Since arriving in the UK the weather has been cool, grey and occasionally wet - a typical English summer? That might be unfair. And in most places I have been so far, I have been pleasantly surprised by the lack of crowds. On Wednesday things changed: the sunshine came back and I discovered where all the people were - Whitby!
Whitby is a seaside town in North Yorkshire with a New Zealand connection - Captain Cook served his apprenticeship there, and lived in the attic of a house which is now the "Captain Cook Museum."
I don't think many of the hordes had come to see the latter, however. The seaside itself is very attractive, with a harbour and a nice sandy beach. Whitby also has a reputation for great fish and chips, with The Magpie supposedly having the best of all. The queue there was a bit long for me (photo), so I got mine elsewhere. (I'd have to say that I think the Fish Pot Cafe in Mission Bay does better F&C by a long way).
On the train journey down I sat at a table seat with two young girls, Abbie and Carol, and Abbie's gran. People from up north are a bit more down to earth and open I've noticed, and I found myself answering lots of questions about New Zealand, and having to remind gran from time to time that Australia was a different place! They kindly saved me a seat on the return journey and told me all about their day at the seaside. Like me they had climbed the 199 steps that led up to the ruins of the Abbey on the cliff top.
You may well guess that this was the reason I came, rather than any of the afore-mentioned attractions. In particular, this abbey was built on the site where another remarkable person - St Hilda - ran a double monastery, i.e. there were both monks and nuns. It says something for her reputation that a very famous meeting took place ("the Synod of Whitby") in her time, in 664 AD. It was called by King Oswiu of Northumbria who wanted to settle such important questions as the date Easter should be celebrated and how monk's should shave their heads - according to the customs of Rome, or the Celtic influenced traditions of Iona? The Roman protocols won the day, and some see that as the main point of the gathering - the exertion of the authority of the Roman church in Britain.
A final claim to fame for Whitby, reflected in the souvenirs for sale ... Bram Stoker wrote 'Dracula' here, inspired in part by the atmospheric ruins.
Anyway, enough of the history lessons. I headed back to South Shields (near Jarrow) to my B&B, where I felt like Captain Cook with a room up in what was probably the attic, just big enough for a bed and a telly. Looking forward to a nice breakfast (black pudding is on the menu!), and then it's off to Holy Island, via Durham ...