Saturday, July 11th 2009
My alarm awoke me at 5am to a day beginning in Islington that should end in Whitby. By now we have a well rehearsed routine and left home at 6:30, arriving a few minutes later at Kings Cross aboard a number 30 bus. This left enough time to buy baguettes and coffee for breakfast before boarding the 07:00 Glasgow train.
The journey to Whitby is long – about 5 hours – but also disjointed. We have to take three trains in all: Kings Cross to York; York to Middlesbrough; and Middlesbrough to Whitby. Because each train belongs to a separate train company, we have a set of tickets resembling a pack of playing cards!
Our reserved seats are not together, so while I was buying breakfast Tigger went on ahead and bagged two end seats. These are designed for disabled people and offer much more leg room – worth remembering if you have long legs.
The train speeds through a morning landscape lit by an overcast sky dimmed by a light mist. Much as I love the city, I always find the rolling panorama of the countryside engaging. Perhaps it is because the greenery and the apparent calm offer a restful contrast with the hurly-burly of town.
Along the way, the overcast gradually cleared and by the time we disembarked at York, the sun was shining. We had 20 minutes at York and so made the transition to the 09:26 Middlesbrough train with ease.
In theory, we had reserved seats on the train but in fact no reservations were visible nor were the coaches labelled with letters. Not that it mattered that much as there were plenty of seats but you have to wonder why useless reservations are made and sometimes charged for.
I dozed off during the run to Middlesbrough and awoke at Thornaby, the stop before. At Middlesbrough we had 8 minutes to get across to the other platform for the 10:38 Whitby train. This is a two-carriage local rail bus of a type with which we have become familiar. They often become crowded and provide little room for baggage. Fortunately our bags can just about be squeezed onto the overhead rack.
My first impression of Whitby, on arriving on the crowded station platform, was “What a pretty town!” As the station, also the town: the place is crowded. I suppose this is only the be expected in such a lovely town on such a lovely day.
We made our way across the swing bridge spanning the Esk estuary to The Dolphin, where we are staying. Owing to the lateness of our booking we had to pay more than usual for our accommodation but in return for this, we are in the heart of Whitby in picturesque surroundings.
Our room is large and comfortable. There is even a settee in the bay window overlooking the estuary and the swing bridge. The pub is right on the water. We can sit in the window and watch the herring gulls swoop past us inches away.
Despite the attractions of the room, we soon set out in quest of lunch as we were both hungry after the long journey. We chose Shambles, a pub restaurant a few yards from our hotel.
After lunch we went exploring. There are many pretty views and quaint buildings to be seen but all has to be viewed through the crowds. Perhaps in the week there will be fewer people, making it easier to move about.
We went into the old Methodist Hall, now used as an indoor market. It is a curious place that at first sight resembles an old fashioned haberdasher’s but there are also more modern things on sale. The organ console was almost hidden beneath the wares and the pay desk was the pulpit! Mammon seems to have triumphed here at least.
There is a choir competition in Whitby this weekend so as you proceed you come across choirs performing or hear their singing echoing across the Esk.
Further up we came to Church Lane, also known as Donkey Road. The church in question, perched near the top of a cliff, is St Mary the Virgin, the local parish church. There are two ways up to it and to the ruined abbey that is further up still, the steps or the donkey road, a steep cobbled path that curves upwards and offers unfolding views of the town, the estuary, the coast and the countryside as you gain height.
The abbey ruins are impressive but as you have to pay to go in, we contented ourselves with photographing them from outside. Then we descended again, this time by the steps—199 of them—and visited the tourist information centre before returning to the hotel for tea and a rest.
We spent some time in the room, watching the people, the boats on the estuary and the antics of the gulls. This is really an unusually good room for lounging and watching the world go by.
It was 7:45 when we finally stepped outside and went in search of dinner. I was surprised how cold it had become after the warmth of the day.
We chose the Whitby Indian Tandoori restaurant at the station. Once inside, we found the choices available to vegetarians were limited. We often choose a selection of side dishes when all else fails but even this was closed to us because the menu stated that side dishes could only be selected in addition to a main dish.
We spotted a vegetable thali and ordered that. It wasn’t good. In fact, I would say it is the worst Indian meal I have ever had. I did not finish everything which is very rare for me. If they are trying to discourage vegetarian diners, they certainly succeeded as far as I am concerned.
After eating, we explored the part of town near the restaurant and then returned to our settee in the hotel room, where we remained until bedtime, enjoying the changing views as evening fell.
Sunday, July 12th 2009
It has rained during the night and when I awoke at 6:30am the town was quiet except for the cries of the gulls. The view from the window of the river gently flowing, the boats at their moorings and the empty streets was delightful.
