By John Charles Dyer, UK Correspondent
As a wee lad I had the opportunity to tour Disney Studios. A budding artist even at four, I enjoyed observing the then-studio cartoonists at work. On a later holiday- but still while in elementary school- my family and I were privileged to have Walt Disney’s flat at the top of the Fire Station in Disneyland all to ourselves for a long weekend. As I am sure all readers understand, the enthralled little boy in me still cherishes these memories.
I’ve had many enchanting experiences. I watched stars glint in a pristine dark night sky above Monte Toyon in the Santa Cruz mountains. I gazed down on the magnificent Yosemite Valley from Half Dome. I wandered the forests of mottled light that surround Patrick’s Point, seeking the Ewoks of my imagination. I held my breath watching wales breach the Pacific from Patrick's Point's sacred central rock. I soaked up the warm, jeweled nights of Nassau. I stood on the site of Bunker Hill in Boston. I walked Capitol Park in the Nation’s capitol. I toured the North and South East coasts of Cornwall.
I rode the route along the Fowey River to Lerryn which was one of the routes that inspired Wind in the Willows. I gazed on the Talland Bay from a bench within the soul refreshing graveyard of Talland Church. I photographed England’s breath taking cathedrals in Wells, Salisbury, Bristol, Exeter. I listened to Timothy Leary expound on LSD in the Raymond College Common Room. I’ve talked with Allen Ginsberg after enjoying the poetry of Jack Kerouac. I have experienced the force of nature who was Eric Hoffer.
I remember vividly lounging in the warm light that flooded the Common Room alcove, smiling at its fountain, my first morning at Raymond College, my Hogwarts. It reminded me of my great uncle’s cabin in the then undeveloped Santa Monica Hills, the tiny but truly "burbling" creek that wandered through the ferns that covered his hillside, the steep trail that led from the Cabin in which some of the 20th Century's great theologians had debated life.
But few experiences have been as magical as Whitby. To think, we only went to Whitby to avoid the crowds during the week of the British Open (which took place 200 yards from our home flat).
Whitby nestles into the North Yorkshire seaside, straddling the mouth of the Esk River.
(Left to Right Up: Whitby & Abbey from the Esk, Whitby along the Esk.)
(Left to Right, Whitby & Whitby Bay. Photos by John C. Dyer)
We stayed in a “self-catering” cottage, rented through Whitby Holiday Cottages.
(Left, Holiday Cottage,
By John C. Dyer)
Whitby has fantastic historical associations. The earliest documented English poet, Caedmon, lived and at worked at Whitby Abbey. The Abbey in its original form pre-dates the time of King Edwin of Northumbria. Edwin's daughter, St. Helena, became its Abbess.
(Left to Right and Down, 3 views of Whitby Abbey by John C. Dyer)
Whitby has been the home of important herring and whaling fleets. Captain Cook learned sea craft in Whitby. Whitby's craftsmen built his ships Endeavour and Resolution.
(Top Left to Right: Whitby fishing habour, Whaling Memorial. Across Left to Right: Cook Museum, Replica Bark, Somewhat decorated bronze of Captain Cook. All photos by John C. Dyer)
Bram Stoke wrote Dracula in Whitby. It was to Whitby Stoker’s Dracula came, his vessel running aground in a storm. Dracula ascended the famous 199 Abbey steps. He seduced his modern "love" at Whitby. This theme was at least in part allegedly based on the cycle of covert seduction and affair that played out among "the beautiful people" who played in Whitby during the Victorian Era.
( Top Left to Right Dracula Theme Fun House, Whitby Abbey from Docks, Abbey Stairs. Bottom Left St. Mary's church & graveyard. All Photos by John C. Dyer)
This last association made Whitby a center for “Goths.” I was struck to find Goth central appears to be a wool shop in a converted Methodist Chapel. I could hear my father turning like a hamster in his grave.
(Left to Right & down: Event listing, Wesley Hall, Wool w/ Organ. All photos by John C. Dyer)
But the magic of Whitby isn’t in the associations (although in a most magical way these associations seem somehow corporeal just behind a membrane between reality and memory, osmotic with the tides). Whitby is a feast for the senses. All of them. Sight, Sound. Smell. Taste. Touch.
