On North Yorkshire – Day 2 – Whitby Abbey

We wake up and the sunlight is slanting through the blinds onto our bed. I turn my head, straight into the unnerving stare of my youngest daughter.

‘Mummy,’ she says. Her voice is an urgent whisper. ‘Can. We. Get-in-the-hot-tub-now?’

I pick up my watch, squint. 6:45. ‘No,’ I say. ‘Go away.’

But the children’s excitement is catching, and somehow we’re eating breakfast at half-seven, and the daughters will be hot-tubbing and I will be dog walking in the woods. Stephen’s packing the car (his best thing) then we’ll all be off on the next adventure. We’re to go to Whitby, because the sea-side’s our favourite place.

We drive through Pickering, which has a proper ironmonger’s and a Lidl, and which would please my mother. We find the A169 to Whitby, and start winding our way up onto the moors, Pants barking at anything with two wheels. Around practically every bend, a new vista unrolls; the North York Moors producing views with the aplomb of a souk-seller.  Our speed is erratic, we slow down every few minutes to point and exclaim.

In places, the landscape appears almost primeval; last year’s heather blackened, petrified by the winter winds. There are knots of sheep strung down the steep hillsides, scattering shiny poo-marbles over the thick green mosses. Glossy black grouse shoot out of blonde tussocks of spent grass.

In the boot, Pants and Dora keep sitting up to look out of the window; Stevie shouts at them to sit down as we drop down a dizzying hill. The landscape is changing – the moor slipping behind and the fields becoming green again, protected by their stone walls.

We pass a ruined pub – the Saltersgate Inn – and Stevie and I play our ‘Imagine if’ game, where I suggest up-rooting and carpe-diem and yeah-but-we-could-do-it-up and he reminds me that it has taken us ten years to build our chunk of new house. And it’s still not finished.

‘But I could keep sheep,’ I say. ‘And that barn bit could be a cottage for walkers.’

We drive on, past RAF Fringford, its enormous radar a bizarre concrete triangle on the horizon. We don’t know anything about Whitby itself, but our lovely Forest Ranger has said is worth a look and that we must eat scampi. I know rather more about the Abbey, having Googled it. It’s managed by English Heritage and helped inspire Bram Stoker to write Dracula. There has been a monastery on the site since the 7th century, and the Gothic version was attacked by King Henry VIII’s men. I’ve a thing for old monasteries, I’m fascinated by the idea of private fiefdoms and the whole Papal control thing. I like to stand in bits like the kitchens, and imagine the bone-reek of hot stock, the wielding of a ladle, a knife chopping root veg. The lives lived so basically similar to my own.

We join the A171, Whitby suddenly ahead, its sky-line dominated by the abbey.Whitby Abbey

‘Oh,’ I say. ‘Look at that.’

It’s a spectacular ruin, its empty fenestrations gazing out at a pearled sea. We wind through pretty Whitby (earmarking our chip-shop for lunch), and follow the signs up to the Abbey. There’s a Youth Hostel up here, in the absurdly grand-looking Abbey House, and a huge empty grass car park for the Abbey itself.

The wind snatches the car doors from us, and Pants leaps from the boot, barking in excitement. Dora follows more sedately. We all pull on hats, gloves and scarves, Stephen and the children chasing each other whilst I run to the entrance of the Abbey to find out ticket prices. I already know they let dogs-on-leads into most parts. But, oh. I didn’t check the opening hours. It’s shut.

The children will be pleased, as it means no trailing around learning stuff, but I’m sad. I hop up on the wall to have a good look and surprise a workman in a fluorescent jacket just below.

‘Sorry!’ I say, and wave. He hunches back over his drain, as if routinely exasperated by wall-climbing tourists.

I walk back across the car park to the others, watched by a huge seagull. They’re all ruddy cheeked and breathless.

‘Well?’ says Stevie. ‘How much?’

‘Closed,’ I say, doleful. ‘We can’t go in.’

The children cheer and leap to tig Stephen, running away screaming when they do. He kisses me.

‘Never mind. We’ll walk here instead. After coffee. I’ll just-‘ He runs off, arms outstretched to catch a daughter.

I go to the boot of the car, pull out the flasks and the tin of cake, call the dogs for their biscuits. He’s right: there’s a foot path sign, heading out along the cliff.

I gather everything up and walk to the banked edge of the car park. I perch on the top, pouring the coffee and hot chocolate. The Abbey is before me, and I can look through its windows to slivers of the sea.


This is the third of a set of posts, written about our family holiday in North Yorkshire, as guests of  Forest Holidays (part of the Forestry Commission for England). All opinions and views are my own.



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