Half an hour later, the clouds are now rolling away and blue sky showing through. There is movement on the water and people are beginning to appear in the streets, some strolling in leisurely fashion and others hurrying as though to work.
The Scoresby monument celebrates father and son, both named William, navigators and marine inventors. William Scoresby Senior is credited with the invention of the masthead barrel lookout, or “crow’s nest”, in 1807.
Despite the price, this hotel does not provide breakfast, so we will have to look for a cafe or buy something to take with us as we go.
No cafes were open before our bus departed at 8:30. The bus carried us across beautiful countryside for an hour or so until we reached Scarborough. As we travelled, the clouds gathered again and we stepped out of the bus into rain.
On a brighter note, there was an open cafe, called Rendezvous, just across the road. Breakfast at last! I had a rather strange cheese omelette. It had white and yellow zones in it as if it had started life as fried eggs that had become amalgamated.
The weather became overcast, rainy and sunny by turns. In all conditions, Scarborough impresses me. There are panoramic views of beach and coast and a number of impressive buildings and structures such as the viaduct.
I was greatly taken by the Grand Hotel (built 1892), a once magnificent building that today provides apartments for the gulls in which to rear their young. Once the largest hotel in Europe, this grandiloquent expression of Victorian optimism and panache, has fallen upon hard times. It is being stripped and one can only speculate on what its future will be.
The huge edifice, solidly planted on its cliff, and visible from every point along this part of the seafront, continually catches the eye and elicits admiration. I took many photographs of it because every angle presents a new aspect.
The beach attracts surfers, bathers and other beach lovers. It has a gently sloping floor, acres of sand and donkey rides. On the promenade are the usual props to the modern seaside holiday from cafes and pubs through shops selling ice cream and beach balls to the garishly illuminated amusement arcades.
We were able only to scratch the surface of Scarborough but it impressed us and has a lot to offer. Here is a small selection.
We reached Whitby about 5:30 and visited the dock near the Grand Turk replica ship and took some photos of our corner of Whitby from a different angle.
When we got back to our hotel room, the swing bridge opened and I got a chance to take a few photos of this, having missed previous openings. The windows in our room are stiff and do not open completely and this restricts the field of view somewhat.
We made tea and sat at the window enjoying the view. Where shall we have dinner tonight: at one of the two remaining Indian restaurants or the nearby Italian?
We have come to know a pair of herring gulls among those who frequent this corner. The male has a deformed right leg on which he never stands or walks. Although he sometimes loses balance momentarily, he is adept at landing and perching on one leg.
When I first saw him I thought he must be severely disadvantaged and wouldn’t live very long but in fact he appears fit and healthy otherwise and even chases some of the other gulls, implying that he has a defined place in the local hierarchy which he can defend.
He also has a mate and they are often seen together relaxing on the wooden walkway below our window. I have named him Long John, or L J for short.
I have seen L J scratch himself with the bad leg and I have seen him touch down on water but only briefly, so I don’t know whether he can propel himself across the water by paddling with his feet.
For our evening meal we decided on Moutrey’s Italian restaurant around the corner from our hotel in the intriguing Grape Lane, filled with equally intriguing little shops. Moutrey’s of course has a well filled wine list but we chose Yorkshire tea with lemon. How sophisticated is that?
We both rated the food “excellent”, especially as the portions were not small. When we asked for hot water to top up the teapot this was readily provided and throughout, the service was polite, friendly and attentive. I haven’t given out any SilverTiger visiting cards for quite a while but I was happy to do so in this instance. If we can fit in another visit to Moutrey’s we will do so and perhaps sample their desserts.
After dinner, we went for what was intended to be a short walk but turned into a long one. We crossed the swing bridge and turned right along St Anne’s Staithe, where we had not yet ventured.
The daylight was fading fast and the electric lights were coming on, creating magical scenes that begged to be photographed. We continued walking and eventually came to the pier and decided to walk as far as the lighthouse, drawn onwards by the changing evening light in the sky and on the sea.
At last we did turn back and retrace our steps to the hotel where we relaxed and made tea.
At has been a long day but a good one. Let’s hope our other days are as good.
Notes on names
Whitby is thought to derive from the name of a man who owned a farm thereabouts, in a phrase meaning “Hviti’s farm”.
Scarborough was once the stronghold (borg) of a Norwegian called Skarthi.
Monday, July 13th 2009
When I got up at 6:30, the gulls were already wheeling and shrieking and when I looked down onto the walkway, L J and his partner – I’ll call her Jane – were already in their favourite place, with their beaks in their feathers in snooze position.
