In the past few days, my husband and I have had our semi-regular ‘what if’ conversation. This is when we allow ourselves for several minutes to imagine what our lives would be like if our more materialistic dreams came true. They would, but of course, be reliant on a lottery win.
One dream we’ve had for pretty much the entirety of our eleven-year relationship, is moving to Whitby in North Yorkshire.
It is honestly the most gorgeous, nay, intoxicating place in this world.
My first trip there was in 2004 with my fiancé (now my long-suffering husband), brother and his then fiancée (now his long-suffering wife).
We went on a camping holiday in the summer straight after my graduation from university. We stayed at this little farm in Robin Hood’s Bay, just along the coast from Whitby.
We did the whole tourist thing: saw the Endeavour, climbed the 100 steps, contemplated the eerie grave yard of the Norman St Mary’s at the top of said steps (famous for being the venue for Dracula’s first bite to eat in Whitby, as memory of the long ago read novel serves), wandered in school-child like fascination around the former house-turned-museum and then stood in perfect awe in the ruins of the gorgeous Abbey.
I knew I was in love when I got to the Abbey and looked back in the direction of the crescent and the Whale Bones on the opposite side of the shore. I just can’t imagine a more glorious tonic to the soul than Whitby.
Since then, we have been back a few times and on a number of those occasions, it has proven how much of a tonic it has been for us as a couple and individually.
When we went back, sans my brother and his misses, we stayed in a guest house on the West Cliff (Ellie’s guest house and we even met little Ellie herself, after whom her parents had named the B&B). Where else? We returned at different times of year in order to really enjoy and love the place properly.
We once went in February during a particularly satisfying storm. Watching the waves leap over the iconic twin lighthouses at the end of the piers was enchanting and striking. Seeing the water surge in-land against the river and threaten to wipe out the bandstand again was wondrous, whilst we ourselves were safely tucked into a window seat at the Pier Inn.
The calm of a July evening there is perhaps just as remarkable. Seeing the oranges and reds of a hot summers evening sun play on the water at the horizon is especially magical. Go up to the whale bones and watch it – you’ll see what I mean.
When tragedy struck my husband and I in 2007, we retreated to Whitby, like animals licking their wounds and seeking comfort and safety. It was a place of peace and escape for us, as though the place was the remedy we needed.
I remember looking out to sea from the colourful summer houses by the beach and tearfully imagining how I should be visiting this place with the children we had just lost.
I just felt Whitby, the soul of the place, understood. As though through her years of losing her children at sea had schooled her too in loss and its mechanisms. It meant that she welcomed us to share our pain with her, with wide open, motherly arms.
Queen Victoria made wearing jet (a semi precious stone that is black in hue, related to coal and polished to a high lustre) fashionable, especially during mourning. Whitby has been quite literally always been famous for it. Since almost the very beginning of time. I bought a silver and jet ring from one of the little jewellers along the walk towards the steps to the Abbey, which I wear every day.
It reminds me that I have a bit of Whitby with me – that she is a mother too, to so many and that we are united in our losses.
Whitby is where I go to create – like so many writers before me and indeed, will be after me.
So many immediately, and pretty yawn-inducingly so, think straight away of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ when they think of Whitby, which features in said tome, when they think of that quaint little fishing town. I don’t. There are countless Whitby- inspired works out there that for me, are far more worthy. My absolute favourite Whitby inspired works of fiction are certainly ‘The Brenda & Effie Mysteries’ by the utterly divine and gorgeously outstanding Paul Magrs. I’m sorry, but Brenda and Effie are just better by a country mile than the good Count any damn day of the week.
I’ve sat during many a meal in the town, frantically writing down all the ideas I’ve had for stories and poems on the back of a napkin because inspiration has hit me like a wrecking ball.
I’ve also never been there without a sketch pad and a few pencils (my faves are my 4B and 6B, naturally).
There’s also the bustle of life there… walking through the throngs of people who walk, mostly aimlessly, around the little streets. It’s hard not to love it all. Even joining the crowds who stand there in wide-eyed wonder as the road bridge swings open and then shuts again.
I’m guilty of doing that myself.
I remember one time, after having a couple of beverages, we decided to go and get something to eat and discovered everything was shut! Instead, we bought some sandwiches from the local Co-op and we naughtily sneaked into our digs, tip-toeing upstairs with the most stupid stage whispers known to man. Happy times, happy times.
The drive there is stupidly tough though for me, reminding us of how isolated Whitby is really. I live in the same region as it, but the drive is still bloody arduous. Passing York and Pickering are always welcome markers and of course, seeing the beautiful North Yorkshire moors roll out before you is certainly a bonus. However, when the gradient changes on the roads and there’s a frigging ‘escape lane’, that’s when I’m reminded of how treacherous the journey can be. I wouldn’t fancy living there in the winter!
On a side note – when I first moved to Yorkshire, I was utterly flabberghasted by the endlessly steep hills and sharp bends. One thing I did learn though, very early on, was to respect the roads. The road up to Whitby needs respect. Boy racers and pillocks need not bother themselves with the journey.
My husband once convinced me to go on a boat ride out to sea and then back again to the harbour – knowing full bloody well I get motion sick. It was insightful to see the place from the point of view of the sea, but never again. Seriously, I don’t have sea legs. At. All.
Another lovely memory I have is just walking along the road by the shore at sunset, arms around each other like teenaged love-puppies, dreamily looking at the tiny boats like specks of light on the horizon.
I wish I could go there and just abandon myself to the north wind that blows in from across the sea; to shatter into a thousand pieces so that it could carry me away with it, caressing the red roofs of the little fishermen’s cottages as we go.
Whitby, in our own small way, will always belong to us.
Til’ next time my dear friend…