At Easter, I took a short break on the east coast of North Yorkshire and have been meaning to write about it ever since! It’s a region that we know well as a family: my husband spent many holidays in Filey as a child and, when we were first married, some friends owned a house at Robin Hood’s Bay, at which we spent several wonderful long weekends. Built in the seventeenth century, this was the house that stands nearest the sea, adjacent to the ‘quarterdeck’, or man-made apron for viewing the bay, and, on stormy nights, the waves broke right over it and the whole building shook. (It’s next door to what was the Leeds University/Sheffield University Marine Laboratory from 1912 to 1982 and now, rebuilt, a National Trust visitor centre.) The house is still there, though no longer owned by our friends. During its time, it has been several times hired by authors wanting a quiet place in which to write without disturbance (though when I visited the house its plumbing system was so eccentric that a great deal of time had to be deployed in pumping out sewage and clearing the drains!). Robin Hood’s Bay itself is the setting of the Bramblewick novels, by Leo Walmsley.
No visit to the East coast is complete without a visit to this mediaeval fishing village. However, this year, my husband and I headed a little further north, to Port Mulgrave, a hamlet near Staithes. Bleaker and more desolate than ‘the Bay’, this place really could have been at the end of the world.
One of the most magnificent things about this stretch of Yorkshire coast is that visiting it is like stepping back into the past, but in an unpretentious way (quite unlike, for example, the self-conscious ‘olde-worlde’ well-preserved streets of towns such as Harrogate). The house in which we stayed was a massive building that dated from the period when ironstone was mined there during the nineteenth century. I’m not sure what the purpose of this building was originally: it may simply have been a dwelling for the ironstone workers, or it may have been part dwelling, part factory. Today it has been divided into several cottages, one of which was our holiday house. Intriguingly, the end cottage was burned down some time ago, without any damage having been caused to the rest of the building. Its owner still visits regularly to tend the garden and the empty space where the cottage once stood.
I hadn’t heard of Port Mulgrave before. When I came to look it up, I discovered that the Mulgrave Estate covers a massive area at the centre of which lies Whitby. By chance, on this holiday, we also happened to pass the estate office in Sandsend.
Although it was Easter, we managed to avoid the crowds, apart from an ill-advised foray into Whitby – another favourite haunt – on Good Friday. On Easter Saturday, we walked from Robin Hood’s Bay
to Ravenscar and climbed the cliff that leads to the golf links and the Raven Hall Hotel, where we bought a sandwich lunch and sat outside to soak up the sunshine.
We stumbled upon several plump seal pups at the boulder-strewn end of the beach, just before the start of the climb up the cliff. One of them growled menacingly at our dog, clearly more than a match for him (He’s a very mild-mannered dog, and certainly wouldn’t have hurt it; he stood timidly several feet away and looked in wonderment at it!). Almost full-grown, they were evidently awaiting the return of the parent seals with more food.
I’d never been as close as this to seals before and had no idea how beautiful they are. Glistening and glossy, each was a different colour. Some were dappled like horses.
I admit it, I wrote this post largely as an excuse to share with my readers their beauty and that of this magnificent coastline! Also, some Twitter friends have wondered about my promotion of Yorkshire seafood, especially crab. Now you know! I love this place and everything it has to offer.
[Text and photographs © Christina James 2014]
As you can tell from the date of the picture I took from the train window just over a week ago, this post is a little behindhand. I was then, and am now, heading south on East Coast rail. What a lot has changed in one week! The temperatures have soared, high pressure has established itself over the whole of the UK and the train Wifi is working for once! I’m conference-bound today, with all the lightness of heart that good weather brings. Here’s what I wrote last week:
I’m on the train to London again, for the first time in quite a while. It’s just after 7 a.m. and broad daylight – a luxury that I haven’t experienced on this journey at this time since last October. It’s chilly: the fields are damp, still drying out after the rains, and a low mist rises from the earth as it warms up for the day. The sky is oyster-coloured and fretted with a complex pattern of clouds that seem to form the shape of the skeleton of a whale, or some long-dead prehistoric beast; I see a dog running across the grass, but can’t spot its owner. Mostly the land in this area is flat and arable, but occasional huddles of cows or solitary horses tethered in a paddock, grazing peacefully, flash by.
As usual, there is a problem with the train’s WiFi, but mercifully the electrical sockets are working, so I can still use my laptop. This is just as well, because, try as I might, I’m struggling to find my fellow passengers interesting. Opposite me sits a burly man reading the Metro newspaper. He licks his finger to get a purchase every time he turns the page, an unhygienic habit that I’ve always found irritating (particularly when employed by bank tellers counting out notes that I must then grasp). I wonder how much newsprint he swallows each week? The man sitting opposite is slenderer, younger and quite geeky. He’s wearing square, heavy-framed spectacles and is immersed in his iPad. I can just see that he is reading the Financial Times (and can tell that he is familiar with East Coast – he’s downloaded the paper before getting on the train!). At least there’s not much prospect of his sucking on his thumb and index finger as he scrolls down the articles!
Looking round, I see that all my fellow passengers are men. The ones behind me, each seated at a separate table, are all reading documents and making notes: weekend work that didn’t get done, I guess.
Now the train is approaching Newark Northgate. The sun is riding quite high in the sky, but is still watery and pale. Newark is this train’s last stop before King’s Cross. Quite a crowd of people is waiting to embark, but again not a woman in sight. Smarter than I, perhaps – they’ve managed to stay at home to enjoy what promises to be a bright early spring day.
Breakfast arrives (I’m travelling first class, though on a very cheap ticket, because I ordered it weeks ago). It’s a smoked salmon omelette. Porridge and fruit compote, which was what I really wanted, has apparently ‘sold out’. I’m sceptical about how this could happen on a Monday morning. Someone forgot to fill in an order form, perhaps? The omelette is OK, but the half-bagel on which it sits looks tough and rubbery. I decide to give it a miss.
All of this, I’m sure you’ll agree, is quite humdrum. The journey is one that I’ve made scores of times before, usually, but not always, with more promising travelling companions. (I’m hoping that the rest of it will be as uneventful and that the train will arrive on time, as I have only forty minutes to cross the city to get my connection at Victoria.) But my spirits are lifting. I feel the old magic that I’ve always associated with train journeys since I was a child. It’s been dulled by the dreariness of winter, but today it has returned, in full strength.
It’s 8.10 a.m. and the sunlight is streaming through the train window, flinging a glare of orange across the computer screen so that I can hardly see these words. Spring is here. When I arrive in London, spring will be burgeoning there, too. It is the beginning of March and at last it seems as if the year has really started. There is the whole of the spring to sip at as if it were a delicacy and the almost-certainty that it will be followed by the feast of summer. It will be eight whole months before we shall arrive at the end of October and watch with dismay the withering of the trees and the light as winter approaches again.
Today, I am travelling to London, then on to Eastbourne: an ordinary work-day expedition. But it is part of a much bigger, more exciting journey: my odyssey into 2014.
Today, I am travelling to Brighton, where this year there will be no heaps of snow on the promenade and I’ll be interested to see just how little the storms have left of the West Pier skeleton, which I wrote about and photographed twelve months ago.
Have a lovely week of spring weather, everyone.