In contrast to Sunday, there were people and vehicles crossing the bridge and moving along the quays. Whitby was presenting its workaday face.
The sun was bright and the sky blue but with a good mottling of clouds. It looks better than yesterday with its occasional showers but with English weather you always have to wait and see.
Today’s jaunt is on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, a steam train service. The ride starts at Whitby but you sometimes (see timetable) have to take the ordinary diesel service to Grosmont and change to the steam train there.
Steam railway staff comprise both paid employees and volunteers. It’s difficult to tell who is which, but whether paid or volunteer, all work with dedication and see to it that the railway runs with admirable efficiency and punctuality.
Our train was made up of several different sorts of carriages of different ages. We chose a carriage with compartments. The seats were surprisingly comfortable, especially compared with some modern trains.
The train made two intermediate stops at Goathland and Levisham before continuing to the terminus at Pickering, which takes about an hour and a half. We stayed aboard because we wanted to return in stages, getting off at each intermediate stop. We needed to change seats, however, as Levisham has a very short platform so you need to be in the front four coaches in order to disembark.
Levisham is a quaint little station in the middle of nowhere. It takes about 10 minutes to explore the station, slightly longer if you also visit the art gallery in the old station house which is now a private dwelling. The waiting room is next to the station house and in the old days, the station master could sell tickets through the hatch without leaving his house. Later, a new ticket office was built next to the signal box and the signalman then had to come down to sell tickets.
Goathland is a bigger place, though corrupted by the area’s association with a certain TV programme. Hint: we had a meal in the Aidensfield Bar of the Goathland Hotel where we had fried eggs and chips with coffee for a somewhat inflated price.
As we waited for our food to be served, we watched the coaches thundering through. On the plus side, black-faced sheep with horns roam free here and we enjoyed trying to get some close-up pictures of them.
Rather than stay in the village, we walked back towards the station. We found a path beside a stream and sat here for a while.
The next train going in our direction was for Grosmont (pron ‘grow mont’) only, but that was fine by us as that is where we wanted to go next to complete the set.
At Grosmont we had only 25 minutes or so to wait for our train, so we stayed on the station, watching what was going on. This train goes all the way to Whitby so we do not need any more changes.
The steam train brought us conveniently back to Witby where I photographed this beautiful gull, apparently quite relaxed among the crowds of people.
We made our way back to the hotel and settled with tea in our lovely bay window. Who should be on the narrow shore beneath our window but L J. Now I don’t usually feed gulls because doing so encourages them to beg and they can turn aggressive. It also discourages them from foraging for their own food. On this occasion, though, I broke my own rule. L J was soon joined by Jane and I dropped pieces of leftover scone down to them.
The interesting thing is that though they grabbed these pieces and ate them voraciously, they showed no curiosity as to where they were coming from. Even when I stopped dropping pieces they showed no further interest and went about their usual business.
I was quite glad about this as it seems to indicate a take-it-or-leave-it attitude far short of the near dependency on hand-outs that I have seen in other gulls, sometimes even very young ones.
It is 6:30 and the sky has become somewhat overcast. The temperature has fallen as a result. We will rest for a while longer and then think about dinner.
While Tigger was dozing, I noticed a young lad—in his early teens, I would guess—acting oddly on the bridge. Suddenly he climbed onto the rail, and then jumped into the water. He disappeared beneath the opaque surface and reappeared after a few seconds. He swam a little way upstream and joined another person, a young adult male. He too was wet though I had not seen where he entered the water.
They emerged from the water and climbed the steps beneath our window to the tiny pub terrace. I realized then that both were wearing wetsuits.
The elder of the pair exchanged a few words with a pub customer standing in front of the pub and then suddenly took to their heels and were soon gone.
While I admire the young lad’s courage I do not admire the other who is irresponsible to encourage him in activities that could easily end in disaster.
Unfortunately, something she ate has upset Tigger’s digestion and she doesn’t feel like eating. She has insisted that I go and eat so I have come out on a solitary prowl. I don’t want to go far, so I have come to Gatsby’s which is in sight of the hotel. In fact, I can see our bedroom window from where I am sitting.
Gatsby’s is a fish restaurant and grill but they do at least have a vegetarian section on their menu from which I have chosen couscous. The proof of the couscous will be in the eating…
The couscous was very good but not copious. It will see me through until tomorrow, though, when I hope Tigger will be feeling better. The service was very slow and having finished my meal I waited a long time in vain to attract the waitress’s attention. In the end, I played the old trick of getting up and putting my coat on.
