Whitby, a small seaside town surrounded by the North York Moors National Park, is significant to Australia as a modern nation.
It was here that Captain James Cook trained as a seaman, who then took on a voyage to map out new worlds and claimed Australia as one of the British colonies in 1770.
We drove here from York, through the North York Moors National Park (shaped suspiciously a bit like Australia) through what we have now learned as the northern weather – four seasons in one day (more about this later).
Thankfully, when we eventually reached Whitby, the sun finally broke the miserable cold spells and sprinkled light and warmth during our entire stay.
Whitby, the beginning of Europeans in Australia?
We had come here for Captain Cook only because we studied him in history during high school (sadly in the old days when the text books will tell you Australia was ‘discovered’ not ‘colonised’ by the British).
In Whitby, he seems to be everywhere.
The place he lived while he was training to be a seaman is now a museum dedicated to his ‘work’: from his upbringing to his voyages around the world, to his relationships and to his death in Hawaii.
Then, we hiked up the hill to the mouth of the river to photograph a statue of him, which was donated “by the people of Australia” back in the 70’s.
Whitby with a Dracula connection
But having visited all these Captain Cook related attractions, I realised Whitby is a lot more than the man in the pointy hat!
In fact, Whitby is probably more happy to be associated with Dracular than the captain.
Yes, that’s right. Whitby has a dark side.
The legend has it that Bram Stoker was on holidays in Whitby when a storm hit the town with gale force.
Between a ship wreck that spilled all its cargo onto the beaches (it was carrying coffins) and a landslide at the hillside church revealing buried coffins sticking out on the cliff, he came up with the idea of writing about a blood thirsty count.
Of course, Count Dracula is still based on a historical character of Transylvania, but the idea, came from Whitby.
A pleasant and picturesque little seaside town
Whitby is otherwise, a pleasant little seaside town, divided into two parts by the River Esk, linked by the beautiful swing bridge – the Whitby Bridge – and towered over by the ruins of Whitby Abbey.
The shores of the river are littered with crayfish catchers and lined with fishing boats, showing the town’s primary source of industry before the boom in tourism.
Whitby is best explored from top to bottom, starting with Whitby Abbey, the town’s most iconic structure.
Don’t miss the iconic Whitby Abbey
There is no escaping visiting Whitby Abbey, whose imposing structure tower over the town from its cliff top location.
There is something about visiting ruins that appeals to me.
Ruins makes you wonder about the way things are built in the old days, and whether your own house would still be standing after 500 years.
It makes you wonder about the people who built these things, the power they must have and the wealth and privilege they must have enjoyed!
Fish, chips and scampi!
Back down to street level, narrow cobbled streets weave through its little town centre, overtaken by chain stores over the years but you can still find some excellent small businesses to support.
However there was no time to shop, we had to be on our way to Cumbria soon so I cast one last longing glance at the pretty little gift store before trailing my husband’s footsteps in search for ‘dinner’.
Yes, they call lunch ‘dinner’ up this way in England. It is what defines a true northerner apparently and don’t get them started on the definition of supper!
When in a seaside town, one must indulge in some local fayre and visit a ‘Chip Shop’ for some humble fish and chips.
In Whitby, it is also important to dine on some scampi. This is where the largest supplier of British scampi is from so, following the tourist convention of trying things where they are from, put that on your list!
Our visit to Whitby was short and sweet. I can see why this is my colleague’s favourite towns to visit.
The friendly locals and the charming small town atmosphere draws the sort of people like us, those who need to get away from the chaotic city life to experience Britain from a different light.