Whitby is a lovely fishing port on the River Esk, 11 miles South of Staithes. It still has a busy fishing fleet and fish market but it has also developed a thriving tourist trade. The houses in the centre, especially off Church Street, are quaint old stone built houses which form a warren of tiny streets and yards for visitors to explore.
The abbey at the top of the infamous 199 steps from Church Street was built in the 7th century, it was founded by St Hilda. In 2002 an award winning new visitors’ centre was opened at this English Heritage site. The literary association with Dracula lends a Gothic air to the area around the Abbey which is heightened during the two popular Gothic weekends which take place every year. Whitby has a number of other popular annual events including the famous Folk Week in August when musicians from all around the country arrive to play together.
Captain James Cook served his apprenticeship in Whitby (after his spell working in Staithes) and the town is very proud of its associations with this famous mariner. A full-sized replica of HMS Bark Endeavour visited Whitby in 2002 drawing huge crowds. It has since returned to Australia but another great tall ship, the Grand Turk, is currently moored in the harbour.
The shops of Whitby are fascinating and include many specialist vendors. Jet was a very fashionable stone for Victorian jewelry and was mined from the cliffs near Whitby. Church Street still contains many shops which make and sell traditional and contemporary jet jewelry. The most famous is the W Hammond Jet Shop which was established in 1860, it is still a family business and was recently used to film scenes for the cinema version of AS Byatt’s ‘Possession’. There are also shops selling fossils, secondhand books, a good musical instrument shop (rare banjos and ukeleles) and an excellent bookshop.
Not surprisingly Whitby is a great place to buy and eat seafood. There are at least three fishmongers who have a wide selection of fish fresh from the boats. Whitby crabs are justly famous and seem to be bigger and with more meat than crabs seen for sale away from the coast. Fortune’s fish smokery on Church Street is a splendid institution producing kippers and other smoked fish which come highly recommended by Rick Stein in his books. He also recommends the Magpie Cafe as the purveyors of the best fish and chips in the UK, the long queue outside endorses this.