We enjoyed our day our the steam railway. We explored the route thoroughly, stopping at each of the stations served. We also had some interesting chats with members of train staff. Whether paid employees or unpaid volunteers, all seem enthusiastic, knowledgeable as well as professional in their work.
Tigger feeling unwell has obviously put a bit of a damper on things and I am hoping she will be better tomorrow.
Our experience of “Aidenfield”, aka Goathland, was a little depressing as it showed the corrupting influence of fame and an unusual inflow of money. Nor do I understand people who invest so much in fantasy when the reality is so much more beautiful and engaging.
Apart from that, we had a good day, well worth the money we spent on the all-day train tickets.
Notes on names
Grosmont seems to have been named after the priory founded there in about 1200, rather than after any big hills of mountains in the area.
Goathland: tempting as it may be to link this name with goats, it is thought more likely that it was named after a man called Goda (i.e. “Goda’s land”) who settled there.
Pickering: like many Old English derived names ending in ‘-ing’ or ‘-ings’, this one denotes a settlement of a headman and “his people” (inga). In this case, the boss was called Picer.
Tuesday, July 14th 2009
This morning Tigger felt better. After yesterday’s rather chequered food programme, we decided to start the day with a good breakfast. We went around the corner into Grape Lane to the Grape Vine Cafe.
The cafe turned out to be a double shrine, firstly to the Heartbeat TV series and secondly to Elvis. The decor consists of photos relating to both themes and related issues together with assorted objects such as an old radio and a couple of police helmets. The atmosphere was comfortable and friendly and we had an enjoyable breakfast.
From here we went to the bus station, intending to travel Harrogate. Because of their atmosphere and physical configuration, the seaside towns here often remind us of Cornwall. Another way in which Cornwall is brought to mind is in the rather desultory nature of public transport. It often requires a certain ingenuity to work out how to get to places, given the sparse timetables, and, just as in Cornwall, you have to take care not to miss the last bus or train home which in some cases departs at an unusually early hour.
We caught the Middlesbrough bus which again took us through beautiful landscape with glimpses of the sea. At Guisborough we took a break because this is an old market town and promised to be worth seeing. Sarevi’s small coffee shop provided refreshments.
It is a sunny and cloudy day, meaning that just as you are about to click the shutter on a scene, the sun disappears, changing the light. Then again, in England, unless you can afford to wait around for perfect conditions, you learn to take things as they are. Otherwise, buy postcards. Personally, I prefer my photos to show what I saw as it was when I saw it.
After a quick tour around Guisborough we took the next number 5 bus and resumed our journey towards Middlesbrough through sheep-speckled landscapes with vistas of wooded hills.
When we reached Middlesbrough bus station, I went off to the loo, leaving Tigger prospecting for buses. When I returned, she was almost literally hanging onto a bus for Newcastle that was about to leave. We boarded and settled down for the journey, which took about an hour and three quarters.
On arrival at this iconic city, our first priority was lunch which we found in a pub called The Goose, conveniently adjacent to the bus station.
Given time constraints, this could only be a short visit. Tigger had previously come to Newcastle on a courier run and I had been unable to accompany her on that occasion, so she wanted me to get a glimpse of what there was to see.
I was quite impressed by what I did see and we have tentative plans to base ourselves here another time. At the bus stop, while we waited for the 16:00 Middlesbrough bus, the lady serving in the tiny cafe regaled us with a list of all the good things there were to see in the area. The only question is: when will we be able to fit it in?!
We are now aboard the X10 to Middlesbrough, powering along the dual carriageway like a plane on take-off.
In Middlesbrough, we went for a walk hoping to find a cafe for refreshments. By now, however, everything was closing. We ended up in a Walkabout bar. After consuming out coffee, there seemed little to do but go back to the bus station and wait for the next bus out.
While it might be unfair to form a negative impression of Middlesbrough on so short an acquaintance, a negative impression is nevertheless what I received. Perhaps if I stayed longer or saw more of it I would form a better opinion of the town.
The 17:15 bus was the slow one which stops at all the towns and villages en route so the journey was quite long. Apart from sections in town or beside works, the journey is a very pleasant and provides a cheap tour of the beautiful and varied countryside.
Even so, I was glad when the bus finally pulled up at Whitby bus station and I could stretch my legs at last.
We have decided on an Indian dinner tonight (no surprises there, then) and chose the second of the three Indian restaurants we had found, called Passage to India.
The decor is smart and modern and the service efficient. There were no items on the menu specifically for vegetarians. Apart from side dishes, all we could find was a vegetable balti or a vegetable curry. We added mutta panir side dishes.
