A broken van and trip to Whitby

Before we start on our adventure to Whitby, we need to discuss breakdowns! One of the few drawbacks of living on the road is what happens when your home breaks down. It was something that we had thought about and planned for extensively before travelling. We always keep some spare money in the bank for repairs and a hotel!

This was a wise choice and something everyone needs to remember. When your house is in the garage, some mechanics won’t let you stay on their premises). Luckily for us we happened to be staying with our daughter when we noticed we were dripping on her driveway. Possibly something we wouldn’t have noticed if we were moving around every day. We tried to have a look at where the issue was coming from but the leak seemed random at first.

We quickly realised (after taking her to a mechanic, letting her cool down for a few hours and her refusing to leak on command) that she only leaked from a very cold start. At first, we thought it was oil but it was actually diesel. We left her with Jason to investigate what was going on and find where the leak was coming from. Luckily for us we had somewhere we could base ourselves and we stayed with our daughter. Read on to find out if she makes it.

Get up and go!

A few days of being lazy and we soon wanted to get up and go. A quick call to a hire car company and we had ourselves a Toyota Yaris for a week. After being in Chewy for 6 months it felt very odd to be in a car again. It’s so low – but a lot easier to park! We couldn’t help but feel so sad to leave our home behind and felt like we were being unfaithful.

Whitby and the famous Whitby Abbey.

Whitby Abbey
Whitby Abbey

The drive to Whitby was easy and picturesque. We picked a lovely sunny day to travel but wished we had the van and could have stayed over nearby. We puled over when we saw the silhouette of the abbey and parked. Arriving at around 11am we found a parking spot on the road with a pay meter. Adding 6 hours on the clock we still didn’t have time to see everything! We puled over when we saw the silhouette of the abbey and parked. We took some photos and then started our walk down narrow roads and tiny passageways to the harbour and town. There is a large car park down by the estuary if you want to get closer.

Holiday cottages are available for rent here but parking could be tricky. There was a real bustle to the town even though it was mid-September and mid-week, indicating the popularity of Whitby. The first thing we noticed walking around was this mysterious black gemstone in all of the jewellery shops.

Whitby Jet

Whitby Jet
Whitby Jet

The jet-black stones adorning the necks of display mannequins and stands showcasing the beauty of this ‘Gem-stone’ intrigues you as you walk past them. They are possibly darker than obsidian and leave you gazing at this black hole in awe. The mystery deepens when you learn that it is a not a gemstone as you would think, its actually made from wood. Whitby Jet is a natural organic gemstone formed from the compressed wood of the prehistoric Monkey Puzzle or Araucaria tree.

Queen Victoria was to become Whitby Jet’s most prolific patron when her beloved Prince Albert died in 1861. Queen Victoria took to wearing Jet jewellery in remembrance of him. It soon became the etiquette to accessorise the period’s elegant mourning fashion with jewellery made from the Whitby Jet gemstone. So much so, that the only jewellery allowed to be worn in court during the period was Whitby Jet.

St Mary’s Church

We crossed over the river to visit St Mary’s Church. Founded as early as 1110AD with its interior now chiefly from the late 1800’s, this church is an important piece of Whitby’s history. There are weather beaten headstones in the cemetery clearly from the 1600’s. The church is perched upon the cliffs with 199 step, steep climb to reach it. It is now in serious jeopardy after two landslides (due to broken drainage and torrential rain) as recent as 2012, caused skeleton parts to drop to the streets below. The town councilor has stated the church is stable.

The origin of the steps is an interesting read, some research into this seems to point to St Hilde. She felt that it was a test of faith to climb the stairs. Possibly due to this is it widely believed that even in the 19th century, when the grounds were open for burials, people preferred to be carried up the stairs to their resting place rather than be taken in a horse drawn carriage. Along the sides of the stairs today are benches stationed to share a wonderful view of the town. This was not their initial use though. The pall-bearers had wooden platforms where seats are now, on which to rest the coffins whist they caught their breath.

Tombs from 1600

Plaque from Francis and Mary Huntrods
Francis and Mary Huntrods

Among the history surviving at the church are the remains of Francis and Mary Huntrods. Their bodies are entombed on the outer wall of the church. A plaque above them tells of their magnificent partnership. Born hours apart on the same day of the same year (19th September 1600), they married on the anniversary of their birthday and after having 12 children passed away within 5 hours of each other aged 80, also on their birthday of the same year.

Whitby Abbey

After wandering around the Church, we made our way to the iconic Whitby Abbey just behind. The silhouette of the abbey had been tempting us since our arrival and we were very keen to explore it. The Abbey is famous for many things, perhaps best known to be the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula. 2 festivals a year are held to celebrate the gothic community in Whitby. One in spring and one at the end of October. This festival, founded in 1994, comprises music from live acts and DJ’s as well as stalls and other events across the town over several days.

