“This is a lovely place. The little River Esk runs through a deep valley which broadens out as it comes near the harbour… The houses of the old town are all red-roofed and seem piled up one after the other anyhow…Right over the town is the ruin of the Abbey, a noble ruin of immense size. Between it and the town is another church, the Parish one, round which is a big graveyard, all full of tombstones. It descends so steeply over the harbour that part of the bank has fallen away, and some of the graves have been destroyed.”
Such was Bram Stoker’s description of Whitby in his novel Dracula, published in 1897. The wonder is that the townscape has changed so little in more than a century. Whitby is an ancient port with a fascinating history, a ruined abbey and a working harbour. It also has sandy beaches, donkey rides and rock pools, not to mention some of the best fish and chips in the world.
The River Esk flows due North through the centre of the town dividing it into East and West Sides, linked by the renowned ”swing-bridge”. Whitby Abbey, St Mary’s Parish Church and the picturesque ‘old town’ lie on the East Side. The Abbey and Abbey Visitor Centre can be accessed by road, but most visitors follow the traditional route through the old town. The cobbled Church Street leads you to the foot of the famous 199 steps leading from the town to St Mary’s Church and the Abbey Headland.
The West Side of the town has some equally historic fishermens’ cottages, hidden in traditional yards behind the fish market and main shopping streets. Slightly further away from the noise and bustle of the harbour are many fine Georgian town-houses, built during Whitby’s most prosperous era in the days of sail. They cluster around the delightful Pannett Park, also home to the town Museum and Art Gallery.
The Whalebone Arch and bronze statue commemorating Whitby’s most famous explorer, Captain James Cook, stand proudly on the West Cliff, facing directly across the harbour to the Abbey. James Cook learned his seamanship as an apprentice in Whitby and all of the ships used on his three world voyages of exploration were built on the banks of the Esk below.
The many hotels and guest-houses on the West Cliff were largely built during Victorian times when Whitby became a highly fashionable spa resort, visited by artists and writers including Turner, Lewis Carroll and Charles Dickens.