In structure Whitby has much in common with Looe, Fowey, and other seaside communities I've visited. But it also has a special feature - an extraordinary variety in palette and architecture, with a prominant place given to Roman tiled roofs.
(Left to Right and Down, 4 views of Whitby Architecture. All Photos by John C. Dyer)
These forms meld with the sea light, the river, the landscape, the ocean and the sky in a torrent of colour that dares the skills of the best of water colourists.
(Left to Right, Row 1: 3 views of Whitby along the Esk.
Down: Whitby Small Craft, By John C. Dyer)
The sea is Whitby’s soul, the Esk Whitby's keel. Even in summer the Sea can rage, the reason for its stout defences.
(Below, 6 views of the Sea & Whitby's defences against its storms. All Photos by John C. Dyer)
Even today there are current reminders the sea exacts a price for those who dare it. (Memorial Point by John C. Dyer)
The Esk is a tidal river. While we visited the tide rose and lowered as much as 15 feet. (Left to Right Below: Low Tide, High Tide, by John C. Dyer)
Everywhere you go in Whitby, on every roof, every chimney, every fence, even in the streets, well fed gulls careen, call, and pair. Their calls fill any silence in the night throughout the night. Whitby must be a gull honeymoon resort! Or Nursery. We saw many a young fledgling.
(Below Left to Right, 3 different Gull "couples" By John C. Dyer)
Whitby boasts several very special restaurants in addition to dozens of fish and chip shops and pubs.
A favourite is the incomparable Botham’s Tea Rooms. In an interesting echo of the Disneyland experience with which I opened this article, Botham’s is a “throwback” to an earlier age of elegance. Only quality will do, from service to the Whitby Crab Salad, to the Fortune’s Smoked Kippers for breakfast, the Tregothnan tea, Wenslydale cheese on Whitby Gingerbread.
(Above, from Left to Right and down: Botham's dining room, server, Smoked Kipper breakfast, & Whitby Crab Salad. All Photos by John C. Dyer)
Fortune’s Smoked Kippers is its own story. It is not only nationally regarded for the quality of its Kippers, it is the one remaining Kipperer in Whitby. A “one off” as they say here.
Botham’s was not enough for us. We purchased 3 pair of Kippers direct to lavish on ourselves at the cottage.
The White Horse and Griffin is another fabulous restaurant. The White Horse and Griffin is also a hotel, but we did not stay so I have no comment on the accommodation. I can wax on into the night about its restaurant. Ambience, charm, gourmet cooking at its best. It has it all. (Below, from Left to Right: White Horse and Griffin Dining Room, Wine Darling? & Roast Cod on Glass Noodles with Bak Choy. Photos by John C. Dyer)
(Left to Right: View from Abbey Steps Tea Room & Tea & Tea Cake By John C. Dyer)
These are but 3 of many fine dining experiences one can find in Whitby. Also consider The Shambles if your budget outfits you for no more than a pub but you are not fond of Fish and Chips and Ale. The Shambles has great views of the Harbour. No doubt you will find your own special spot.
The sound of Whitby is a blend of ocean, gull, milling tourists, and the “Buskers” (street musicians). Buskers are found throughout the UK. Even our town centre has them. But there seemed to be more per square yard in Whitby than elsewhere.
(Above Left to Right and immediately left: 4 different Bruskers at work. All Photos by John C. Dyer)
Walking the streets of Whitby in the far less crowded morning, the sound I heard was in my head. It was the sound of “Blow the man down, me boys.” The ghosts of whalers returned? Even the gulls seem to sing in rounds of the sea and the heroism of ancient mariners.
There is so much more. I took over 500 photos, my wife over 1,000. I have not begun to describe all this enchanting Yorkshire community has to offer. But this is a blog piece not a book.
Let me leave you with some advice. Add Whitby to your “bucket list.” Although Whitby is well known in the UK, it is "off the beaten track" for Americans, despite its associations. I did see Americans while we were there, including one who has remained who lives there. They were all the more noticeable because so few. If you do add Whitby to your bucket list - and make the effort it takes to get to a relatively remote UK seaside resort - you will thank yourself from the first day through the day after the last. It will become one of those indelible memories you will always cherish. Like the memory of an excited young boy staying at Walt Disney’s flat inside of Disneyland.