Why Whitby is a year-round destination for tourists
PUBLISHED: 00:00 17 January 2017 | UPDATED: 10:16 17 January 2017
© Tony Bartholomew
Raising a toast on the Yorkshire coast to a fun-packed year ahead
The last ‘behind you!’ will still be ringing out at Whitby Pavilion’s panto and the Lions, still shivering from their Boxing Day dip, will barely have had time to fish the cockles from their swimming trunks before yet another year dawns and they have to start all over again.
‘We’re very much a year-round destination now,’ said Whitby mayor Noreen Wilson. ‘When I came here in 1968, the season ran from June to September. But now there’s something going on every month of the year, and we’re all the better for it.’
Barely a weekend will go by in 2017 when there’s not a festival, celebration, parade, musical tribute or pirate party happening. Visitors of all ages, shapes, sizes and persuasions, from anglers and folk fans to steampunks and goths, will throng the tightly layered streets, bringing life and colour to the harbour and its steep-sided environs.
But why Whitby? And why now?
Noreen believes the town’s modern renaissance began in the early 1990s when the TV programme Heartbeat put it on the telly-watchers’ must-visit list. The arrival of the Bark Endeavour – an authentic replica of Captain Cook’s ship – in 1997 boosted numbers further. And then more small screen stardom followed with Whitby putting in scene-stealing turns in programmes by chef James Martin, actor Richard Wilson and, most recently, those Grand Tour grand dames, Jeremy, James and Richard, who filmed not one but two episodes of their new series in, on and around the harbour.
‘It really is a very beautiful town,’ said the mayor. ‘And very unusual too. Nowhere else looks quite like it.’
It’s also blessed with a vivid history, complete with pirates, vampires and adventurous sea captains; a rich cultural life, thanks to the likes of Pannett Art Gallery, Whitby Museum and the Captain Cook Museum; and a fine foodie offering.
‘We have so many wonderful cafes, restaurants, tea rooms and bars,’ said Noreen. ‘And we definitely have the best fish and chips in the country.’
She’ll get no argument from Graham Reed-Stephenson, who owns the Fisherman’s Wife seafood restaurant, named as one of the UK’s top five independents in the National Fish and Chip Awards, and enjoys a unique vantage point over the town from his eaterie at the top of Khyber Pass.
‘Whitby has always been, and always will be one of England’s most loved seaside towns,’ he said. ‘It has a lot to offer people when it comes to great quality seafood and all the attractions are close by, which suits all ages, whether they’re families with young children or elderly people.
‘The routes into Whitby are brilliant too. As you drive into town, taking in the spectacular views, there’s a wonderful sense of anticipation as you wait for that child-like moment of excitement when you catch your first glimpse of the sea.
‘Whitby will forever hold a place in peoples’ hearts. We have a strong sense of community and we all work together to ensure people want to come back to again and again. It’s a very special place, with a heart of gold.’
Andrew Pern, who runs the Michelin-starred Star Inn at Harome and York’s Star Inn The City, is hoping to up the ante even further when his new restaurant, The Star Inn The Harbour, opens early in the New Year.
Together with business partner Mike Green, the multi-award winning chef was selected by Scarborough Borough Council as the preferred leaseholder of the former tourist centre in Langborne Road, which boasts great views across the harbour to the looming clifftop abbey.
Andrew has long dreamed of opening a restaurant in Whitby, his home town, and plans to use his new venture to showcase the finest fresh fish and seafood the region has to offer while sharing his passion for locally-sourced produce with a new audience of food devotees.
The Star Inn The Harbour is his fourth enterprise, coming hot on the hob after the recent opening of Mr P’s Curious Tavern, a quirky small plates restaurant in Low Petergate, just a short stroll from York Minster.
Andrew is proud of all his restaurants, but there’s something about his Whitby homecoming that’s proving extra sweet: ‘Opening a place in my home town has been something I always thought would happen one day. I have consistently championed all that’s great and good about Yorkshire in my restaurants and on television, particularly when I represented the north-east in the BBC Great British Menu. The North Sea is a massive part of my kitchen larder, and the quality of our fish and shellfish is the envy of the world. In Whitby, it will literally be on my doorstep.’
Councillor Derek Bastiman, leader of Scarborough Borough Council, praised Andrew and his team for bringing new jobs and economic growth to Whitby as well as enhancing the town’s reputation for excellent cuisine.
‘The Yorkshire coast is thriving,’ he said. ‘There’s no doubt that The Star Inn The Harbour matches our ambition for further improving the area’s attractiveness and vitality. It’s a hugely exciting development and is fabulous news for Whitby. After all, there are not many chefs of Andrew’s calibre that hand-pick a coastal town to set up business in.’
It’s a decision that makes a lot of sense, however, when you factor in the current buoyancy of the Yorkshire coast and its positive future prospects.
Sir Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, believes 2017 is going to be a year of great forward momentum for the coast, with towns reaping the rewards of increased investment and growing visitor numbers.
‘Our coastal towns are seeing a real renaissance at the moment with significant investment, which will not only benefit everyone who lives there, but also the millions of visitors who come to explore our beautiful coastline,’ he said.
‘With staycations becoming increasingly popular, Whitby has huge ambition to continue to thrive as a top holiday destination.’