Dracula, Cockles and Limpets. Oh my!
All in a day out at Whitby – darling sea harbor town on the northeastern coast of England. An easy day trip over the North York Moors National Park from anywhere in Yorkshire or northern England.
Whitby offers all the classic trappings of a perfect seaside respite.
- A long swath of sandy beach for dogs, castles, or cricket? Check.
- Tidepools to hunt crustaceans and mollusks? Check.
- Colorful beach huts that brighten the boardwalk? Check.
- Purveyors of fresh “chippy” or a cold Mr. Whippy? Check.
- Creepy old abbeys, churches, and graveyards? Check.
- Shops for the shoppers, arcades for the players, and pubs for the thirsty? Check.
Plan your day out according to the tides, when the water comes in – it moves very quickly. Check online for low tide to take advantage of the long beach. Dig in the sand. Play fetch with the dogs. Take off your shoes and go for a “paddle.” Not a swim, just a wade. Put your feet in the water. But remember, this is the North Sea. It’s cold. Damn cold. Pardon my English.
Step back and soak in the scene. Breathe deep the salt air. Be charmed by the chalets all cheery and bright. Slow down and look closer through the rock pools for creatures. We found tiny fish and wee snails amid the seaweed and lacy kelp. Be patient, stay curious. And you can find the tiny red beadlet anemones that clutch on the rocks. When out of the water affixed on a rock, their tiny closed bodies look like little blobs of strawberry jelly. If you are lucky and like looking, lift up the kelp. You may find one anemone open, tiny arms waving underneath the pool’s surface. Give it a gentle swish with your finger and watch it pull quickly back hoping you are the morning meal. Count the limpets who cling to the boulders. Like little Chinese hats on one giant sucker foot, they grow large here, nestled amidst the barnacles and rocks.
With no crabs to be found, we turn to dig in the sand. When it changes, the tide pushes in quickly. Especially to boys who weren’t taking notice, too busy and industrious and suddenly shocked to have their hole instantly filled up with water. Time to abandon beach. Bid goodbye as you won’t see it at all come high tide. Tummies are rumbling and there’s a whole harbor to explore.
Whitby’s harbor is historic and active. Notables like James Cook began his sailing career here, hailing from nearby Middlesbrough. Having been on the other side of the world to the memorial for his demise – located on the Big Island of Hawaii – it is bizarre to come full circle and see where his journey began. Step past James and through the large whale bones to look out onto the harbor. See across to the abbey on the opposite hill. Watch the fishing vessels and day boats available for cruising make their way up and down the River Esk. Make your own way down to the harbor front and wade through the crowds. Smell the fish market. When open you can buy today’s catch. Straight from the sea to the dock to you and me. Stop for a taste of the cockles or crayfish or mussels even if the fresh fish is done for the day. Hear the seagulls screech over the arcade bells and whistles.
Keep walking and turn left over the bridge cross the river. Wind through the wee cobbly streets full of sweet shops and stone sellers. We’re heading up. To the abbey and church on the hill. Walk up the 199 steps, but keep count. Lose where you are and you have to start over. At the bottom. So we’re told. (But here’s a hint in case your tour guides threaten the same: every ten steps there are little markers in Roman numerals on the step’s front to your left. You’ll be at 199 in no time. Wink. Wink.) At the top you’ll be rewarded with sea vistas down the coast and up river. Behind you sits one of the coolest and creepiest church graveyards that I’ve ever seen. Worn and wind weathered, many have no names anymore, melted off from year after year bearing salty sea air. Blackened or askew with dates now so dated, it isn’t hard to conjure the era of master mariner up here. And you can understand how Bram Stoker who penned his Count Dracula from Whitby, was inspired by this yard. By this town.
Charming and interesting and creepy and worthy. A full day out by the sea. But before you leave, you must try the cod. The locals from here and near swear by the Whitby Cod. Take a box away of fresh fish and chips from Magpie’s Cafe on the waterfront. Sit by the harborside and guard your chips closely. Eager seagulls are ever ready to steal a dropped morsel. Buy an extra, as there will surely be many fingers sneaking in to sample your yummy chippy. A perfect end to a perfect day.
Thank you to our English hosts who shared their seaside gem, little Whitby. We are in love. Cheers, Erin.