This is a follow up travelogue for this post.
We left for our trip to North England on Tues, Dec. 2nd. The main purpose of the trip was so I could see the areas that Max grew up in and to visit his family. We first stopped in Holton-le-Clay (near Grimsby) in Yorkshire to visit Max's godmother, Sandra, and her family. Sandra was one of the few of Max's family and friends who were able to make it to our wedding in America (where she was hit on by most of my eligible bachelor friends). She is a beautiful woman with a great sense of humor. Her son, Matthew, is 19-years-old and has sent me birthday and Christmas gifts over the years, even though he had never met me. He probably doesn't want everyone to know that he's a big softie. Her husband, Tony, is a fairly quiet man with a few quirks and a good heart. The next day we walked around Cleethorpes with Sandra where she bought us some chips at a small friendly chippy. While in an antique shop Sandra noticed me admiring a beautiful black stone and silver necklace and she asked if I would like it for Christmas (I said yes, of course!) That evening she cooked us sausages and mash with homemade Yorkshire puddings and gravy. For dessert she whipped up a lemon sponge with custard. Her cooking is very English, but I mean that in the best sense of the term. Everything was delicious.
Despite the friendliness of everyone, I found the area depressing. There is a good deal of industry, dilapidated buildings, and I'm sure the dark clouds, thick fog, and rain didn't help. I didn't expect the many signs of overt racism that I saw in the Grimsby area. This depressed me more than anything else.
We didn't have the time to visit our Indian friends' (Kam and Neelam) cafe in Grimsby, which is a shame because I was looking forward to Kam's famous curry and seeing little Ben, who is perhaps the sweetest kid on earth. Last time I saw Ben was a few years ago when he was 8-years-old and he would hardly let go of my hand. He had the most beautiful big brown eyes.
We said our goodbyes to Sandra and her family and drove across the mile long Humber Bridge to the small town of Hessle (where Max spent most of his childhood) and Hull. Hull was harmless ("mostly harmless?"), but I couldn't find much to get excited about. I know it was recently listed as "The #1 Worst UK Town", but I think that label is harsh (especially as the reason given was that "it's a bit boring.") Bracknell, Grimsby, or Milton Keynes would be more deserving of that title. :)
We stopped in the town of Beverly briefly and drove through the Yorkshire downs, wolds, and heather moors where the dark fog was thick and the trees scraggly. Large swathes of the heather moors were burnt black. The peat in the moorland is 40 feet deep in places and often fires start deep underground and smolder for days, sometimes weeks (perhaps it's Trogdor's doing).
We drove through Scarborough and arrived at Whitby near dusk. We drove up and down the roads lined with guesthouses until we found one that looked good and had vacancies. We chose the Magnolia bed & breakfast guesthouse which turned out to be run by a friendly gay couple.
We took a walk through Whitby, which was mostly quiet and deserted. With its rows of Victorian houses, cobblestones, and winding roads much of it seemed barely touched by time. Walking up Church Street we arrived at the base of the 199 steps to the abbey and chuch, where we admired the view over Whitby and the North Sea (looking towards Norway and Denmark) just as the last light disappeared. My spirits lifted, partly because it reminded me of home. I've always felt happiest by the sea. We climbed the winding steps to the church and graveyard, which were the same steps that Mina ran up to save Lucy in Bram Stoker's Dracula. Bram Stoker was inspired to write Dracula when he heard about a shipwreck off the coast of Whitby a few years before. The ship called "The Demetrius" was carrying hundreds of coffins, all of which washed up on shore with corpses inside (Chapter 7). I enjoy visiting historial and literary places, so for that reason I found it interesting. However, I feel a bit sorry for the Whitby locals who have to deal with goths descending on the town once a year during their Dracula pilgrimage.
"August 9.--The sequel to the strange arrival of the derelict in the storm last night is almost more startling than the thing itself. It turns out that the schooner is Russian from Varna, and is called the Demeter. She is almost entirely in ballast of silver sand, with only a small amount of cargo, a number of great wooden boxes filled with mould." - Bram Stoker
That evening we stopped for a pint in a local pub for local people, where everyone turned around and stared when we walked through the door. After a rest in our room we went out for dinner at a restaurant called Ditto. We were the only diners the entire evening, not because of the quality of the food but because of the season and the fact that the locals were saving their money for Christmas. I ordered the Venison Steak in a Red Wine & Berry Sauce and we split a bottle of the house red. The venison was cooked perfectly (very red inside).
The next morning we had incredible luck as it was a brilliantly sunny day. We went down to the guesthouse dining room for a full English breakfast and explored Whitby further, stopping in shops that Max remembered from his childhood, and checked out the jet jewelry (jet is found all along the beaches in the Whitby area). We again walked up Church Street and stopped to buy some kippers and smoked salmon in what is probably Britain's most famous kipper smokehouse. It's a small one man operation and the proprietor has turned down several offers to sell his kippers elsewhere or to expand.
