Your Day Out: Brisk walk around Whitby

Looking across to St Mary's Church with the ruins of Whitby Abbey behind and the iconic 199 steps to the right.
Looking across to St Mary's Church with the ruins of Whitby Abbey behind and the iconic 199 steps to the right.

Whitby – being the literary birthplace of Dracula, has become renowned for its Goth Weekend. It was here in 1890 that Bram Stoker gained inspiration for his novel. For the past 21 years the biannual weekend has become world famous. This year we attended the event held on the weekend near Halloween. The streets were amassed with thousands of visitors, and some weird and wonderful designs and goth fashion were admired.

With the festival over, now’s the time to enjoy a crisp autumn day taking a short, brisk walk around this old fishing town.

It’s even more worthwhile, with the added incentive of a brief break halfway round the route to pop into Fortune’s Whitby Cured Kippers. A pair of plump kippers or a pot of kipper pate will prove a lasting memory of your trip.

Take the A171 road to Whitby and make your way to Green Lane (off Church Street), where one can usually park on St Mary’s Crescent.

Start from St Mary’s Crescent walk to the top of Green Lane. Just before the road junction with Abbey Lane, stop to glance back at the views.

Reaching the road junction turn left, as signed to the Abbey and Youth Hostel. Passing the gaunt ruins of Whitby Abbey, follow the high stone walling from where a dramatic view seawards is revealed. [The first abbey housed men and women. It was destroyed by the Vikings in 867. Rebuilt by Reinfrid in the 1000s. The abbey surrendered in 1539 when Henry VIII closed the monasteries. In 1830, the tower fell. In 1914 a German battlecruiser shelled the cliff top and hit the abbey.]

Cut across the car park to the opposite corner and enter the gate into St Mary’s churchyard. [Abbot William de Percy built this church in about 1110AD for use by the abbey workers. It’s the parish church of Whitby. Its galleries date from 1695 to 1818. The three decker pulpit dates from 1778 and enables the preacher to see every part of the church.]

Take the right fork and keep close beside the church to its main entrance beneath the church clock. Go forward between gravestones to discover Caedmon’s Cross - a memorial to the ‘father of English sacred song’. Caedmon was a Northumbrian oxherd, and the country’s first hymn writer. Leaving the cross, descend the 199 church steps.

These stone steps, descending from Whitby’s East Cliff have witnessed countless feet! At the foot of the steps, turn immediately right along Henrietta Street. It was once called Haggerlythe. This road has been destroyed by land slippage on several occasions. Some landslips brought down coffins from the churchyard!

Seek number 25, Cook’s Cottage, and almost opposite is number 18, the Old Kipper Cottage. Then, hidden away on this narrow, cobbled street is Fortune’s Kippers, overlooking the harbour. The tiny shop and smoke-house to the rear, announces itself with a waft of pungent smoke. The Fortune family have been making kippers here since 1872. They are the last real traditional curers in the town.

Bracing winds will waft away evidence of your visit as you return down Henrietta Street, but only as far as a turning off right down Tate Hill. Pass Driftwood Cottage and view Tate Hill Pier before entering Church Street. Visit the Victorian Jet Works opposite the Duke of York.

Wander along Church Street and next to the market is the fish pier. The old market square is a lively little spot. Explore this area, and from the Shambles market walk along Sandgate. This dates from 1401. It has many quaint shops, galleries, seafoods, and jet products etc.

Enter opposite the previous office of the Whitby Gazette. Crossing Bridge Street, enter Grape Lane. The name of this lane is from ‘Grope’, because it was so narrow and dark, one had to grope one’s way along. Near the far end you’ll see stage seven of the Captain Cook Heritage Trail. [This house was the home of the Walker family and the centre of their shipping business. James Cook, who worked for them for nine years, lodged in the attic during his three-year apprenticeship, from 1746 to 1749.]

Emerging in Church Street, turn right by the car park. Walk by the River Esk towards the upper harbour. Opposite The Fleece features Whitby’s Merchant Seamen’s Hospital Houses. [It was built in 1675 for use by distressed seamen and their families. The front was rebuilt in 1842. It was financed by the seamen’s dues, paid while they were working. It was refurbished in 1996.]

From number 39 ascend Boulby Bank. Reaching number 18 bear right to the top. This is The Ropery.

Turn right along The Ropery and keep straight ahead to cross the middle of a car park. Continue alongside St Hilda’s Business Centre which was once the old hospital. It now houses the Whitby Gazette office.

At the far end, meet Green Lane. Turning left uphill returns you to St Mary’s Crescent off left.

Distance: approximately three miles, allow 1.5 hours plus.

Refreshment: Fortune’s Cured Kippers. There’s an abundance of refreshments along the route.

Transport: Arriva buses 93 and 93a.