A look ahead to spring and summer in Whitby
PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 March 2019
© Tony Bartholomew , © Tony Bartholomew
As Whitby wakes from its winter slumber, we look at what the new season holds
As the town that inspired the most famous undead chap in the world, Whitby is strangely suited to the harsh skies and sharp frosts of winter. It still manages to beguile visitors even on the coldest of days as the waves crash against the twin piers and the wind whips around the abbey, silhouetted 199 steps above the town, sending out a siren call to those in search of fish and chips, a tussle with a seagull and a few rounds of indoor crazy golf at Pleasure Island.
It is, genuinely, a resort for all seasons. But still, there is something rather special about the start of spring in Whitby as it begins to shrug off its dark winter cloak and embrace the longer days and lighter nights.
Things start to hot up at Whitby Surf School or, at the very least, are marginally less perishing. You can actually learn to surf and paddleboard off West Cliff beach all year round, but why the heck would you put yourself through that in winter if you didn’t have to? Do check the latest surf reports before venturing out even in spring though – it can still be a bit choppy (not to mention nippy).
If crazy golf is crazy enough for you, the Arnold Palmer Putting Course on West Cliff gets into full swing again in spring. The man himself might have won 62 PGA Tour titles, but could he have got a hole-in-one by putting through a windmill? We think not.
Whitby Museum & Art Gallery is open all year round, offering an array of treasures from local, natural and social history, but as spring dawns its nice to add a stroll round surrounding Pannett Park, where you can enjoy the beautifully-maintained gardens, lily pond and, if you’re feeling that way inclined, the swings.
The Captain Cook Memorial Museum, housed in young James Cook’s 17th century house in Grape Lane, sets sail on another season, returning to its full spring-summer opening hours on March 29th to give visitors a fascinating insight into the life and times of Yorkshire most famous seafarer.
And if you’d like to step briefly into his deck shoes, you can also take a trip back in time (or, at least, to neighbouring Sandsend) on the HMS Bark Endeavour, an authentic replica of Cook’s ship, complete with the capstan and ship’s wheel, the captain’s cabin and more nautical knots than are strictly necessary. In a break with tradition, there’s also a deck café and sea shanty karaoke.
Of course, no trip to Whitby is complete without an argument about which is the best fish and chip shop and a visit to the awesome clifftop abbey, which reopens this month after a £1.6 million improvement project.
Both the entrances, the courtyard and visitor centre have all been redeveloped, and a small coffee shop has been added (because there’s no way we’re tackling 199 steps without caffeine and cake at the end of it).
Among the innovative additions are contemporary seating areas surrounded by medieval herbs – sage, dill and lavender – to evoke monastic gardens, and a new museum space to house a playful exhibition taking visitors from the early Bronze Age through to the arrival of the Cholmley family in the 17th century.
The refurbishment has been designed by Mawson Kerr, a practice whose work was recently shortlisted in Channel 4’s Grand Designs House of the Year and who created the tea rooms at both Mount Grace Priory and Birdoswald Roman Fort.
‘These are exciting times for Whitby Abbey,’ said Andrea Selley, historic properties director for the north at English Heritage. ‘The new museum space and better interpretation on site allow us to tell the story of one of Yorkshire’s most iconic abbeys – an abbey steeped in rich history and which provided inspiration for many notable visual and literary figures like Tolkien, JMW Turner and Sir Walter Scott.’
And, of course, Bram Stoker, whose wanderings around Whitby, its abbey and its near neighbour St Mary’s bat-haven of a graveyard inspired him to write Dracula.
You might assume he came to town on a dark, wintry night, the wind rattling his teeth as he clambered from his carriage into the bitter chill sweeping across the icy gloom of Whitby harbour. But he didn’t. He actually came for a week in July. Sensible chap.