Recent excavations have shown that the Whitby headland was settled during the late Bronze Age however it was around 664AD that the centre for religious business took place.

Synod of Whitby

Whitby Abbey was once the most important religious centre in the Anglo-Saxon world. In 664 it was the setting for the Synod of Whitby, a landmark in the history of the Church in England. The Romans and the Celtics, both practicing Christianity, had different ways of calculating the date of Easter. Although it was agreed that it had to be a Sunday and was calculated by the position of the moon, they could sometimes have dates 4 weeks apart from each other. This was beginning to cause upset as neither knew if they were practicing in vein. They called a big meeting with eminent clerics to settle the debate once and for all.

The two laid out their case, Bishop Colman of Lindisfarne led the Irish faction, while the Roman point of view was put forward by Wilfrid, abbot of Ripon. The two sides claimed authority from the Apostle John and from St Peter respectively. After a lengthy debate, it ultimately came down to one question. Who is the gate keeper of heaven? It is reported that King Oswiu chose the method that would allow him into heaven, declaring:

“Then, I tell you … I shall not contradict him. I shall obey his commands in everything … otherwise, when I come to the gates of heaven, there may be no one to open them, because he who holds the keys has turned away.”

The Ruins

Whitby Abbey Ruins
Whitby Abbey ruins

The Abbey stands tall towering over the town and coastline, a sure landmark for fishermen and sailors. Throughout history the Abbey has been demolished and rebuilt several times. Not much evidence remains of its earliest structure. The Danes pulled down the building in the 9th century possibly during a raid. During the 1700 and 1800’s the structure fell to the elements and in the 19th century, the popularity of Whitby grew and the ruins were opened as a tourist attraction.

Although most of the structure has vanished from sight it is easy to imagine how impressive this monastery, serving both monks and nuns, would have been. It had many windows and stood tall, stamping its mark on the landscape. Birds now roost in the highest recesses occasionally flying off to stretch their wings and ride the currants of air, before landing and taking shelter from the North Sea winds.

Don’t forget to check out our article on cheap attraction tickets. We got in for free with our Cadw passes!

Captain Cook and the sea.

lifeboat trip
A trip on a retired lifeboat

Captain Cook was born not far from here. It was in Whitby that he served as an apprentice before setting out as an intrepid explorer. He had many achievements in his career including mapping the Pacific, New Zealand and Australia and radically changing western perceptions of geography.

Whitby has long had a history with the ocean. Its location is a given that it will have a fishing trade but Whitby is also well known for its Whaling success. It was just as Captain Cook had gone exploring that 2 vessels from Whitby decided to begin a whaling business. Over the years this expanded and it is thought that Whitby’s whaling industry was responsible for the harvest of over 25,000 seals, 55 polar bears and 2761 whales. These were brought back to Whitby where great boiler houses built alongside the harbour rendered the blubber into oil.

Today a fishing community still operate from the harbour catching a wide range of fish as well as lobsters and other crustaceans. Commercial fishing also takes place and you can opt to go out on various fishing trips. It has also benefitted the local restaurants with the Magpie Café being the locals favourite place to get their fish and chips from!

We opted instead for a scenic river cruise for £3 each on a retired lifeboat. This trip wasn’t long, but was a nice experience and we first took a trip up river, before coming to the mouth of the river as the tide was coming in fast. We experience a bit of rocking from the waves but were in the safe hands of our lifeboat crew member.

The Town

The town of Whitby is busy today. It’s a weekday in the middle of September and the kids are back to school. The coach trips are in full swing today with 5 that we have seen in the larger car park. People pour into the town to take in the history and the atmosphere.

A friendly town that seemed to welcome tourism rather than scowl at it. With shops selling handcrafted items, gifts, a smoke house and the black Jet jewellery you are spoilt for choice.

As a seaside town there are also a number of cafes, restaurants and arcades to enjoy some leisure time. There are 9 beaches in Whitby ranging from sandy to rocky. Fossils have been found here following storms and a complete fossil of a dinosaur has also been recovered.

What about the Campervan?

A few days later we received word from the garage. The fuel pump has a plate on top and the leak was coming from there. Initially the garage was unsure if this could be repaired or if it would require a whole new fuel pump, and therefore best to do the timing belt too.

We eagerly awaited news and just wanted her back. Luckily, the mechanic managed to source parts for a repair and we didn’t need to replace the pump. We were lucky this time and Chewy is back safe and sound after her maintenance work.

We are so grateful for having a fantastic mechanic and that he was able to ensure she was safe for more adventures.


As always, we love to hear about your adventures so please drop us a few lines below if you have been here and tell us about your adventures.

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