"More than just fish and chips": How Whitby became Yorkshire's top visitor destination

Whitby
Whitby

It's official - tourism chiefs believe the Easter Bank Holiday was Whitby's busiest weekend EVER.

Photos showing thousands of visitors crossing the town's Swing Bridge on Easter Sunday sparked debate about whether too many tourists were flocking to Whitby.

Visitors enjoy an open-top bus tour of Whitby

Visitors enjoy an open-top bus tour of Whitby

So just how has the quaint seaside town, famous for Dracula and jet jewellery, gone from quiet backwater to Yorkshire's leading honeypot destination?

Art gallery owner John Freeman set up his business in 1969 and has seen Whitby experience a dramatic increase in popularity during the past 50 years.

"Easter looks like being the busiest Bank Holiday ever - I've never seen Whitby like that, not even on the August Bank Holidays have we had that sort of crowding.

"It's difficult to tell exactly how many people came as we don't have a system for counting vehicles, but there were cars abandoned everywhere. The weight of the people on the Swing Bridge must have far exceeded its safe limit!"

Traffic issues

"The park and ride is useful but there aren't enough spaces for the cars that come in and it's inadequate now - there needs to be one either side of town really.

"You will still get people driving round and round town trying to park somewhere. Whitby was not designed for vehicles - it's got narrow streets and old buildings."

The Heartbeat effect

"Whitby stayed under the radar for years and years. Since I opened my gallery in 1969 there's been massive change. Two of the major factors in putting Whitby on the map have been the Heartbeat TV series and the visit of the Endeavour replica from Australia.

"Tourism is Whitby's lifeblood, but we never went down the 'kiss me quick' Blackpool route.

"There's something here for all ages - activities for children, the beaches, the moors. Easter lifted the whole town after what was a quiet winter. Encouraging too many visitors on summer weekends is counter-productive though - we want people to come year-round to balance it out."

Goth takeover

The Whitby Goth Weekends have also grown in popularity and now attract just as many 'goth-watchers' as goths themselves.

"The goths are fascinating - people come to watch them and photograph them. People come from all over the place to express themselves in a different way to how they would at home. When the first Whitby Goth Weekend was planned, we were unsure, but now we've embraced them - it's great for the town and they fill all the accommodation."

Record-breaking summer?

Whitby's business owners are now looking to the summer - with guesthouses already reporting record bookings as Brexit-weary travellers look towards 'staycation' holidays.

"We are praying for good weather! It just puts visitors in a happier frame of mind and they will spend a bit more money. We have some great jet workshops and jewellers, more art galleries than York, superb restaurants - we're not just about fish and chips."