Whitby to York – but this time we use four wheels…
Today we learn that a small Whitby hospital and its delightful staff are fabulous representations of our National Health Service and great friendships are built when walking, especially if you’ve spent 20 days in some of the worst weather that Cumbria and Yorkshire could deliver.
We’re up early and driving across the beautiful North Yorkshire Moors on the road that claims to be the most scenic bus route in Britain. It’s subjective of course, but we live here and happy with the claim. It’s well worth a ‘run out’ on the top deck of the bus and if you can get to the front then you’ve got a bonus and for those ‘of an age,’ it’s free! What’s not to like?
The endpoint of the Coast to Coast is Robin Hood’s Bay and the final part of the walk seems never-ending and is parallel with the coast, it almost begs the question, “Did Wainwright do it to torment the weary traveller?”
Robin Hood’s Bay
A couple of years ago I did a bit of research and came up with this:
There is an English ballad about Robin Hoods Bay in which Robin is purported to have nipped across from Sherwood when he heard there were French pirates causing havoc on the coast. He gave them a good thrashing and returned their ill-gotten gains to the local people, re-flowered the de-flowered virgins and resurrected the men who had been killed defending them. As an act of gratitude, the villagers named their row of houses after him.
OK, I may be guilty of a modicum of exaggeration and maybe a hint of embellishment but you get my drift.
It’s a cracking little village now with quaint narrow streets and secret passageways here and there. It used to be a major port for smugglers and you can see why. There are rumours of underground passageways that link the houses to enable contraband to be moved about quickly when coast guards or their equivalent came sniffing.
One of the earliest examples of its existence is a letter from Lois Ist, Count of Flanders who wrote to King Edward III complaining that someone had pinched his fishing fleet and their catch and sailed it to “Robin Hood’s Bay”.
We park the car and walk through a back street to the B&B and both Kathy and Otto are ready and saying their goodbyes in the hall. As Kathy comes out into the sun I see a bruise on her face and she gives us a debrief. There’s a plaster over the cut but it’s deep enough to need looking at by a professional so we resolve to go to the NHS hospital in Whitby, just to have it checked.
We enter the hospital car park and walk into the reception area where we’re welcomed by a receptionist who takes Kathy’s details and directs us the Accident and Emergency department just a few yards along the corridor. As an American citizen, Kathy is wondering what the cost will be and who she needs to pay. I’m proud of the fact that the wonderful people here are more interested in getting her patched up first, I love our NHS.
There’s a small waiting area with magazines strewn around to keep us amused as we wait to be seen. There’s a sign that says the waiting time is about 40 minutes but within 10 minutes Kathy is called, examined, cleaned up and checked for concussion. All OK. She’s also been given advice about looking after herself and to be aware of any worrying symptoms over the next 48 hours. Kathy’s still looking for who to pay but the twenty-minute consultation is free and we leave the hospital reassured and delighted with the service. Take a bow Whitby Hospital and staff, you’re wonderful.
We’re out in the sunshine again and walk down to Whitby Harbour then across the swing bridge.
Whitby is beautiful in any weather. It’s dramatic when strong winds hit the east coast and even better when the backdrop is blue skies and a few fluffy cumuli to frame the fishing boats in the harbour.
The Little Yellow Cottage
We walk to the Little Yellow Cottage on the east bank. I bought this semi-derelict little house last year and it’s mid-renovation as I write this. Its story is fascinating and I’ve included a link at the end of this article.
We continue our exploration of this lovely town with a walk along the eastern pier where we can scan the full vista of North Sea and try to recognise where the sea ends and the sky begins such is the gentle mood of the water today. Earlier in the week, this would have been an angry, boiling maelstrom but today in the still air, it’s flat calm. Daydreams over, we gently stroll back to the car, it’s a great relaxing day following 20 days of full-on trekking with a backpack and the weather (did I mention the weather!)
The drive across the North Yorkshire Moors to York revisits some of the track where Kathy and Otto walked and they talk enthusiastically as they point at local landmarks as we negotiate the meandering, undulating road.
We see smoke and steam rising from the valley and turn off the road in the hope of seeing one the of the wonderful steam trains puffing its way out of the dale towards Pickering. There’s a short lane where we may get a glimpse and we jump out of the car quite excited at the prospect of such a treat. The steam and smoke is rising above the trees that follow the curving track and whilst it makes a fabulous and tantalising sight the irony is that the trees that make it so picturesque impede the view so we’re left with a disembodied cloud that snakes its way through the valley like surf on a breaking wave over the treetops.
