27 Jun Discovery Captain Cook’s Coast, England
by Richard Phipps from United Kingdom
In the Eighteenth Century when the European powers were scouring the globe in the name of exploration and adventure, a man rose through the ranks in the English Navy to become one of the most famous captains and explorers of all times, going by the name of Captain James Cook. He made three great voyages of exploration, the first aboard the Endeavour and the subsequent two on the Resolution. He mapped vast tracks of coastline in Australia and New Zealand, the South Pacific and was credited as the first European to discover Hawaii. Before his rise however he had humble roots on the North Yorkshire coast in England, a charming part of the country that I had the opportunity to visit for 5 days.
Captain Cook’s Coast, Staithes by Richard Phipps
The idyllic village of Staithes is located at the mouth of the Staithes Beck where it enters the North Sea. Its geography is impressive, defined by its steep gorge like locale which is hugged by picturesque cottages among narrow cobbled streets. It’s a coastal village with a rich history, a secluded cove and quintessentially British feel. The village is far from sleepy despite its size with plenty of visitors at the weekend, weather dependent, with a real laid back, slow paced feel. If I wasn’t sat outside the Cod & Lobster sampling the local beer I was sipping tea and enjoying a slice of Staithes cobble cake, a light sponge tinged with cinnamon with walnuts and apples. We chose a fortuitous week to visit, with clear skies basking in sunshine as a calm sea lapped up to the harbor walls. Although the fishing port isn’t thriving like it would have been in its heyday small boats bob on the waves as the fisherman prepare their lobster traps.
Captain Cook moved here as a boy, his first dwelling in a seaside town, ultimately inspired him to pursue a career at sea after his apprenticeship as a grocery in Staithes wasn’t enough to ignite his passions. It’s much agreed that the village still remains much unchanged from the days of his residence here, except the cottages are now holiday lets as oppose to family fishing homes. The heritage centre in the old Methodist chapel provides a great introduction to the famous explorer’s life and the history of the town. In fact his legacy lives on all over this coast, whether it’s in Staithes’ Captain Cook Inn, Whitby’s Endeavour pub and the statue that watches over the harbor, the monument that stands near Roseberry Topping in the North York Moors National Park and the countless road and street signs that share his name.
Staithes offers more than a history lesson and a step into the past. It’s a brilliant starting point for many walks along the North Yorkshire cliffs. To the west is Boulby, the highest point on the English east coast, before heading all the way to Saltburn-on-Sea whereas to the east you pass Port Mulgrave, a long abandoned iron mining port, Runswick Bay which is a quirky village built on a steep hill leading to the sea, Sandsend that sits on a long golden beach before ending in the town of Whitby. And Whitby was my next port of call, much the same as Captain Cook.
Eat & Drink: Cod & Lobster is a must, great food, decent choice of local ale and brilliant views. Other pubs include The Royal George and Captain Cook Inn. Try the Staithes cobble cake in Seadrift Café.
Worth a visit: The Captain Cook & Staithes Heritage Centre is 3 GBP to enter and has a host of local memorabilia and items and prints from Cook’s voyages.
Tip: There are an awful lot of seagulls in Staithes. We were there when the temperature was 26°C so had no choice but to sleep with the window open. It may be worth purchasing a cheap portable fan unless you don’t mind a 4am wake up call!
Captain Cook’s Coast, Whitby by Richard Phipps
The town of Whitby, like Staithes, sits on the North Yorkshire coast at the mouth of a river (the River Esk) with its streets rising up the steep valley banks on either side. The town’s Abbey, a symbol of its engrossing past, gazes rather imposingly over the streets below from its eastern hillside, whereas the whalebone arch on its western bank details its whaling activities in the 18th and 19th centuries. Whilst the Benedictine monks of the abbey were a real presence in the town from the 7th century onwards, the fictional character of Dracula unfortunately wasn’t, despite his landing here in 1897 in Bram Stoker’s novel ‘Dracula’. It’s easy to see why Whitby inspired a supernatural novel with its old town narrow streets. Old buildings, such as The Old Smuggler from 1401, the Jolly Sailor pub and the stone and timber amalgam at Sandgate, are just a few reasons why the national Goth festival is held in the town. Back in Cook’s day when he joined the Royal Navy here, the Abbey would have had its main bell tower still intact dwarfing the nave and arches below but that no longer remains. The gothic looking remains, shrouded in mist, would have been an eerie sight and one fitting for an escaped vampire to vanish among. Take a stroll down either side of the River Esk and you feel very much a part of both Stoker and Cook’s world; the harbor still full of activity even if the Royal Navy vessels have vacated to other ports and the coloration of the brickwork matching the imaginations idea of a haunted town.