Tigger was happy with hers but I was less content. Not that there was anything wrong with the food. I would just like something a little more exciting than vegetable curry.
I looked for L J this morning but saw neither him nor Jane. As we approached the hotel now, I spotted a familiar silhouette atop the bridge lamp nearest our window. Yes, it was L J looking alert and vigorous as ever, keeping tabs on all that was going on in Gull World.
L J considers the lamp his own and doesn’t hesitate to chase away other gulls that perch there, not to mention lesser beings such as pigeons or collared doves.
Wednesday, July 15th 2009
We returned to the Grape Vine for breakfast and had a pleasant chat with the owner. I asked him whether he knew the origin of the name Grape Lane. He confirmed our speculation that this was originally called Grope Lane. In earlier times, nearly every town had a street or lane of this name, especially ports where sailors coming ashore after a voyage would go in search of ladies of easy virtue.
After a good breakfast to set us up for the day, our next stop was the bus station to wait for the 8:30 Scarborough bus. The latter town is not our destination, however, but more on that anon.
While we walked across town, we could see dark clouds gathering and as the bus ran along the winding roads, rain began to fall. Out to sea, sunlight areas were visible too, so perhaps conditions will improve or we will have a day of showers and bright intervals. Wait-and-see weather.
As we reached Scarborough, the skies opened and the downpour began. One of our plans was to go on to visit the RSPB reserve, Bempton Cliffs, near Bridlington, but the heavy rain (and having to wait for a bus at a bus stop without any shelter) made this now seem unattractive. We retired to the the Rendezvous cafe to study possibilities and bus maps.
An alternative was the Ryedale Folk Museum which we had wanted to visit in any case. The day seemed made for this, always assuming that the at times quirky transport system could get us there and back.
Tigger phoned the local travel information centre. They put her through to someone whose designation she didn’t catch. On being told where we wanted to go, the person helpfully replied “Can you not look it up on the Internet?” Ten out of ten for customer-service skills.
In the end, it was a case of “If I were going there, I wouldn’t start from here”: the journey promised to be complex so we put it off for another time.
What was left was to jump on a bus going, well, somewhere. We plumped for Malton. Why? Well, why not? Fortunately, the rain had eased though that carried no guarantee for later.
As the bus sped towards Malton, we were happy to see that we were heading towards sunlit regions. How disappointing, then, to disembark at Malton to find ourselves once more in heavy rain. This is a disincentive to taking photos.
We stopped for coffee in the Palace Theatre, the town cinema that has had a long history. The building, originally the corn exchange, now accommodates the new smaller cinema, the cafe and a “shopping mall”, which is less quaint than it looks.
We decided to stay on for lunch and when we left, the sun had come out. Accordingly we explored the town and visited the small museum where we had to put up with the nonsense of signing a disclaimer certifying that we would not publish any photos we took. Therefore I cannot show you any of the exhibits.
While we were waiting for the 15:36 bus back to Scarborough, the clouds began to gather and as we stepped aboard, rain began to fall.
At Scarborough, we just missed the 16:40 Whitby bus and had to wait for the 17:10. This was very late, thus proving the law that any bus you miss is on time and any bus you are on time for is late. When the bus did arrive, about 20 minutes late, people kept asking why the bus was late, thus holding things up and making us later still.
The sun has come out and it is now very warm. There are still clouds, however, whose size suggests that there could still be more rain to follow.
By the time we arrived back in Whitby, it had become a lovely sunny evening, so we have thought to explore the western part, which we have not so far done.
I had better explain that the coast curves in at Whitby so that its beach faces north, not east as you might expect. The river Esk therefore divides it into eastern and western halves. Our hotel is on the eastern bank of the river and the town centre on the western bank. There is a western section of the coast that we have not yet seen.
The weather held for our foray to the west side and we were rewarded with some beautiful views lit by a golden evening sun.
We returned to more familiar parts by walking along St Anne’s Staithe. This is the least attractive part of Whitby, a place of slot machine arcades, fish and chip shops, cheap restaurants and woo-woo shops.
Further along we came to Shafiq, the third “Indian” (actually Pakinstani in this case) restaurant. Would this one finally prove good and make up for the faults of the other two?
We chose a “Vegetable Platter” each with matter paneer and rice to share. We ordered lassi to drink and had to order litre to share as they don’t make it to order. We started eating but there was no sign of our lassi despite the fact that other tables received their drinks in a timely fashion. I reminded the waiter but we still had a long wait. In fact I had finished my platter by the time the lassi arrived.
