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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Whitby weekend: dracula, morris dancers, mods, seagulls, canons and folky folks.

I went up north this weekend, to Whitby and Robin Hood’s bay on the Yorkshire coast. The weather didn’t look promising before I left, but by-gosh, did it clear up!

We left on the Saturday morning, early at about 10:30. Nothing exciting happened for much of the way, until we reached the Yorkshire Moors. As we pulled over a small hill this was the view that awaited us. Endless heather in full bloom; purple fields as far as you could see.

Purple heather

As we drove through the moors, through the villages and beside the heather it was clear and sunny. All was quaint and lovely in a way that is magnified ten times by sunlight and a light heart associated with a break from the norm.

We arrived in Whitby in the afternoon to find a town full of people. The whole place heaved with activity, activity that was lost on us at first glance, but that was to become a central feature of the weekend.

After spending some time searching for somewhere to park up the car, we gave up and headed south towards Robin Hood’s bay. I have never visited this part of the country before, and frankly didn’t know what to expect, but was truly charmed by the little village. Spiralling through meandering streets down a very steep hill to the sea, Robin Hood’s bay is striking and so quintessentially seaside English.

Robin Hood's Bay

Hidden all the way down by the sea are small galleries and jewellers full of the kind of trinkets and gems you would fill your home with if given half the chance. A little, heaving, chip shop sits snugly up on of the side streets. People spill out of its doors, down the street; queuing for a taste of traditional seaside fare in the most fitting of settings. Queuing all over the place, until a tractor unbelievably negotiates the narrow street with barely in inch to spare either side. People shrink into doorways, flee up stairs and scatter, abandoning their place in the queue; jumping back out again once it has passed.

We took our chips down to the seafront. The tide was in and looked rough as it came up against the shore. We set off along the beach, negotiating the boulders providing a tidal defence, climbing up and them down again to reach the main beach in the hope of finding some fossils the area is so well known for. The tide continued to come in, and before we knew it we were running back, timing each break with the break of the waves.

It was time to hunt for a campsite, it would be so much easier before dark, and so much more difficult after dinner. Up and down the coast, back and forth along strange and twisting roads, driving towards one possible site only to stumble across another. Minimum 3 nights, we were told.

We followed one sign for a campsite and found our way to Boggle Hole, a small cove below Robin Hood’s bay. There was no campsite to be found, although signs did indicate a youth hostel was at the end of a track that no cars were allowed down. We set off along the track going down to the sea, eager to see where it took us. At the bottom we found the small cove and the youth hostel placed right before it. I imagine there are few hostels in such endearing and secluded spots.

As we paused to watch the waves washing into the cove we looked along the cliffs traversing the beach and noticed a family huddled together, leaning out towards the sea. After watching them for a couple of seconds we realised they were scattering someone’s ashes into the swell. Although we were a few hundred feet away I felt quite uncomfortable, almost trespassing on their private moment. This feeling quickly passed when, after scattering the ashes, they promptly followed them by chucking the box and plastic bag used to carry them down in into the sea! That very action seemed like such a contradiction.

Lol and the field

Deciding that this place was far too strange for us, we made a hasty retreat, and the search for a campsite continued.

We drove back north towards Whitby and passed a site on out left, Rigg farm, I think. It was by far the most well designed campsite I have stayed at in ages. The plots were tiered, so the otherwise steeply sloping ground made great platforms that provided some privacy. We also had our own light as we camped in a tourer spot. Once the tent was set up we headed back into Whitby for dinner.

Being vegetarian, and with a taste for the finer things in life, I often find I end up in the posh establishments that don’t aim to attract such rag-tag clientele. Finleys was no exception. It had the atmosphere of a chi-chi wine bar, rustic old tables, but fantastic vegetarian food. We had a huge platter of nachos with foccacia bread and olive oil on the side. Yum!

After dinner we walked around Whitby, looking in shop windows and eventually drifting up over to the beach front. The sunset behind the headland was so many pastel shade of pink, and I wanted to take thousands of pictures to try and capture the subtle changes as the sun set – but it wasn’t to be. My camera spluttered and died of a drained battery, and from that point on the only pictures I could take were snapshots before it switched itself off again.

The waves as they lapped the shore reflected the light of the sky, and every so often seagulls gathered together, their shadows highlighted by the brightness of the reflections on which they were standing.

Whitby beach sunset

see weather station for more

Seagulls spotted by dusk

Looking back up to the cliffs a row of unintentionally industrial looking beach huts lined the wall. Lacking the life and bustle of beach goers during the day, they looked cold and eerie.

Beach huts at Whitby

We wandered back into town, past busy pubs with folk music filtering out through the windows. People walked purposefully from pub to pub with violins and guitars tucked under their arms. We had managed to time our visit to coincide with the Whitby folk festival without realising it.

The next morning we set off into Whitby after packing away the tent. Parking spaces were already filling up with visitors eager to take part in the folk festival and enjoy the brilliant sunshine. Morris dancers, decked in traditional costume danced in the square. A one man band sang MOR hits, accompanied by two howling collie dogs. We mooched around the shops and ventured up to the Abbey, overlooking the bay.

Whitby abbey

Later, after a walk along the beach and a paddle in the sea we came across more Morris dancers, dancing with swords, by the whale bone arch. As we watched their dance a rumble became a thunder and scores of mods on scooters pulled up. They parked their bikes right next to where the dancers were performing, and created a fantastic juxtaposition of old, new, traditional, and retro – a slight that crossed decades, and could only happen on a day like this in a place like this.

Morris dancers

Whitby morris dancers

One of the bikes warranted special attention.

Low rider scooter

As it neared the time we had to leave, we ran down the hill, back to Finleys for some lunch. Over delicious halloumi kebabs with tomato chutney and potato wedges we spotted a new group of Morris dancers, wearing tunics of rags, pheasant feathers and foxes tails in their hats and with blacked faces. Not something you see everyday, certainly not pulling a drum along on a trolley.

Later we saw them dance. I was expecting something wild, and pretty scary – I mean, imagine them! But their dance was as tame and intricate as the rest. The face paint was a throw back to the very origins of Morris dancing, originating in the east, coming from the term Moorish dancing

With the final dance over we were ready to bid our farewells to Whitby.


broke said...

Some really nice pics here. Your weekend sounds ace. I love Whitby and RH Bay - never been the Whitby weekend, but have stayed nr RHB a few times. We used to stay in a quiet village above the Bay called Fylingthorpe - you could walk down to the pubs of the Bay easily, and there were great views from there. My favourite walk from Whitby is along the beach to Sandsend and back. Endless sweeps of sand - great open spaces - freedom.

TP said...

We passed through Fylingthorpe I think, it's great up there, I just loved it.

All the time we were there we kept saying it there were crags and surf we would move up there straight away! Strange that, there's no crags (but the peak is not too far away) or surf in landlocked Nottingham, but we're living here anyway!