The car beckons and we’re quickly back on the way to York passing the Fylingdales Early Warning Station where we joke about the futility of having a few minutes to prepare to kiss your arse goodbye yet there’s not enough time to retaliate. Ah well, it does give Kathy and Otto a bit more time though so it does have a role.
The City is bathed in sunshine and we park near Clifford’s Tower as it’s near the centre and given that the trekkers have just walked 196 miles across the width of England we feel that seeing the centre of York is best done from an easy access point.
York has not had a good reputation with Jews and in 1190 a hundred and fifty Jews had barricaded themselves in the Tower and in those days it was made of wood. The mob demanded that they come out and be ‘converted’ but they refused and it was set on fire. Many of them committed suicide and the others were burned to death rather than submit to becoming Christians.
In 1996 there was a service of reconciliation and the daffodils that were planted around the Tower are a special variety that has 6 prominent petals that are meant to depict the points of the Star of David.
They flower in the spring and they’re a very beautiful and a fitting memorial.
York – Brief History
Originally it’s believed to have been established by Mesolithic people 8000 years ago. Of course, the Romans left their mark when they stopped here in AD 71 and established a camp later to become an important administrative centre and capital of the Roman Province of ‘Britannia Inferior’.
When they left York in the 5th Century it’s been attacked, defended, demolished and rebuilt by various people including Vikings in the Dark Ages, the French with William The Conqueror in the 11 century and various Royalty including some bloodletting nearby at Towton during the Wars of the Roses coupled with lots of Parliamentarians (Roundheads etc) and Royalists not seeing eye-to-eye during the English Civil War. It’s quite an accessible city with the river being navigable well beyond York and, with the help of a canal, right up to Ripon.
It’s been a busy old city has York!
We walk adjacent to its second river, the Foss where weeping willows are still in full leaf and look beautiful then into the centre and along York’s shortest street with the longest hyphenated name Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate it’s probably Olde English and, according to the plaque, means “What a Street”; however, it is also interpreted as “Neither one thing nor the other” and “Nothing at all”, you pays your money and you takes your choice!
From there, we make our way into the Shambles, it’s a fascinating street with overhanging houses and quaint shops. If you visit York it’s a must. Kathy and Otto are mesmerised and the cameras go into overdrive.
Now we’re passing the majestic Minster. The first Christian church to be built here was probably a wooden affair in 627. The Pope didn’t recognise an Archbishop until 732 and from then it was built in Saxon style then burned, then deliberately ransacked by William the Conqueror and his men during the Harrying of the North. William then established his own Archbishop who went on to rebuild it in Norman style. It was then rebuilt and extended in the present Gothic style over 250 years starting about 1220. Its full name is the “Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York” but I’ve only ever heard it referred to as “York Minster”.
It’s been a full day and we make our way back to Bishopthorpe which, coincidently, is where the Archbishop of York lives in his Palace and just as we’re settling down there’s a call from the skies. It’s a balloon and not very high so we can hear clearly as the occupants call to each other, in fact, it’s so clear that we can hear their conversations. We go through the house to the front and see dozens of them. Many different sizes and all different colours with an occasional one a different shape. It’s a magnificent sight and a great end to the day
A new day and we’re heading back into York for a walk along the walls but first we take Kathy and Otto into Bar Convent.
Bar Convent was established when it was illegal to be a Catholic and is now dedicated to people of all faiths and none. It houses a chapel which was built so it could not be detected from outside and is beautiful. I would recommend visiting this glorious site whether you have any religious views and especially if you have none.
I show them St Margaret’s hand and tell them the story of her fortitude in refusing to renounce her faith for which she was ordered to be crushed to death and suffered the ordeal of being strapped to some wood and having stones laid on her until she expired. She was ordered to be buried in the vilest part of the city where all the shit and sewerage was dumped and that might have been the end of it. However, an unnamed friend searched and found her, dug her up and reburied her in a more appropriate area but not, bizarrely, before cutting off her hand (yes, OK, I’m baffled too). The hand is housed in a glass casket and can be viewed by lifting the curtain at the cabinet.