The waiter served us each a glass. As he served Tigger, some ice cubes that had stuck together slid out of the jug and bounced off the rim of Tigger’s glass onto the wooden table top. The waiter seized the paper serviette off the drinks tray, used it to pick up the ice cubes and then… dropped them into the jug of lassi! Unhygienic, to say the least.
When I started drinking my lassi, I saw that my glass had a crack about an inch long running down from the rim. Not a huge deal perhaps, but still not what you expect in this health sensitive age.
The matter paneer and rice arrived after we had eaten our platters. This is one of our favourite dishes but we both agreed that this one was bland, with little taste. I suppose that this could have been deliberate and that the people of Whitby are not fond of strongly flavoured or highly spiced dishes. We have come across this is other towns.
We have now experienced three Indian/Pakistani restaurants in Whitby and found each wanting. It’s just as well Moutrey’s Italian restaurant impressed us or we would be tempted to dismiss Whitby as a culinary desert.
We have seen L J every day but we didn’t see Jane at all yesterday or this morning. Had she gone home to mother? Suffered an accident? Taken a holiday? When we returned to the hotel this evening, we spied the familiar silhouette of L J atop the lamp. Then he flew onto the ledge above the hotel door and there was Jane too! They billed and cooed briefly and then flew off about their business. It’s nice to know that all is well.
Thursday, July 16th 2009
We tried the Singing Kettle for breakfast today as it was on the way to the bus station. It’s in a secluded spot and you would miss it but for the A-boards at either end of the alley.
An honest, straightforward cafe, the Singing Kettle provided a good breakfast and we may well visit it again when we come back to Whitby.
Once again we boarded the Scarborough bus for an hour’s drive through a sunlit countryside.
From Scarborough we took the 128 bus to Pickering to visit the Beck Isle Museum. First we stopped at the Beckside Tea Room for tea and toasted tea cakes.
After a preliminary look around town we had an early lunch in a cafe with William Morris wallpaper but whose name I have forgotten, before making our way to the Beck Isle Museum.
Photography was not allowed inside the museum but at least an excuse was given, the silliest I have ever heard: “Our insurers do not allow it”. That is plain crackers.
The museum has exhibits covering the life of the region from early modern times to the present and has several period pieces, including a pub, a grocer’s shop, a Victorian drawing room and several others. There is a collection of photographs and a letterpress printing shop in which demonstrations are given.
We had a second look around town before joining the 128 bus and returning to Scarborough where we took refreshments at—yes, you guessed—the Rendezvous cafe.
By 4pm, the Whitby bus was already on the stand and although it wasn’t due to leave until 10 past, we went aboard. We found it packed and had to stand. The bus stopped several times and even more people got on.
When we reached Robin Hood’s Bay, there were gulps of incredulity from the passengers as there was a queue of at least a dozen people waiting to board. A couple of passengers wanted to get off and Tigger and I managed to get seats. It was our most uncomfortable bus ride so far.
During the journey it had started to rain heavily but fortunately we ran out of it as we reached Whitby. We returned to our hotel room for tea and a rest, and watched L J and the other gulls at their mysterious activities.
Around 7:30 we decided to go for dinner. After 3 less than happy experiences with Indian and Pakistani restaurants, we thought it best to cut to the chase and go to Moutrey’s. Alas, it was booked up solid so we set out find another source of food.
We thus came to the Hatless Heron, a coffee bar with a restaurant on the first floor. We had to wait 20 minutes for a table but at least we got fed.
By the time we emerged, it was dark and raining. As we returned to the hotel there was still plenty of vociferous activity among the gulls and we spotted L J on top of his lamp. Does he ever rest and go home to Jane?
A few minutes ago the swing bridge opened and some fairly large vessels went through. Having this activity and views of the quays just outside our window has added a special pleasure to this trip.
Friday, July 17th 2009
I awoke to heavy rain. Even the cries of the gulls seemed muted and there was less activity from them. I heard a familiar squawk and saw L J perched on the walkway below. A few seconds later, Jane landed nearby.
In view of the weather, we did not rush out but made tea. By 8am the rain was as heavy as ever and a uniformly grey sky suggested that this situation would endure.
The gull community was becoming more active but with less than the usual exuberance. Below on the walkway both L J and Jane were standing on one leg as though waiting for something, occasionally emitting a squawk or shriek at other passing gulls.
The rain seemed to ease around 9am so we put on our rain jackets and went out. As though it had been waiting for us to do just that, the rain now intensified to cloud-burst intensity. By the time we had gone over the bridge and across the road and taken refuge in an arcade, we were already wet and bedraggled.
