Posted: 4/27/2008


     Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast is a gem of a town, and a still active fishing port. In 2006 WHICH Magazine designated it as the best English seaside resort. From the harbour on both sides of the River Esk sailed whalers, fishermen and one of the most remarkable sailors in history, Captain James Cook RN.  The very comfortable double decker Yorkshire Coastliner bus runs from Leeds and York over the magnificant North York Moors with lots of woolly sheep and dramatic views past Castle Howard and villages such as Pickering, Goathland, Thornton le Dale and Malton.

     High up on West Cliff is a giant bronze statue of one of the greatest captains, navigators and cartographers in history who was tragically killed by natives on a beach in the Hawaian Islands in 1797 after a life at sea.   James Cook first worked 10 miles up the coast in the grocery shop of Mr. William Harrison in the tiny fishing village of Staithes and at 18 came to Whitby as an apprentice for John and Henry Walker on coal ships plying up and down the coast from Newcastle to London. Of course, in those days the sea was a lot quicker than by the bad roads.  Recently,at the British Library in London I looked at one of his ships logs and some of his remarkable and accurate maps. Scurvy was rampant in the British Navy and he insisted his men eat limes and lots of vegetables, such as sauerkraut, hence the nickname 'Limey', and loss of life was dramatically reduced.

   I visited the house on Grape Lane where he lived while in port which is now the Captain Cook Museum. On the base of his statue are four large plaques.  One from the people of Australia to the man who discovered the East Coast of Australia . "From this discovery emerged a nation". Another side is from The Dominion of Canada where he sailed and entered but failed to go through the North-West Passage.  The third is from New Zealand where he mapped both islands, and the fourth dedicated to the Men of Whitby who built all the ships he used to make history Endeavour, Resolution, Adventure, Discover on his three voyages 1768-1771 : 1772-1775 : 1776-1779.

    Next to it is an arch, a giant pair of whale jaw bones, dedicated to the men who worked in the whaling industry here, until it died out when whale pruducts were replaced by man made items. The great local whaling captain William Scoresby invented the crows nest.

   Fishing is still a daily task and there are dozens of fish and chip restaurants using locally caught produce.  High above the East Cliff is the  ruined Whitby Abbey dating from 657 AD, when Christian King Oswain of Northumberland dedicated it, and next door St Mary's Church and its graveyard, with hundreds of gravestones. It's a stiff 199 steps up there from the river. One who made it besides myself was Bram Stoker, who was so impressed by the town and the morning mist over the abbey that he used the setting in his famous work, DRACULA. There is a Dracula museum and at the market I watched a Dracula look-alike do a roaring trade of charging for a snapshot with him.

    This day the town was crowded with tourists including about 5,000 Goths in some magnificant black suits, dyed black hair, eyeshadow, fingernails, high boots, black trench coats and body jewelry and Victorian style dresses and parrasals.  In October there are even more, about 20,000 decending on the town and everywhere I walked there were NO VACANCIES in every boarding house and hotel. Sadly, up on West Cliff I went to the dedication of a park bench to the memory of local girl, Sophie Lancaster who was murdered last August in Bacup, Lancashire for no reason other than her dress. "In memory, an angel too soon" read the plaque. Her two teenage killers were given life sentences.

      There are 30 local pubs,and I  must have gone past 20 of them before I finally found one showing soccer on SKY Sports TV, Rosie O'Grady's Bar at the George Hotel, to watch the exciting finish of the Chelsea vs Manchester United battle. I then hopped on a local bus for a 10 minute trip to the Turnbull Ground to witness a serious relegation battle between the two towns, Whitby Town - the Seasiders, and Ilkeston Town from Derbyshire in the Unibond Premier Division.  Whitby play in blue with a red and white hoop, similar to Sampdoria from Genoa, the home town of another great sailor, Christopher Columbus. They were in danger of relegation but two goals in each half and a red card to Ilkeston gave the home sides fans 3 points, a 4-0 win and a sigh of relief. Two goals from Karl Charlton and one each from Danny Brunskill and Anthony Ormerod will keep them up.

    About 500 fans were in attendance, more than usual and they were very vocal and colourful.I stood behind one goal with the fancily dressed Ilkeston fans, and there must have been about 50 of them. Their costumes ranged from Fred Flintstone, Captain America, Batman and Batwoman, a white dog, Iron Man, Banana Man, Superwoman, Spiderman, The Wolverine, a few ladies in pink cowboy hats and Vicar Jed, standing next to me with his son, and whose 4 letter words aimed at the referee and the Whitby goalie were not very reverant!.

     Whitby fans were less colourful, but had plenty of club scarves and shirts and 3 were dressed out as The BLUES BROTHERS, and everyone sang Come on you Blues!!. The club built a 500 seat main stand in 2003, and from there I watched the second half and also the half-time penalty shoot-out cup final. Airy Hill Primary School were beaten 4-2 by Stakesby School, dressed in CF Flamengo red & black hoops, with goalie Matthew Berry making the difference for the Saints. He was carried off with the giant trophy on the shoulders of his happy team mates.