Captain Cook’s Harbor: A Walking Tour of Whitby, England

Kimberly Engber takes us along on her trip to Whitby, England, a small historic town that has the same narrow streets and harbor as it did centuries ago. Read about Engber’s highlights such as the ruins of Celtic Whitby Abbey that his been standing since 657 AD and a replica of Captain Cook’s 1769 ship, The Endeavor!

Whitby Abbey
Whitby Abbey was a double monastery for men and women ruled over by the royal princess Abbess Hild. Its spectacular ruin hovers above the beaches and vacation cottages of Whitby. Photo by Kimberly Engber.

It is easy to imagine scenes of terror when you are standing in the midst of graves coated green with moss. You can look past these headstones to the ruins of a 13th-century abbey. And the town below boasts the best fish and chips in England.

On an unexpectedly sunny spring weekend, I traveled with a companion through the Yorkshire Moors to the seaside resort town of Whitby on England’s “Dinosaur Coast” to find horror, history, and more.

We arrived on an early afternoon bus from the city of York and simply crossed the street to the tourist information building.

There, on a rack crammed next to a shelf of carved spoons and biscuit tins that tottered when my backpack brushed against them, we found brochures and booklets that mapped city walks and coastal walks. They promised maritime history, fossils, cream tea, and literary landmarks.

The friendly staff directed us first to the many bed and breakfast hotels perched on Whitby’s West Side Cliff.

You can walk from the bus station, or you can try one of the waiting cabs. The climb is steep, although not long, and we were rewarded for our effort when a harbor of brittle white boats filled the horizon.

If you visit Whitby in the spring as we did, you’ll see only a few children running on the wide, sandy beaches below the nineteenth-century concrete pier and only a few pensioners in their big hats fanning out into the cobbled streets to buy jet jewelry. You are there before the main tourist season begins.

Famous Ruins, Famous Writers

Once you’ve settled in your hotel, you’ll want to venture out again to catch the last hours of light on the water. A 100-year old swing bridge crosses the working port of the River Esk and unites the west and east side of town. You’ll step off of Bridge Street onto Church Street with its wooden signboards and shop fronts that promise everything from books and pottery to ropes of taffy and other seaside confections.

Captain Cook’s Harbor: A Walking Tour of Whitby, England