When James Cook landed in Botany Bay in April 1770, dodging angry aborigines and lethal funnelweb spiders, he must have thought wistfully back to the picturesque town of Whitby, with its friendly natives and non-threatening wildlife. He must have ached for the romantic sight of Whitby Abbey, hovering spookily over the old harbourside, with its narrow ginnels separating sturdy old houses with their jumble of pan-tiled roofs tumbling down towards the harbourside. For it was in Whitby that the young James began his seaman’s training. The house where he lodged during his apprenticeship is now a fascinating museum.
The first time we visited Whitby we were bemused by the number of people wandering around the town in strange clothing. It was the month of April, and unbeknownst to us Whitby was hosting one of two annual Goth festivals. Thanks to its association with Dracula, whose story was set in the town, Whitby has developed into a major draw for people who style themselves as “Goths”. The bigger of the two Goth weekends takes place around the time of Halloween in October, but the event in April is also very well attended. During the weekend we were treated to some memorable sights, including a pair of dogs dressed in matching black cloaks. In spite of their often scary appearance, the Goths are actually really nice people, and our visit to Whitby on this occasion was made all the more enjoyable by this event.
Whitby is famous for the quality of its fish and chips, and the most famous fish and chip restaurant in the town is The Magpie, although it has become something of a victim of its own success, with queues often stretching out into the street. Those who don’t like having to queue, however, have plenty of other alternatives to choose from, as there are several other exceptionally good fish and chip venues in the town. Best to ask a local for advice on where to go, although you’ll probably get as many different answers as people you ask. Apart from the aforementioned Abbey and Captain Cook Memorial Museum, another activity not to be missed is to take one of boat trips which leave from the harbour, including sailings on a replica of Captain Cook’s HMS Endeavour. One of the commercial activities which used to take place out of Whitby was whaling, and there is a relic of that time in the form of the whale jaw bone arch on the West Cliff. Another product of the area is jet, a lustrous black mineral formed from the fossilized remains of trees from the Jurassic period, which can be found for sale in many of the shops mainly as jewellery.
For a list of events in Whitby, see here.
Map of the area.