Day 31: Middlesbrough to Hull


Whitby Abbey

Whitby Abbey

Today the torch makes its way down the coast from Middlesbrough and passes through places in North Yorkshire that I know very well, like Pickering and the wonderful Scarborough before making its way on to Hull, one of the most important sea ports on the north-east coast.

But I want to talk about Whitby, one of my favourite places. We used to go to North Yorkshire often for holidays when I was a kid. It’s a fascinating part of the country. Very appealing if you fancy wandering around on the moors looking for Heathcliffe, pretending to be the ghost of Kathy. (Though Kathy’s ghost probably didn’t have as much trouble with sheep droppings.) These holidays would always include a visit to Whitby, a fishing town, port and seaside resort at the mouth of the River Esk. Whitby is famous for several things, including its ruined abbey, and its connection with the great mariner Captain Cook, who was a marine apprentice for a firm in Whitby. But there are others.

Jet broochWhitby jet.

Jet is fossilised wood. It had been used for beads since bronze age times, and the Romans were very fond of it. It’s had also been popular for rosary beads for a long time. But it suddenly became immensely fashionable, when Queen Victoria began to wear jewellery made of Whitby Jet while in mourning. Since she was in mourning for around 40 years, that was one long fashion trend. The jet found around Whitby is Jurassic era.

whitby coat of armsAnd speaking of Jurassic…

The coastline around Whitby is part of the “Jurassic Coast” and is a magnet for fossil hunters. The town’s coat of arms even depicts three “snakestones”, or ammonite fossils, so well know is the area for fossils. There are dinosaur footprints on the rocks at the beach.

Dracula came from Whitby!

Okay, many of you will know that Whitby features in the book Dracula and is where the count arrives in England. But maybe you don’t know that in the real world, Bram Stoker found the name Dracula while researching in the public library in Whitby.

Lucky Ducks

Lucky ducks

Lucky ducks

If only Dracula could pop back today, he could pick up one of the next items the town is famous for, the Whitby Lucky Duck. These are small hand-made glass ducks, originally produced fifty years ago for superstitious actors to take on stage with them. Now they are sold to tourists from all around the world. The green one in the picture there my lucky duck, which I’ve had for many years. I can’t claim it’s brought me luck, but it does remind me of family holidays in a beautiful part of the country.

Lucky ducks are also talismans for the characters in the story I have coming out in the Lashings of Sauce anthology in July, a fundraising anthology for the UK GLBT Writer’s meet. A fateful weekend in Whitby changes the course of their lives forever. Take a look at a short teaser excerpt below.

Excerpt from Reclaiming Territory by Becky Black – available 22nd July 2012 in Lashings of Sauce Anthology

Reclaiming Territory by Becky Black

Jim climbed out of the sidecar and straightened up with a groan.

“Bloody hell. I don’t remember riding in that being so bumpy twenty-five years ago. God, my back’s killing me.”

Andy took his helmet off and smirked at him. “Don’t be such a jessy.”

“I’m not a jessy. I’m just—”

“Getting old?”

“Not as young as I used to be.”

Neither of them were, their hair greying, laugh lines turning to wrinkles. But Andy’s smirk was as cheeky as ever, enticing Jim by turns to either kiss it or smack it.

“It’s okay for you riding the bike,” Jim said. “You’re not crammed into a breadbox with your arse three inches off the road.”

“You never used to complain.” Andy stripped off his leather jacket, dropping it in the sidecar before taking a comb from his pocket and tidying up his hair, flattened by the helmet.

“Aye, well, I was eighteen then.” And too distracted by the prospect of what awaited him when they reached Whitby. And he didn’t mean the abbey.

Back then Andy had insisted they should visit places and not spend the entire weekend in bed in the guest house, as Jim wanted. He kept talking about Dracula, St Hilda, and Captain Cook and other things Jim knew little about. But he knew he loved to hear Andy talk about them.

