Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Whitby and Saltwick Bay

Abbey From Town
Our Whitsun holiday this year was to a part of the country I have scarcely been since I was a boy and I thought it high time I went back for another look with my girls.  Unusually we stayed right in the heart of town and that meant that we could start this walk from the front door of our holiday cottage :)

Seafarers Mission
We wandered down to the old swing bridge across the River Esk.  This eye-catching crossing was once the only way for road traffic to cross the river and must have resulted in some fiendish traffic jams back in the day.  For now though the bridge is mostly thronged with pedestrians and it is only the most determined motorist that comes this way.  We crossed over and took a right away from the main street though a narrow pedestrianised side street with some delightful shops and bunting all laid on.  It looked very summery and cheerful and was the perfect sight for our first day of holiday.  At the end we crossed the road and turned right again heading alongside the Esk for a while before coming to the old Seafarers Mission.  I don't think this building serves its original purpose at all now but hats off to those that founded it.  A building of this nature must have been vital considering how much Whitby has always looked out to sea for its living.

Just past the Mission we climbed up and out of the valley.  After an initial steep climb up steps we soon headed through a housing estate and along more gentle slopes as we left Whitby.  We passed by the old hospital - a rather handsome looking building that is now converted to flats - and then we were out in the fields.  Our onward path skirted a few fields and through a farm before reaching a main road.  We turned right again and were thankful that for at least the first couple of hundred metres our route had a path alongside the road.  I am not too keen on walking along roads, especially with my daughters and this one seemed a bit of a race track.

The next turning was left along a track away from the road.  It wasn't too easy to see the names of the houses we were aiming for but Hornblower was a memorable one.  I wondered if it had anything to do with the novels of the same name.  We passed through another farm and kept going uphill, albeit quite slowly.  I started to wonder whether we would ever get to the top!  Halfway up the hill we opened a gate for a farmer heading in our direction.  He looked most appreciative, probably he has to do that job many times each day and hopes that he comes across a hiker each time he approaches one.

The first half of the walk is in truth rather unremarkable.  It was only when we got to the farthest point from Whitby that the true magic of this walk was revealed.  The first hint was reaching the house called Hornblower.  This was a sounding station - the enormous horns on the top of the building rather gave the game away!  Not sure why this was provided separately from the lighthouse about half a mile away but there you are.  Both buildings were rather special - I cannot imagine anything like it would be built nowadays.  Hopefully the horns aren't used anymore as the building is now used as holiday accommodation.  I wouldn't want to be kept awake by a foghorn if I stayed here!

The need for both of these installations was fairly apparent shortly afterwards as we saw the first shipwreck.  This is the Admiral Van Tromp, a trawler that ran aground in mysterious circumstances in 1976.  Further on we also saw the remains of the MV Creteblock, an unusual ship that was built at the end of World War I from reinforced concrete rather than steel due to the shortage of the latter.  Out in the bay is also the remains of the SS Rohilla, a hospital ship lost in World War I with the loss of nearly 80 lives.  Today the shipping we saw was safely out to sea - this coast is clearly treacherous.

Admiral Van Tromp
Our path headed back towards Whitby along the clifftops from the lighthouse.  It was a delightful route full of interest with rock formations, the tantalising view of the Abbey approaching, kittiwakes wheeling around above our heads and screeching at each other on the cliffs and profusions of wildflowers growing along the side of the path to tease our senses.  Add to this the salty air wafting over us and we had the recipe for the perfect walk in my eyes :)

Whitby Abbey
Soon we came upon a large caravan park.  Seemed like a lovely spot on this day but I'll bet it can get a bit wild up here on the clifftop.  The reason for it being here was plain to see - the sweep of Saltwick Bay below us must keep the residents amused for hours!  On another day perhaps we would have gone down to check it out but we had a date at the Abbey that we meant to keep.  It meant hurrying along the next stretch of clifftop and past all the hoards of people.  Caravan Parks do seem to generate a lot of casual walkers - I've noticed this before in the south-west.

We managed to get to the Abbey in good time.  We were here for a performance of Dracula - the Abbey of course is featured heavily in the Bram Stoker novel.  We had also been listening to it in the car - seemed only natural while driving around these parts!  It was a bit of a romp through the story.  Only three actors played the various characters and this led to some amusement as they constantly changed costumes to act the various parts.  We moved around the Abbey to watch the performance too just to add a bit of extra context to it.  While not covering the whole of the story the hour and a half or so covered a good chunk of it and was thoroughly entertaining.  It was a good way to end the walk.

Saltwick Bay
We wandered around the rest of the ruins after the show and then down the famous 199 steps back into the town.  In spite of the crowds and kitsch on sale in some of the shops there is no doubt that Whitby is a charming place and it was a real pleasure to visit.  This walk was a great introduction to the coast, town and the main attraction of Whitby. I can thoroughly recommend it as a good starting point to any stay here.  At 4 and a half miles in length it is modest but packs a lot in.

Whitby From Top of 199 Steps

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