Another discovery was the works of the local Victorian photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe. His main subject was Whitby and I've fallen in love with many of his photos. He was excommunicated by the Whitby clergy because of his photographs (nude children, the horror!)
We explored the abbey which was first founded in 657 AD by Saint Hilda from Northhumbria (isn't Northhumbria better sounding than The Midlands?) In 664 AD an attempt was made to reconcile Celtic and Roman customs was held here (called the Snyod of Whitby) and it was during this that the date of Easter was decided. (Max told me this, saying, "Oh yeah, and this is where Easter was decided." To which I replied a Keanu Reeves-eque "Whoa!") The original monastry was left mostly in ruins by the invasion of the Vikings and the abbey as it is today was built in the 1220s. It is like many abbeys all over England that were left in disrepair after The Dissolution of the Monastries by Henry the VIII. This abbey had the added damage of being bombed by the Germans in WWII. It was a stunning place to take photographs, I would love to do more photoshoots here someday.
"It is a most noble ruin, of immense size, and full of beautiful and romantic bits." - Bram Stoker
After the abbey we drove to Robin Hood's Bay, which is a small seaside town near Whitby. It used to be a smugglers' town. A stream runs under it through a tunnel to the sea and nearby houses have doors that open to it. Smugglers used to row up the stream at night and transport their goods straight into peoples' houses. Max spent a lot of his childhood searching for jet on the beach there, but when we arrived it was high tide with waves splashing against the giant seawall. We walked down the narrow and steep cobblestone paths to the seawall and walked along it as the setting sun warmed the cliffs. The town was quiet, only a few fishermen spooling their nets and shop keepers closing up. We explored a few of the winding walkways lined with small shops and guesthouses, but we didn't stay long as everything was closed or closing.
We took a long drive back through the dried heather moors, which were beautiful in the setting sun. We drove through a few small towns and near the Roman road, but we decided to do the walk to the Roman road another time. We approached Whitby from a different angle this time and we could see the abbey on the hill in the distance. The sea and sky behind it were the exact same hazy blue colour so we couldn't tell where one ended and the other began. It appeared the ships were floating in air.
It was bitter cold so we bundled up for our walk into Whitby that evening. The town seemed even more dead on a Friday evening than on Thursday. Max told me it is because people go home quickly to eat dinner and get ready to go out later in the night. Most restaurants were closed, but we finally found a pub and restaurant that was open. We ordered fish and chips made with fresh Whitby cod and warmed up with a few glasses of hot mulled wine. They were the best fish and chips I've eaten and just proves that if something is done well with quality fresh ingredients, it can be incredibly good. (That, I think, is the main basis of British cooking and many people seem to miss that point, propegating the stereotype that British food is bad).
fish and chips by candlelight - how romantic.
As we walked back to our room groups of girls tarted up for the evening in thigh-freezing miniskirts tottered past us to take part in whatever nightlife Whitby has to offer on a winter night.
The morning greeted us with dark clouds and high freezing winds. I was disappointed I never had the chance to take photographs of the church graveyard near the abbey, so we drove up there and braved the cold wind. Max told me that as a child he had heard rumors that pirates were buried in the graveyard, so as I took photos we searched the gravestones. Most of the stones were extremely old, some were erected in the 1600s. Most of them were made out of sandstone that has eroded over the years from the salt spray and wind which made them illegible. Many had their metal fastenings severed off from the panic to find steel during WWII. Also in the graveyard was Caedmon's Cross (Caedmon lived in the 7th century and was England's earliest known poet). I took as many photos as I could until my fingers went numb. We never found any pirate graves.
"Between it and the town there is another church, the parish one,
round which is a big graveyard, all full of tombstones." - Bram Stoker
With our bags packed we loaded the car and started our 4 hour drive to The South, through Pickering and Sheffield (I waved at Dan as we passed through, but I think he was out of town), arriving back in London late afternoon.
(For my own reference: This trip was the furthest North I've ever travelled (I'm not including my flying over Greenland), since Whitby is about the same latitude as Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada.)
whitby and robin hood's bay gallery
"its grim up North", as they say, but strangely bleak and beautiful in parts - glad you got to see the moors when they weren't all grey and miserable, *loved* the pic of the ruins against the blue sky especially, and as ever thank you for another wonderful travelogue! :)
Wow, learned a lot I never knew about Whitby here. Thanks. And I never realised it was quite that far North. Here's hoping that the Gulf Stream stays put.
I've had a bit of a day of beautiful Winter skylines myself today. And I've recently been appreciating heather lots too. Driving across the moors between Sheffield and Manchester, its amazing how many different shades of purple and maroon you can spot on the carpeted hillsides.
Yes, it's incredible to think that Scotland is on the same latitude as Southern Alaska. I'll bet most people don't realize that. I hope that Gulf Stream stays put too!
The heather is beautiful. I've always read about heather in British books and wondered about it. We don't have it in the Pacific Northwest, but it might in other areas of the US.