Walks: See the Whitby of Old

Pictured the 199 steps that lead up to St Marys Church and Whitby Abbey.
Pictured the 199 steps that lead up to St Marys Church and Whitby Abbey.

Whitby is situated at the mouth of the River Esk, facing due north across the sea with open moorland in all other directions. Whitby has been a historic religious centre, a shipbuilding, whaling and fishing port, and is now a popular holiday resort.

This short trail of under three miles visits several historic sites and allows time to linger and explore the area in greater detail.

Access is by taking the A171 to Whitby. Make your way to Green Lane (off Church Street) where one can usually manage to park along St Mary’s Crescent.

From St Mary’s Crescent, walk to the top of Green Lane and glance back at the remarkable view. At the road junction turn left along Abbey Lane towards the abbey and youth hostel. Passing the gaunt ruins of Whitby Abbey, remember that the first abbey, destroyed by the Vikings in 867, housed both men and women. It was re-built in the 11th century by Reinfrid. The abbey surrendered in 1539, when Henry VIII closed the monasteries.

In 1830, the tower fell, and in 1914, a German battlecruiser shelled the cliff top and hit the abbey.

Next, enter the gate into St Mary’s churchyard. Keep close beside the church to its main entrance beneath the church clock.

St Mary’s Church was built by Abbot William de Percy in about 1110AD for use by the abbey workers. This parish church of Whitby has galleries dating from 1695 to 1818. The three-decker pulpit dates from 1778 and enables the preacher to see every part of the church.

Now go forward between gravestones to discover Caedmon’s Cross, a memorial to ‘the father of English sacred song’. Caedmon was a Northumbrian oxherd, and the country’s first hymn-writer.

Leaving the cross, descend the 199 church stairs. These used to be made of wood. The flat sections were for coffin bearers to rest. The present stone steps have received expensive maintenance.

Descending from Whitby’s East Cliff, they have witnessed countless feet gradually wearing them away. [The road at the side, ie the Donkey Road, leads to Hawsker.]

At the foot of the steps, turn immediately right along Henrietta Street, once called Haggerlythe.

This street was named after the wife of Nathaniel Cholmley whose family were Lords of the Manor and bought the abbey lands in 1555. A landslip in 1787 destroyed many of the houses and the Methodist Chapel.

Many curing houses for kippers were on this street. The Fortune family have been making kippers here since 1872. Seek Fortune’s Kippers, which suffered the effects of yet another severe landslip in the winter of 2012 to 2013. Some landslips brought down coffins from the churchyard!

Return down Henrietta Street and enter the end of Church Lane, you may wish to visit the Victorian Jet Works opposite the Duke of York.

Continue into Church Street and next to the market is the fish pier. Church Street ends in the old market square which is a lively little spot.

This Town Hall was paid for by Nathaniel Cholmley and the upstairs is accessed by a spiral staircase. It is here that the Court Leet of Whitby met. Often those found guilty had to sit in the stocks outside.

The Market Hall close by was built to shelter the market stalls, with the butchers being in the Shambles.

From the Shambles Market go along Sandgate which dates from 1401. This is the oldest recorded street in Whitby. The lower part was known as the Shambles and contained a large number of butchers’ shops and slaughter houses. Look at the quaint shops, galleries, seafood and jet.

Emerge in Bridge Street, and crossing Bridge Street enter Grape Lane. It was once known as ‘Grope’ Lane because it was dark and unlit.

Near the far end is stage seven of the Captain Cook Heritage Trail. This house was the home of the Walker family and the centre of their shipping business. James Cook worked for them for nine years.

The highly-appraised museum contains rooms furnished as they would have been then.

Emerging in Church Street, turn right by the car park and walk alongside the River Esk towards the upper harbour.

Opposite The Fleece features Whitby’s Merchant Seamen’s Hospital Houses, built in 1675 for use by distressed seamen and their families. The front was rebuilt in 1842, financed by the seamen’s dues, paid whilst they were working. It was refurbished in 1996.

From number 39 ascend Boulby Bank, and reaching number 18 bear right to the top and enter The Ropery.

Turn right along The Ropery and keep straight ahead to cross the middle of a car park. Continue alongside the old hospital which became St Hilda’s Business Centre. At the far end meet Green Lane.

Turning left uphill returns you to St Mary’s Crescent, off left. Having completed your trail, how about fish and chips or Whitby’s famous kippers to conclude a memorable day in Whitby? Distance: Under 3 miles of easy walking.