Experience the seafarers’ way of life from sea to shore at new festival

Head chef at the Magpie Cafe in Whitby, Paul Gildroy.
Head chef at the Magpie Cafe in Whitby, Paul Gildroy.

Anyone who shares a passion for the Yorkshire coast will know that Whitby’s seafood is legendary – but what about the men and women who toil on the seas to put the scampi, crab and fish and chips on our plates?

It’s thanks to them, that Whitby is one of the few places left in Britain where you can still experience the seafarer’s way of life from sea to shore, as it’s been for hundreds of years – and that’s why the heroic efforts of these fishermen and women to bring the catch in, are being honoured during the town’s first-ever Fish & Ships Festival on Saturday May 18 and Sunday May 19.

The trawler Defiant, leaving Whitby.

The trawler Defiant, leaving Whitby.

“From its harbour to its lighthouse, Whitby is a town built on fishing – and the town’s people are born with the sea in their blood,” he said. “Fishing’s never an easy life, and some of the stories we’ll be revealing during the festival are the stuff of fiction – death-defying adventures, and terrible tragedy; but we’re an island nation, and our seafarers have helped shape the character not just of Whitby, but of Britain itself. We’re proud to be shedding light on these unsung heroes for the Whitby’s Fish & Ships Festival – ordinary people who’ve lived a remarkable life,” says Colin Pyrah from CP Heritage, who is helping organise many of the cultural events for the festival.

Stars of the show include Dora Walker who piloted fishing boats through the North Sea’s minefields during World War Two and became the first woman to skipper a boat in the North East in the 1930s.

Her remarkable life and achievements will be revealed in Whitby Museum’s festival mini-exhibition, open 9.30am to 4.30pm during the weekend.

There’s also a chance to meet today’s seafood heroes, whose families have fished Whitby’s seas for generations. In action during live seafood demos in the Fish Market (with Locker Trawlers); on their boats (including Andrew Leadley bringing in the catch); or even making boats (as Parkol Marine Engineering open their boat-yard).

Fred Normandale, who was born into one of the Yorkshire Coast’s most prominent fishing families, will be at Whitby Library on May 19 (2pm–3pm). He’s not only lived his life at sea but become a tireless supporter of the local fishing industry, with a wealth of ‘fishy tales’ to entertain and enthral.

Visitors will get to experience first-hand how, through extraordinary resilience and dedication, they’ve adapted to changing times to safeguard their historic livelihood, ensuring that the town’s fishing industry is thriving, proudly local, and award-winningly sustainable. As local seafood hero Paul Gildroy, award-winning head chef of Whitby’s famous Magpie Café, said: “Whitby’s history is steeped in the fishing industry.

“It was once of the main ports, playing a pivotal part in feeding the country.

“Although the fishing industry declined in the 20th Century, Whitby’s shellfish industry has grown as we’ve learned to adapt and diversify, and we’re now a premier crab and lobster port.

“As a town we respect the fishermen and the fish – we know what a dangerous and difficult job it is.

“The whole town is pulling together for the festival to celebrate Whitby’s fishing history and it’s going to be fantastic. Whitby’s a gem of a town and we are so blessed to be living here. The festival is an opportunity to showcase what Whitby can do and that’s so, so important.

“Our seafood restaurants are winning awards as UK’s best, and Yorkshire’s shellfish is among the best in the country - in demand across Europe, with Whitby being the largest supplier of scampi in the world.

“Visitors to the festival will be able to explore Whitby’s fishing life first-hand, not just tasting seafood, but finding out from local experts how to catch, fillet and dress a huge variety of locally-caught seafood - and even seeing how a local fishing trawler is built.”