Whitby

We set off from Mobberley at 6:15 AM. The advantage of keeping American hours in England is that we arrive before everyone else. At Whitby were the first car in the pay and display carpark.

The information center wasn’t open when we arrived. We went across the street to the grocery to buy our breakfast, scones and Gold Top milk, touted as “an extra creamy Jersey and Guernsey cow milk”. Normally I drink 2% milk. This was 5%. I won’t have to go out for scones and cream now. We also bought a Yorkshire Tea Loaf to take home. I thought it called a tea loaf because you were meant to have it with tea. Actually it is a bit like a fruitcake but instead of being steeped in brandy the fruit is soaked overnight in strong infusion of Yorkshire Tea.

When we arrived in Whitby at 9:15 it was an enchanting fishing village, its tall, narrow houses clinging to the cliffsides along the River Esk, and the ruins of the abbey cathedral glowering down from the highest hill. The houses are unlike any I’ve seen in England, but then this is the first coastal village I’ve been to and the differences in architecture might stem from environment. We walked up cobbled a street lined with shops and restaurants. I thought this street pedestrianized, until I had to press myself into a shop door as cars coming each way passed in front of me.

Whitby Graveyard UK
I didn’t read Bram Stoker’s description in Dracula until I got home, but he describes Whitby and the graveyard perfectly.

“This is to my mind the nicest spot in Whitby, for it lies right over the town, and has a full view of the harbour and all up the bay to where the headland called Kettleness stretches out into sea. It descends so steeply over the harbour that part of the bank has fallen away, and some of the graves have been destroyed.”

By the time we left Whitby at 1:00 PM, masses of day-trippers had transformed it into a giant tourist trap (rather like Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco albeit more authentic) and we were very glad to be gone.

Abbey Ruins

The ruins remind me of a scene from Narnia. Two sides of the stone cathedral remain standing and the other two sides and the roof are gone. I will have to do some research when I get home to explain the architecture better, but it was what I think of as a Norman cathedral with tall vaulting arched windows and huge round columns, larger and more grand than St. Mary’s cathedral in Austin. The floor inside (if it can be said to have an inside) is the same fine-clipped, intensely green grass as outside and it was this blurring of the distinction between hallowed and unhallowed ground that gave magic to the place, that made the space feel sacred.

Abbey ruins at Whitby UK

Over 1000 years ago, these abbeys (which had monasteries for both men and women) were run by princesses turned abbesses who maintained political outposts for their father kings.

Jet Black

In the same way that Santa Fe is famous for turquoise jewelry, Whitby is famous for jet, the fossilized wood of the Monkey puzzle tree, black as coal (it is a semiprecious type of lignite), and when highly-polished a silky, glossy black–jet black. When Queen Victoria went into mourning after the death of Prince Albert, she started a fashion trend by wearing jet jewelry. I bought a small pendant as a souvenir.

3 Responses to “Whitby”

  1. Jenny Responds:

    Your photographs are so lovely. You really have an artist’s eye. Also, I really loved receiving your postcards and my birthday card in the mail. There is something so special about getting a hand-written post, rather than an e-mail or phone call. Maybe it’s the old romantic in me, but I get so excited whenever I open up the mailbox and find a card or note from someone special – instead of just dreary old bills or junk mail. Thank you for remembering me on your trip! Love you, Jen

  2. Incandragon Responds:

    A friend of mine, a goth, enjoyed Whitby very much. Apparently that’s a popular goth destination. She was startled when someone in Whitby recognized her husband from a picture taken 10 years earlier. Apparently the photo had made it out into the goth Internet. Some Brit pointed at her husband and said “Oi! It’s the bloke what was handcuffed to a banana!” Great to be famous in your own mecca.

  3. Walter Earnshaw (UK) Responds:

    Loved your article on Whitby and I learned something new–the princesses as abbesses. All I knew was that the venerable Bede was involved with Whitby Abbey and I do believe he was buried there.

    It is true that Queen Victoria was ‘into’ Jet–she wore Jet jewelry for 40 years to commemorate the death of her husband Prince Albert and she mourned him for 40 years.

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