Sunday, February 12, 2017

Rees family trip to Europe - part 5: Whitby

The plan for our first day in York was to actually spend all day somewhere else. We had breakfast at Monkgate then got into the rented Opel Insignia and drove 40 minutes north to Pickering. We were here to catch a steam train to Whitby for the day. It happened to be that this long weekend there was a World War 2 re-enactment happening. No actual battles but everyone dressing up, eating rationed foods, dancing and listening to music of the era, and so on.

We had to park a fair way from the station, which was buzzing. Parking was supposed to cost £5 but the machine was broken, and we were let in for free. Then we had to hustle to get onto our train. Most of the people around us were in 1940s dress, and they had all gone to a lot of trouble. This wasn't just throw on an old coat and hat and grow a quick mo, this was serious uniforms and puttees and wire-rimmed specs and stockings and cigarette holders and appropriate luggage. In amongst them were people like us in bright polar fleece and raincoats, and regular UK tourists, many with dogs. Taking your dog to the seaside by steam train is just one of those British things, it seems. We were randomly given a first class compartment.

The landscape was mostly forest, with some meadows and occasional houses. We saw a fox and many pheasants, who waddled about in fields. The line runs through the North York Moors National Park.

We stopped on the way at a little town called Grosmont. By some quirk of the schedule we had to get off here and wait for 90 minutes, so we had lunch and explored around. There were a couple of cafés and a gallery where we bought some beautiful landscape prints, mostly of places In Yorkshire we wouldn't be going. We went for a walk up the hill to where we could look over the town, then came back down again just in time to get on the next train. From Grosmont the line follows the Esk River valley down to the lovely port town of Whitby.

Grosmont Station done up for the WW2 re-enactment

Our train heads back to Pickering ...

... and now its back to take us to Whitby.
Whitby is famous for its fish and chips, its Abbey and for being the home of Captain James Cook. We headed straight for the Abbey, on the other side of the harbour from the station. We walked over the swing bridge, through some very narrow cobbled streets and then up 199 steps, to the church of St Mary. From here you can look up the coast, where a series of headlands march north and west to Scotland. The old tombstones in the churchyard are very weathered and stand at every angle imaginable, running right out to the cliff edge.

The water is close by wherever you go in Whitby
Walking to the abbey

Elf and the boys join the crowd of people and dogs going up the 199 steps

Beside the steps is this death defying road (and some random Brits).
St Marys graveyard and the North Sea
Just beyond are the ruins of Whitby Abbey. The first monastery here was built in 657AD, but was destroyed by Danish raiders 200 years later. These ruins sat around for another 200 years until Reinfrid, one of William the Conqueror's men, founded a new Benedictine monastery which is what we see today. It was ruined by Henry VIII during his dissolution of the monasteries. It was also shelled by the German navy in 1914. In between the Cholmley family moved in and kind-of looked after the site but kind-of plundered it for building stone as well.

It's a spectacular site, and you can imagine how it was once seen as a tactical asset or threat, depending on who had possession of it. It overlooks the important harbour as well as providing a lookout up and down the North Sea coast.

Apart from the main ruins there were massive columns on massive bases standing in the grass. I found it hard to conjure the previous life of the place with my imagination, as I had at Chesters Roman Fort. But I thought it was a wonderful place to be. We had a little look through the museum which occupied the Cholmley's former house.

Then we came back down and had lunch in a fish and chip shop, served by a spray-tanned lass with a look and accent like Lindsay in Scrappers except that's Bolton so Lancashire accent not Yorks. We had not a lot of time so we skipped the James Cook Museum and just spent our time roaming around the narrow streets and enjoying the views.

Looking across the harbour on our way back down
In local dialect these narrow streets are called ghauts

Statue of James Cook and an ice cream van behind him.

Looking back towards the Abbey from the Cook monument

Our train awaits to take us back to Pickering 
We got back to the station well before the train was to leave. The consequences of missing it didn't bear thinking about, but I do wish we had spent a bit more time exploring. It was getting on for evening when we got away. On our way out of town I had the chance to have a really good look at the lovely brick Larpool Viaduct that used to carry another train line.

This time we had a regular carriage. No comfy armchairs and no vase of flowers. We didn't see much scenery as it rapidly got dark, and the older travellers in the next carriage were drunk and carrying on. More squealing than was necessary. So the trip back to Pickering was a bit of a trial. 

When we got there it was raining, and pitch dark once we left the station. We walked about 200 metres by the light of our phones back to the car. The GPS was working again so we managed the trip back to York with no problems. This time we dined at a hotel restaurant (we didn't realise it until we asked for a table and they asked if we were guests). Decent but not memorable food then back to the B&B. Tomorrow, York Minster.

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