It’s a place for the beer drinker, the site seer, the independent shopper and idle stroller. Like in Staithes, Whitby has its own museum dedicated to the Captain, this one the exact place he lodged as a naval apprentice 250 years ago. Here the collections are more extensive, more fulfilling. This is where his great journeys were made possible and where history was about to be made. Take the busy swing bridge across the opposing side of the harbor and take your pick of pubs; we stopped in The Pier Inn and watched the world go by, trying Whitby Brewery’s craft beer (Their brewery is behind the abbey). Head back across the harbor once more and take a turn off Sandgate to one of the courtyards where hidden cafes and pubs line the narrow cobbled alleyways or alternatively, why not purchase some Whitby Jet, a local semi-precious stone made from extreme pressurized wood that’s made into jewelry and very much in keeping with the Gothic vibes.
If you want an alternative to the town then head eastwards along the coast to Sandsend where a stretch of beach provides a relaxing contrast. Here there are a few shops and a good choice of pubs and cafes once more and of course an ice cream van if the weather should suite.
Eat & Drink: The Pier Inn was our choice of pub and was ideally suited along the harbor. They have a good food menu and plenty of drinks to satisfy any kind of drinker. Have a portion of fish and chips at Royal Fisheries off Baxtergate (it’d be rude not to since you’re by the sea!) or have a cuppa tea and cake in Sandersyard courtyard off the busy pedestrian Church Street.
Worth a visit: The winner in this category goes to Whitby Abbey and its dramatic views of the coast. It’s run by English Heritage which always makes for an enjoyable visit.
Robin Hood’s Bay
Head down the coast from Whitby and you’ll reach Robin Hood’s Bay and, similar to Staithes, it is a fishing village that lies at the bottom of a steep hill. Park by the Victoria (an excellent place to have a breather and a drink at the end of your day out) and head down the rather thigh aching decline towards the old village. Off the main road quaint little alleyways abound, leading you passed stone cottages with brightly coloured doors and window frames. The maze of lanes leads to dead ends, some meet other passageways or if you’re fortune they’ll take you down to the waterfront. It almost seems like a living museum, a village time forgot and one that you begin to understand when you delve into its past. Smuggling was a regularly occurrence on the Yorkshire coast in centuries gone by and the village is said to have many secretive underground passageways that interconnect, leading from the small port to the North York Moors. Similar to the Old Smuggler in Whitby, the Smuggler in Robin Hood’s Bay is a wine bar and BnB and expressed the areas past in these illegal activities. A small beach lays to the south of the village and the whole bay seems like it’s miles and miles from anywhere. If you want a trip that takes away all the stress of modern life then look no further. Choose one of several pubs, eateries or cafes that look out into the mass of blue that is the North Sea and wile away the hours or souvenir shop in little stone cottages in the mesh of lanes.
Whilst James Cook was studying prior to his seaward days the current homes in Robin Hood’s Bay were being built. It became a thriving fishing community as most coastal villages were, reaching its peak in the 1800’s. This stretch of coastline has also unearthed plenty of prehistoric fossils and a visit should be paid to the Dinosaur Fossil Museum on New Road. I might have grown out of my childhood fascination with dinosaurs and Jurassic Park but it is still a massively interesting subject and it definitely makes sure that your eyes are peeled whilst strolling along the beach.
Once you’ve had your fill of walking along what seems like the set of an out fashioned television soap make sure you’ve saved enough energy to get back up to the car park. Have lunch in Swell and gaze out at the see whilst enjoying a Whitby Whaler to break the ascent up.
Eat & Drink: The Victoria at the top of the hill was our pub stop and aside from its extraordinary character, it also serves a good pint and has excellent views to boot. Eat dinner in Swell or choose The Coffee Shack and people watch if you fancy a lighter bite.
Worth a visit: Having a stroll around the picturesque alleyways is enough fun in itself. No need to direct you to a particular place; just grab a camera and have fun.
Tip: The hill is steep and all visitor parking is at the top of the hill so be advised if anyone in your party is unsteady on their feet.
I hope this has given you a little taster of what the North Yorkshire Coast has to offer. Yorkshire is the county I was born in and where I live and it’s definitely one of England’s most diverse, it offers a great alternative to any foreigner tourist looking for something different but it also offers the local, like myself the opportunity to explore many unique places.
Captain Cook’s ships (both of which were made in Whitby) took him to the South Pacific, far from where he developed his necessary skills to navigate the world before he met his grizzly end to the inhabitants of Hawaii. My trip ended somewhat happier, with a pint of Old Jack’s Tipple at the Cod and Lobster watching the seagulls as the sun went down.