We had thought of going to the Singing Kettle but found Mills’ Cafe closer. Here we had a very good vegetarian breakfast. There was some kerfuffle in the street and we learnt that the fire service was engaged in pumping out premises that were flooded from the rain.
We needed some shopping but once this was done, it was clear that the only sensible thing to do was to go back to the hotel room. By now, the wind was getting up and the surface of the river was choppier than I had seen it before.
We were going to look for a shop to buy the makings of a picnic lunch but as we turned a corner and received a blast of wind and rain in our faces, we both gave up and instead made for the hotel.
Back in the room we hung our wet coats in the shower and turned on the electric radiator to help dry our wet clothes. Then we could make tea and look out at the scene in the harbour: people hurrying along battered by the elements, their umbrellas being blown inside out.
The gulls have perked up somewhat and the air is full of their cries and calls, though there are fewer than usual. Needless to say, the pleasure boats have not moved from their moorings.
Tigger watched a video about Scarborough while I kept tabs on the scene outside. In the end both of us dozed off—well, we have been active the last few days.
When we woke up around 1pm, the rain had stopped though the sky was still overcast. We thought we had better make a dash for lunch while we could and crossed the bridge to Gatsby’s.
After lunch, as the rain was still holding off, we went to the bus station and took the 14:50 to Sleights, just to see what was there. Without meaning any disrespect to Sleights or its inhabitants, we didn’t get off the bus. There didn’t seem to be anything that could be regarded as a centre and the bus just kept going. We eventually recognized landmarks we had seen on the way in and realized we were on the way back to Whitby.
In Whitby, the bus stops at the George pub and that’s where we got off. Near to it is a shop selling antiques, collectables and jewellery. We went in for a look. It’s a lovely shop* and the back room contains a beautiful old fireplace. This room must once have been someone’s living room.
I spotted an unusual silver and garnet ring with one square stone and one circular one. The ring as a whole is horseshoe shaped. You may guess that I bought it. I also bought a bracelet of blue glass beads alternating with magnetite ones. It’s too small for me but I can lengthen it when I got home by adding beads from my collection.
Tigger spotted a jet heart on a silver chain. We had quickly learnt that jet is very expensive, perhaps because of its fame and popularity and the status of Whitby as the centre of jet jewellery-making. Jet came into vogue during the “black” period of the Victorian era after Albert died, Victoria went into permanent mourning and funereal style became all the rage (one might regard this as the first Goth period!). This heart was not too expensive so we bought it too.
The rain is still holding off (4pm) and the gulls are busy catching up with the day’s business, L J among them. The surface of the river remains fairly agitated and the colour of the water has changed to a markedly brown hue, indicating that the mud from the bed has been stirred up.
We are back in our hotel bedroom cum observation post and have made tea. Because of the overcast sky, there is already an evening feel to the scene.
All at once a mist descended, blotting out familiar landmarks and presenting a new aspect of the town we thought we knew.
We had meant to reserve a table at Moutrey’s for our last evening but we forgot until 6:30. I tried phoning but it was by then too late: they were all booked up.
One possibility was to eat downstairs in the pub so we bookmarked this for later if needed and went out to see if we could find anything more interesting. We had tried Humble Pie ‘n’ Mash previously but they had been closing. We gave them another try this evening.
As the name suggests, their staple fare is pies, served with mashed potato and peas. We both had homity pie and naughty chocolate pudding with ice cream to finish. I also enjoyed the atmosphere of the place which is almost like that of someone’s house or a rustic tea room. The time frame is the 1940s and there are props and newspaper pages reflecting the theme.
After the meal we went for a stroll along Church Street enjoying the misty evening views. Over on the west side, a band was playing on the bandstand, the music floating over the water to us.
We returned to our room and watched DVDs and the gulls swooping outside.
Saturday, July 18th 2009
The sky is overcast again today and the pavements are wet but it is not raining at the moment. The gulls are already calling back and forth. There is still some wind but the river is calmer though it remains brown. I haven’t packed away my rain jacket as I think I will need it.
I spotted L J and Jane below on the walkway earlier but now there is only L J. Jane must be about other business.
We went for breakfast at the Grape Vine Cafe and I gave the proprietor a SilverTiger card because we liked the place and had been well served there as well as kindly treated. When we return to Whitby one day, we will certainly pay them a visit.
We thought we had seen a business near the station offering left luggage services and went off to look. On the way we saw L J and Jane on the walkway and tried giving them some bird seeds. They didn’t to know what these were and shrieked at us for disturbing them.
We couldn’t find the left luggage sign so either we imagined it or they were not open yet. Back at the hotel, they said they were happy for us to leave our bags with them, neatly solving our problem.