“Come on,” Andy said, swinging a still-shapely leg off the bike. He locked up the sidecar and gestured at the abbey. His carefully combed hair was already being mussed up by the wind. “Let’s check out the old place then get some lunch.”

“Hang on.” Jim said, checking his phone for anything he’d missed while crammed into the sidecar.

“Oh, put that thing away.”

“That’s not what you said last night. Got a text off Caitlyn, asking if we got here safely.”

“Tell her we’re in Whitby, not Kabul. Did she think we’d be attacked by bandits en route?”

“Well when she found out there’s no Starbucks here, then, yeah, she probably did. Plus, you haven’t driven a motorbike since 1998.” Jim tapped a quick message into the phone, then slipped it away into his pocket and followed Andy, who’d started walking from the car park to the ruins of the abbey, perched high above the town. The wind blew in off the sea, a chilly north-easterly, just like that first weekend they came here.

~ 1987 ~

“Can we go back to the B and B now? It’s bloody freezing.”

“No,” Andy said. “What do you think that landlord will think we’re doing in our room in the middle of a sunny day?”

“He’ll think we’re shagging.” Jim grinned, but then sobered, looking around warily. Nobody in earshot. Early in the season, barely a tourist around yet. Ideal for a couple of young lads on a dirty weekend. Of course everyone back home thought they were on the tap for lasses. If they knew the truth… Jim didn’t like to dwell on the thought. It was why they’d come down to Whitby. Too far away to run into anyone they knew, or to be easily contacted. And something about Dracula, according to Andy, who would keep talking about people out of books like they were real. As if he expected to find a bit of graffiti on the abbey walls: Dracula woz ere.

Jim strode over to Andy, who was reading a guidebook, its pages whipping about in the strong wind. He looked cold, his nose and eyes reddened by the wind, and Jim wanted to pull him close to warm him up.

“You should have a better coat,” he said, giving Andy’s denim jacket a dirty look. “But you had to spend all your money on that stupid bike and sidecar.”

Andy shrugged. “Better than getting the train.”

Jim wasn’t sure about that. That bloody sidecar had rattled him helplessly all the way from Shields. He snuggled himself deeper into his coat, or rather his Dad’s coat, the donkey jacket he used to wear in the winter when heading out on dark cold mornings to start his shift at the pit. Didn’t need it any more. Jim wondered if he could get away with giving the coat to Andy. Would his dad miss it? Would Andy even accept it?

No, stupid idea. It was too big for one thing and Andy could buy a decent coat if he wanted. He had that job he’d been doing after school the last two years. Saved his money up and bought an old Triumph—which didn’t work. He’d had to spend six months repairing it. And Jim happened to be pretty handy with a spanner himself, so he got to spend all that time with Andy and nobody could question it.


Read the rest in July!

Lashing of Sauce anthology


12 responses »

  1. Oooh, love the excerpt, and yay for Whitby (and the rest of the North East coast)! I’ve only visited Whitby once (on a day-trip by steam train when we were holidaying in Goathland), but found it a very inspirational place. There’s a story tinkling around the back of my mind which starts on the steps up to the abbey…

  2. Ah, I have a soft spot for Whitby. Great writing in the except, too – I like the way you set it up, and the line about Starbucks made me chuckle. Incidentally there are some academic studies in the US that concluded the presence of a Starbucks in an area is a good proxy measure for lack of crime, etc. even though there have also been surveys in the catering trade pointing out that if you measure strength of coffee from different stores, Starbucks is among the weakest coffees you can buy.

    • Thanks. 😀 I saw a report about that stuff about coffee – actually it was reported here more from the angle that some coffee in coffee shops had way more caffeine than you would expect, which could be dangerous to certain people. Where Starbucks had the standard amount of caffeine that the department of health or Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or whoever it was would expect. So people could reliably monitor their caffeine intake if having a Startbucks beverage. Doesn’t bother me, since I mostly drink decaf anyway and I prefer a lighter coffee taste! So Starbucks works for me.

  3. Pingback: Coming soon – Lashings of Sauce Anthology | Becky Black

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