Chez WW in England

Chez WW in England

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Whitby, England

29 April 2011

Our last day on our Easter camping trip would be no different than the other days – a whirlwind of sights and experiences. We left our campsite at  Brompton-on-Swale and drove through the Moors of North Yorkshire.

My very heart and soul has yearned for the Yorkshire Moors for as long as I can remember. It may have been reading The Secret Garden its descriptions of the wind whistling across the Moors. The romance of such a wild and beautiful place has stayed with me. It may also remind me of my beloved Newfoundland. I planned our route home so that we could drive through the moors.

I am discovering that when we go to explore a place for one specific thing, we discover so much more. Whitby was no exception. I knew that Bram Stoker had used Whitby in Dracula and that there was the ruin of an abbey on a hill overlooking the ocean. That was it. Well, and that we should park at the top and go down a lot of stairs to the harbour. If you remember nothing else, remember this: if you visit Whitby park at the abbey and walk down to the town. Once you see the streets, you will know why. Make sure that you have enough change for the car park.

Whitby is on two facing hill sides with the River Esk flowing between to the ocean. Our trusty sat nav lead us across a high bridge. Both sides of Whitby unfolded before us. Brick four story homes with sharp peaked roofs cling to sides of the cliffs. Boats filled the harbour.

We drove up a hill and there was the remains of Whitby Abbey. This wind swept, sea-sprayed cliff top had been home to religious houses for a thousand years. The first was an Anglican Abbey head by Abbess Hild. I loved learning about a woman who was in charge so long ago. It was a community of both nuns and monks. Hild’s Abbey was destroyed in 870 by Viking raiders.

The ruins that are seen today are from the 13th century Benedictine Monastery. Whitby Abbey held many religious relics and pilgrims travelled to see them. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, Whitby Abbey and some of its estates were purchased by the Cholmley family and the abbey was demolished.

Whitby Abbey is under the care of English Heritage. We became members and can visit all of the English Heritage sites in England for a full year. Audio-guides are available that explain the history of the abbey. This is not a dry and boring tour. It is filled with wonderful and interesting characters. There is also an option to hear further information. I highly recommend the audio-tours.

The Cholmley family turned the Abbot’s lodging into their private residence. It is now a museum and you can view it as part of the sight. Dogs are not allowed inside though so we skipped that part.

The easiest way to get from the abbey to the harbour is by going down 199 steps. It sounds worse than it is. The walk to the stairs leads you pastSt Mary’s Parish Church. The parish church was built by the abbey for the regular folk to use for their worship. The inside of the church is said to be stunning and look like a ship. We had little time on the parking meter so we had to skip the church and head straight to the harbour.

A cross stands above all of the other headstones in the graveyard. I thought that it must have been for an Abbot. I was wrong. The cross is for Caedmon, an illiterate labourer at the abbey. Caedmon was inspired to compose religious cantos after he had a vision. These same Anglo-Saxon cantos are still sung today. The cross in filled with beautiful carvings. My image of Caedmon’s Cross is atmospheric to reflect the use of the graveyard in Dracula.

Once we reached the bottom of the stairs, we discovered that there was a road that ran next to the stairs. I looked at it in awe and was so thankful that we did not drive down from the abbey.

It was with some relief that I saw this sign.

But, after I tried to walk up the road I could not help but feel sorry for those poor donkeys.

At the bottom of those 199 steps, Old Whitby lay before us. Narrow cobble stone streets and alleys surrounded by tall bright buildings. Since it was a Bank Holiday, people were everywhere. I felt like I had stepped back into time. It was easy to imagine Captain Cook walked down these same streets. Captain Cook began his apprenticeship in Whitby.

I am a gal who likes jewellery and I like to think that I know my stones. I was wrong. Everywhere I looked there were jet jewellery stores.

What was jet? Why had I never heard of this before? Fortunately for me, Whitby is home to the Whitby Jet Heritage Centre.

The Whitby Jet Heritage Centre has a local craftsman on site making traditional Victorian jet jewellery. The centre also contains the last remaining complete jet workshop. At the height of its popularity, approximately 200 workshops filled the attics of Whitby. The population of Whitby, in 1867, was just over 4000 people and 1400 men worked in jet workshops.

Victorian jet jewellery is very elaborate and intricate. Jet is the fossilized remains of the Monkey Puzzle tree. Whitby has the best jet in the world and is perfect for jewellery. Jet jewellery became all the rage once Queen Victoria started wearing the pieces after the death of her beloved Prince Albert.

It is possible to buy your own piece of history and wear Victorian Jet jewellery made famous by Queen Victoria. I like more simple pieces and bought a pair of earrings from W. Hamond. I loved the idea of a store that has been making this jewellery since 1860.

After shopping for some bling, it was time to explore Whitby. Alleys extended from the narrow streets.

This sign made me laugh. I am sure that I could not have walked down this alley with my arms extended on both sides.

The streets of Old Whitby are not for the faint of heart drivers. Remember, park your car at the Abbey and walk down all of those steps. After some fish and chips, it was time to walk back to the stairs. Another bonus of parking at the abbey and having to climb the steps: burning of any calories consumed while exploring Whitby (and climbing stairs is good for your butt). Brittany, who refuses to go down stairs…inside…went up and down all the the 199 “abbey” steps. If she can do it, anyone can. What awaits you is well worth the journey.

Whitby was mysterious, historical and truly magical.I am looking forward to returning to Whitby for a longer visit. Maybe for the Goth Festival that happens every year at Halloween.

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