As it has begun to spit with rain, we are back in the room. At 10:30, check-out time, we’ll take the bags down and find something to do while waiting for our train which departs at 12:41. From where I sit I can see the gull pair still on the walkway. Perhaps the weather is a disincentive to action.
Around 10am we thought of going up the hill to the museum. So we took our bags downstairs and stowed them for retrieval later and then betook ourselves to the bus station to await the number 5 bus to take us up the hill.
We waited a long time and the bus was evidently very late. In the end we gave up on that plan and walked back along the seafront then went to Mills Cafe for coffee. The last day of the holiday is often messy like this. There is time to kill before the train but not enough to do anything interesting.
In Grape Lane there is a book shop called Endeavour where they were advertising maps of Captain Cook’s voyages for £2 and Tigger, who likes maps, wanted to buy one. So we walked to Grape Lane, bought the map and then went to The Dolphin to collect our bags.
Opposite the train station is a pub called The Station Inn. I think the building was the railway station once upon a time, so it seemed as good a place to wait as any.
As we crossed the bridge for the last time, L J was still on the walkway below. Of Jane there was no sign.
At the Station Inn we drank J2Os and then crossed to the station just after 12 noon as the train was pulling in. We waited until everyone disembarked and then went out aboard only to be summarily sent off again by the ticket inspector “While I tidy up.” I can tell you that no “tidying” took place: he was just being a jobsworth.
We were eventually allowed aboard at about 12:20. Our journey is in 3 parts: Whitby to Middlesbrough, Middlesbrough to Darlington and Darlington to Kings Cross. We have seat reservations on the third train and not on the others. At Darlington we have only 10 minutes to make the change, including finding out which platform to go to and moving to it if necessary.
The journey went well and the train changes were easy. We found that our reserved seats on the Kings Cross train were not together so we ignored them and got a couple of seats with plenty of leg room right next to the luggage racks.
At home everything was as we had left it and we soon had the kettle going for tea. This evening we are going to Spices in Chapel Market for an Indian dinner. This should recompense us for the disappointments experienced during our trip.
Tomorrow I will go and pick up Freya from her holiday home. She will no doubt tell me all about her experiences for the next two days, as usual.
Through the window, I see the traffic of the Pentonville Road, not quite the same beautiful scene that we have become used to over the last week, but it has its compensations: it is home and I love the place.
This has been a good holiday, due in no small part to our large and comfortable hotel room with its panoramic view of the river and the quays. I could easily have spent more time in the room watching the flow of the river, the opening and closing of the bridge, the coming and going of the boats and the movements of people and vehicles in the streets and along the quay.
There was enough to see in the region to tear us away from our observatory and push us onto buses yet we didn’t manage to see everything. There remain places to see for other expeditions.
Whitby itself is a pretty and attractive town. All tastes are catered for but the more garish elements are largely concentrated in one place. Though the Indian restaurants disappointed me, we discovered two real gems: Moutrey’s Italian restaurant and the Grape Vine Cafe, both in Grape Lane. Humble Pie ‘n’ Mash also deserves an honourable mention for its simple but good fare in a decor that is welcoming but also interesting.
Whitby, of course, will be forever associated with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Inevitably, there are references to this in various locations in town but they are few and discreet. Whitby’s citizens seem to care for and about their town and to show good taste in the way it develops. Tourism plays an important role in the economy but so does its fishing industry and this perhaps induces a sense of the realities of life that some seaside towns have lost.
I hope we can find time to return to Whitby and that we will not be disappointed when we do.
Finally, I must say how much the stay was enhanced by L J and Jane. It is one thing to watch birds about their activities but quite another when you are able to recognize a particular individual and follow his progress. Behaviour patterns hitherto observed as the apparently random movements of the group, suddenly take on shape and become more meaningful.
When I first spotted L J with his shrivelled right leg, I didn’t give much for his chances of survival but as I watched, I soon saw that not only did he manage to get by but that he was positively thriving. Nor was he at the bottom of the pecking order: he was quite capable of defending his territory and chasing away trespassers.
I shall miss L J. Our last sight of him was in his familiar place on the wooden walkway as we crossed the bridge for the last time. How do you take your leave of a gull whom you have come to know, whose life you have observed for a week and whom you have learned to admire for his courage and tenacity in overcoming his disability but who is oblivious of you and uncaring of your existence? You simply walk away.
Herring gulls can live for 20 years or so and I am sure we will return to Whitby well within that time span. Will I see L J again? The odds are against it, I think. Though he does not know it, he has made a positive difference to my life for which I am grateful.