We show Kathy and Otto the need for multiple exits and the ‘priest hole’ where the priest could hide should the authorities raid the solemn mass. There is considerable interest in the hole when I switched on the light to reveal the claustrophobic area under the floor and explained how the priests could be concealed in walls and roofs too. When Elizabeth the first acceded to the throne, things got worse for anyone caught celebrating a Catholic mass. A first offence was punishable by forfeiture (loss of all possessions including land and buildings, to the state), if you were foolish, or some would say, ‘committed’ enough then you’d receive a year’s imprisonment for the second offence, and for those with a penchant for punishment, a third offence attracted imprisonment for life. Catholic Priests would be tracked down by “Priest Hunters”, convicted of High Treason and hanged. Anyone found guilty of trying to convert a protestant to Catholicism would be hanged and the person that converted would join them on the gallows. In the interests of balance, Catholics hadn’t been the most tolerant people throughout Europe with ‘The Inquisition’ and various draconian consequences for non-believers over the years; however, during Henry and Elizebeth’s time, it was a desperate time to be a Catholic.
Back on to the wall at Micklegate Bar. Taking its name from Mykill (Great) and Gata (Street) Micklegate Bar is the prestigious entrance within the City Walls at which important guests from London and the Monarchy would be met and welcomed into the city. It was built between 1196 – 1230 on older foundations the original 12th Century structure was a two-storey stone gatehouse which in the 14th Century was extended up two stories, topped with bartizans and also had the now-removed barbican and portcullis added. The interior of Micklegate Bar was renewed and beautified in 1716-1737, had the barbican removed in 1816 and was completely restored in 1952.
Blood and Severed Heads
It is famous for displaying the skewered heads of rebels and traitors above the gate as a warning to others. These were a regular fixture with the longest being up there for 9 years. The last one to be displayed was removed in 1754.
The Coats of Arms on Micklegate Bar belong to King Edward III and also the Lord Mayor of York in 1737 when the original restoration was completed.
We continue along the wall past the railway station and walk towards Lendal Bridge where we cross and enter the Museum Gardens to see the remnants of Roman buildings together with open stone caskets. There’s no skeleton inside so the Pilgrim climbs in whilst Kathy and Otto act out a mourning scene much to the amusement of some passing school kids.
We’re becoming a little sad now as we’re taking Kathy to Ampleforth and each mile driven is a mile closer to parting. Kathy’s husband, now sadly departed, studied here many years ago and Kathy is going to meet someone who knew him. It’s a beautiful place and we’ve been to Evensong a couple of years ago when the mass is sung by the choir of Ampleforth and regardless of religious views, it’s an astonishingly beautiful experience.
We stop for a coffee and discuss the last few days then walk up to the car to retrieve Kathy’s rucksack. The hugs are tighter than usual and a little longer, I think maybe I had something in my eye and notice that the others have too. We want to take Kathy to her dorm but she insists on parting here and she’s right. I whisper, “‘Bye Kathy”, we’ve only done parts of the walk but the friendship is intense, “It was good to meet you and it’ll be great to stay in touch”…
Then that’s it! Kathy walks along the lane past numerous ancient buildings and we watch for a short while but then we get in the car, it’s too much.
The drive back to York is subdued we miss her and conversation is only sporadic, God knows what we’ll be like tomorrow when we have to repeat the process with Otto?
We’ve been to the station and helped Otto get his ticket to London. The system in the UK is a mystery to many Brits so a Canadian looking for the best deal is going to struggle. We manage to get a reasonably priced ticket on the 09:55 from York to Kings Cross London so we’re ready at half-past and he’s ahead of schedule. We’re subdued again and the small-talk is in short bursts then the London bound train pulls in and with more hugs and tears he’s in the queue and waving from the door.
I splutter, “‘Bye Otto, hope we see you and Kathy again, maybe when we do that Canada and USA road trip or maybe somewhere else in the world” and he disappears inside.
“Just for interest Otto, you need to know that you’re leaving in style, that train you boarded is the ‘Flying Scotsman’, hope you enjoy the journey”.
I’m talking to myself now but it helps to quell the sadness.
God speed the pair of you – life really is good!
Enjoy the snaps…G..x
Kathy Hohn Dahm is 76 and Otto Klassen 66 walked 196 miles across the breadth of England through some of the worst storms we’ve had in September. They are made of extraordinary stuff.
I’m so glad the weather in Yorkshire brightened up and you got some sunshine. Thanks for letting us walk with you!
Love G and C xx