Saturday, November 24, 2007

Travelling to Whitby

Whitby Abbey

Listening on the radio early this morning to a programme about Whitby and its Gothic image reminded me that I had been at the gothic festival there last year. My daughter migrated to Whitby several years ago after having fallen in love with the place, and she now lives with her family in a tall terraced house overlooking the harbour and Whitby Abbey.
Occasionally I take the long train journey down there, an adventure in itself, starting at Bath Spa station. Next cold Bristol platform waiting for the Newcastle train which will take about five hours to reach York. It plods slowly through the countryside, the welsh hills are soon left behind, Cheltenham a quick stop, past the Malverns and then into the black hole of Birmingham station. It looks like a hell on earth, dark, concreted, with people moving bleakly around. Here the train gets full, they squeeze past with vast amounts of luggage that will not fit in the central areas. Should a reserved seat already have an intruder in it, there will be the comedy of the reclamation of said seat, and a lot of shuffling around as people try to find other seats. Business people will sit, laptop placed on the little table, doing important things, mobile phones will ring and other peoples lives will be enacted publicly.
But now we are all settled; out of the suburbs of Birmingham and heading through the Midland plain, here the fields still show the rig and furrow of the medieval period and the scenery is on the whole boring... Now we are in the gritstone country of Derbyshire, the train has followed the rivers up from Birmingham, and in winter the fields are often flooded through the Midlands, the rivers themselves are murky brown flecked white with foam, rubbish caught up in trailing branches. Sheffield, Doncaster and then over the Vale of York to arrive in York station.
Here, my journey may take the route of a two hour bus ride over the Yorkshire Moors.
This is a Postman Pat's Yorkshire, up and down dale, over tiny bridges with becks tumbling down over the rocks. We visit each and every village, picking up people with shopping, sometimes with dogs, sometimes with children. Past the brooding menace of the 'watching eye on the world' at Fylingthorpe, its square tapered monolithic shape reminds one of a great pyramid stuck in the centre of the moors.


There is no brightly coloured protestors bus in the layby, they seem to have departed these bleak brown moors.
Tumulus can be seen dotted around amongst the heather, rocks lace their way through, water leaks from the earth through the soft velvet patches of green grass, nibbled short by the sheep that nonchalantly hang about the tiny roads. But there is one place I would visit on these moors if I had my faithful companion with me, and that would be Holcrum Hole, a vast ampitheatre hollowed out of the moor as if some gigantic meterorite had landed from outer space.. It entices you to walk down into this other world, the experience of standing in a giant cup surruounded by hills.
Down off the moors the bus goes, the sea is in the distance, we fold down through a stream of villages and then arrive in Whitby.
Whitby is a fishing town, but to my nose it smells of chips, full too bursting point in summer with tourists winding their way through narrow streets. It is a northern holiday resort, a vast confectionery of northern people, children and dogs. Shops have enough tat on offer to last you a lifetime, fish shops let out a pungent smell, candyfloss and amusement arcades, chips to be skewered on plastic forks whilst sat out on the esplanade. It is a rollicking english scene, and if you go in November the added drama of the Goths. They parade their splendour up and down the streets, dark nights- Halloween, ghosts, black dogs, 199 steps and of course Dracula, to take that sip from a white throat - here we have good old pagan England gathering in a historic setting to have a festival.

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