years ago. In her mourning for Prince Albert, Queen Victoria wore many items of Whitby jet jewellery.
|Statue of Captain Cook in Whitby|
Though Captain James Cook was not a native of Whitby, he came to the town as a boy and learnt to be a mariner - sailing on merchant ships around the British coast and across the North Sea to Germany and the Baltic. When he finally joined the Royal Navy, his career rose meteorically and he led famous eighteenth century voyages of exploration to Canada, Tierra del Fuego, New Zealand and Australia before meeting his unhappy end in The Hawaiian Islands in 1779. Interestingly, his most famous ships - including The Endeavour were all built in Whitby..
Whitby is also associated with the Irish writer Bram Stoker who stayed in the town in 1890. Its legends and its townscape are said to have inspired the writing of his famous novel "Dracula" which in turn spawned a whole horror industry. Linked to this, Whitby now has annual "Goth" festivals when black-clad weirdos arrive from all over the country and beyond to dabble in their black arts and eat chips on the harbourside.
Each summer Whitby hosts one of England's foremost festivals of folk music. Every available room is booked, campsites are filled and the town's many pubs throb to the sounds of sea shanties, laments, songs by Bob Dylan and self-penned ditties about love and loss as guitars are strummed and Northumberland pipes are squeezed.
Arguably, the very best fish and chips in the land are served in Whitby. Down at the harbourside there's the famous Magpie Cafe where Shirley and I had dinner on Thursday evening. On previous visits I have never made it into The Magpie because of long queues but there are several other great fish and chip eateries in the town.
There's so much more to be said about Whitby - from its whaling history to its artists, its seabirds and its salmon, from Charles Dickens to Theresa Tomlinson, from its storms bursting upon the harbour entrance to its legendary 199 steps... but I must not go on and on.
On Thursday night we fell into conversation with a smoker outside "The Duke of York" pub. He said, "It's not a place for religious folk you know. Whitby ends with -by. That means it's Viking not Christian." On the headland just above us the ancient abbey ruins prepared to endure another winter, another millennium. I don't believe that St Hilda or Caedmon would have agreed with him but then again my surname ends with -by so I am naturally drawn to that Viking theory.
So interesting that jet comes from the fossilised wood of the monkey puzzle tree, I had always thought of this tree as being exotic.ReplyDelete
Youre lucky to live where you do having all sides of the compass to explore, We've done East and West from here but not a lot of North above London, bit long in the tooth now for travelling but you can take me to places instead. thankyou.
I think you would love nosing about the jet shops of Whitby and maybe Tom would buy you a dangly pair of jet earrings to say thank you for being a wonderful wife and companion.Delete
A wonderful post today, Neil, and as usual I learned so much from it. Whitby sounds fantastic...from the abbey ruins to the fossils to the literary connections...a very satisfying morning read as I sip coffee and prepare for another day of hard labor! :) Thank you!ReplyDelete
Thank you Jennifer. Hard labour indeed but for a great purpose.Delete
Not forgetting the photographer Frank Sutcliffe who took some wonderful photos of 19th century Whitby.ReplyDelete
You are right. I should have mentioned him too. His pictures are so evocative of times past.Delete
That first photo is stunning, Mr. P!ReplyDelete
Wonderful post. Thank you for taking us along, for sharing your knowledge of a place I've never truly thought about in my life but which obviously is ancient and fascinating and beautiful, too.
I briefly thought about you as I walked by "The Moon and Sixpence" in Whitby.Delete
I've never been to Whitby but I would love to, now I've seen your photos. Great post. Thank you.ReplyDelete
I hope you do go Christina but please stay overnight. It is, as I say, a very special place - at least it is to me.Delete
I've never heard that about the -by ending. So the same is true of Grimsby, I guess? Interesting, if rooted in fact and not just some old smoker's whimsy! Whitby sounds like a great place to visit. I'll definitely have to add it to my list. I've long wanted to visit the ruined abbey at Tintern but I think Whitby would be much easier to get to.ReplyDelete
Yes. It is true about the -by ending. There are many other Viking names in Yorkshire. I think the best ruined abbey to visit is Fountains Abbey near Ripon in Yorkshire.Delete
It is also a very special place to me, as you know from one of my previous comments. Do you know "Behind the Scenes at the Museum" by Kate Atkinson? It features Whitby, and the "Argument Yard". In my former life, I took a picture of Steve standing in front of the sign to Argument Yard, having a (stages) argument with his portable radio.ReplyDelete
There is also a great pub in Whitby, I believe it is called The White Horse, with flagstone floor and a fireplace so big you could roast an ox in it (and probably that is exactly what they did way back when). We had excellent nosh in there.
Ah, now I am all nostalgic for Whitby!
Make that staged argument, not stages.Delete
Co-incidentally, I pointed out the sign for "Argument Yard" to Shirley. There was little headroom to get through. I am pleased that Whitby also holds a special place in your heart.Delete
Of all this history one bit sticks out for me. My first home village was Esk! Esk is now a ghost town.ReplyDelete
It is very sad when a town dies.Delete
This is a delightfully interesting and informative post. I never knew about jet stones or the significance of the -by ending to town names. You should write travel journals as you have such a talent for it. Most of all though, I love that first picture of the abbey in the fog. Would you mind if I used it for a background on my computer? (personal use only of course)ReplyDelete
I would be delighted if you use that picture for your screen background. It was a grey day that's for sure but I must confess that I enhanced the picture with the "vignette" option when editing it.
I love that first picture -- beautiful with the fog all around.ReplyDelete
I enhanced that picture slightly to create that effect.Delete
An interesting post, Yorkie...of both the modern and ancient history of WhitbyReplyDelete
Of course there is a statue of Captain Cook in Queensland too. Have you seen it? I believe that it is in Cookstown.Delete
Often I've seen the statue of Captain Cook, Yorkie. I drove past it often. It is on the side of the main highway that runs through and out of Cairns to the Northern Beaches area of Cairns, and beyond. I lived at the Northern Beaches of Cairns for a couple of years.Delete
I've never been to Cooktown; I never managed to get that far north. The Daintree and Cape Tribulation are as far north as I travelled.
So I've not seen the statue at Cooktown.
I've not seen the statues of Captain Cook that are in Sydney, either (there are three, I think...three.... in Sydney)...although I've often been to Sydney.
Similar applies to the Cook statue in Melbourne.
Of course you were/are a cook yourself. Is there a Cook statue of you?Delete
I've never been to Whitby but if if we ever make it back to England, it sounds like the sort of place I'd like to see. Whoever managed to secure the business name Jet Black must be the envy of all the other Whitby jet sellers!ReplyDelete
Ha-ha! You might be right about "Jet Black" Pip!Delete
One of my facebook friends photographs the goth weekend every year so I have seen quite a few photos of the abbey but I didn't know much else about Whitby.ReplyDelete
For such a small place, I am amazed at how many times I hear about Whitby over here on the other side of the world
You know...it is just the same here in England. Whitby has a significance that is at odds with its size.Delete
Lovely long histoy of Whitby, it has such a buzz. You forgot the museum in Pannett Park by the way, a hodge podge of Whitby History and Captain Cook.ReplyDelete
Once I had a little cottage just off Flowergate down one of the alleyways, the neighbours were interesting! You can love Whitby for the crowds of people (often with dogs) that file over the bridge or for its houses built all round, so close together that they almost tumble into the sea, as the cliffs have been doing recently.
We went in the museum in Pannett Park Thelma. I was overwhelmed by all the artefacts and objects in there but I think the one I will remember most is the exquisite Victorian chessboard and pieces made from jet with ammonite slices embedded in the squares.Delete