The North Yorkshire coast is the southernmost stretch of a cliff-edged shore that stretches almost unbroken to the Scottish border. Scarborough is the biggest resort, with a full set of attractions and a terrific beach. Cute Robin Hood’s Bay is the most popular of the coastal villages, with fishing and smuggling traditions, while bluff Staithes – a fishing harbour on the far edge of North Yorkshire – has yet to tip over into a full-blown tourist trap. Whitby, between the two, is the best stopover, with its fine sands, good facilities, abbey ruins, Georgian buildings and maritime heritage – more than any other local place Whitby celebrates Captain Cook as one of its own. Two of the best sections of the Cleveland Way start from Whitby: southeast to Robin Hood’s Bay (six miles) and northwest to Staithes (eleven miles), both along thrilling high-cliff paths.
The most heavily visited spot on this stretch of coast, ROBIN HOOD’S BAY is made up of gorgeous narrow streets and pink-tiled cottages toppling down the cliff-edge site, evoking the romance of a time when this was both a hard-bitten fishing community and smugglers’ den par excellence. From the upper village, lined with Victorian villas, now mostly B&Bs, it’s a very steep walk down the hill to the harbour. The Old Coastguard Station has been turned into a visitor centre with displays relating to the area’s geology and sealife. When the tide is out, the massive rock beds below are exposed, split by a geological fault line and studded with fossil remains. There’s an easy circular walk (2.5 miles) to Boggle Hole and its youth hostel, a mile south, returning inland via the path along the old Scarborough–Whitby railway line.
The oldest resort in the country, SCARBOROUGH first attracted early seventeenth-century visitors to its newly discovered mineral springs. To the Victorians it was “the Queen of the Watering Places”, but Scarborough saw its biggest transformation after World War II, when it became a holiday haven for workers from the industrial heartlands. All the traditional ingredients of a beach resort are still here in force, from superb, clean sands and kitsch amusement arcades to the more refined pleasures of its tight-knit old-town streets and a genteel round of quiet parks and gardens. In addition to the sights detailed here, make sure to drop into the Church of St Mary (1180), below the castle on Castle Road, whose graveyard contains the tomb of Anne Brontë, who died here in 1849.
If there’s one essential stop on the North Yorkshire coast it’s WHITBY, with its historical associations, atmospheric ruins, fishing harbour, lively music scene and intrinsic charm. The seventh-century cliff-top abbey here made Whitby one of the key foundations of the early Christian period, and a centre of great learning. Below, on the harbour banks of the River Esk, for a thousand years the local herring boats landed their catch until the great whaling boom of the eighteenth century transformed the fortunes of the town. Melville’s Moby Dick makes much of Whitby whalers such as William Scoresby, and James Cook took his first seafaring steps from the town in 1746, on his way to becoming a national hero. All four of Captain Cook’s ships of discovery – the Endeavour, Resolution, Adventure and Discovery – were built in this town.
Walking around Whitby is one of its great pleasures. Divided by the River Esk, the town splits into two halves joined by a swing bridge: the cobbled old town to the east, and the newer (mostly eighteenth- and nineteenth-century) town across the bridge, generally known as West Cliff. Church Street is the old town’s main thoroughfare, barely changed in aspect since the eighteenth century, though now lined with tearooms and gift shops. Parallel Sandgate has more of the same, the two streets meeting at the small marketplace where souvenirs and trinkets are sold, and which hosts a farmer’s market every Thursday.
The story of Dracula is well known, but it’s the exact attention to the geographical detail of Whitby – little changed since Bram Stoker first wrote the words – which has proved a huge attraction to visitors. Using first-hand observation of a town he knew well – he stayed at a house on the West Cliff, now marked by a plaque – Stoker built a story which mixed real locations, legend and historical fact: the grounding of Count Dracula’s ship on Tate Hill Sands was based on an actual event reported in the local papers.
It’s hardly surprising that the town has cashed in on its Dracula Trail. The various sites – Tate Hill Sands, the abbey, church and steps, the graveyard, Stoker’s house – can all be visited, while down on the harbourside the Dracula Experience attempts to pull in punters to its rather lame horror-show antics. Keen interest has also been sparked amongst the Goth fraternity, who now come to town en masse a couple of times a year (in late spring and around Halloween) for a vampire’s ball, concerts and readings.