• Janette Frawley

'I love the drive from York to Whitby over the moors - one of the great journeys, in my book.'

Have you ever travelled to a place with great expectations and then felt a sense of disappointment when you arrived? This is how I feel about Scarborough today. Perhaps it is a far more exciting place in the summer. Or perhaps I simply didn't do enough research.


We collect the car this morning and are delighted that we don't have to drive through the narrow and congested city centre of York to reach today's destination. Getting used to the gears will be my biggest challenge today as it has been three years since I last drove a manual car. But for now, I am more than content to sit in the passenger seat and look out the window - that is, until I am given GPS duties and must now keep an eye on the road.


Parking the car for two hours, we decide to explore the town of Scarborough and grab a bite to eat, a task that is harder to achieve than we had imagined. However, after that mission is accomplished, we take a walk down to the famous Scarborough beach. The tide is out and the wide, firm and almost unblemished sand looks inviting as we look for a set of stairs that will lead down to the beach and entertainment area. British beach towns are often framed by a line of garish souvenir stores, ice-cream parlours, bingo halls, casinos, and sideshow alleys. Scarborough is no different. Half of them are closed, looking neglected and sad whilst the plaintive screams of gulls add to the sense of despair surrounding this tired part of town. Then a lazy wind attacks me with spears of icy cold air.


The walk along the beach provides the opportunity to stretch our legs and we decide to walk up the steep hill rather than use the steps that brought us down from the overhanging cliff top to the beach. Better quality jewellery, souvenir stores, and rock shops displaying wonderful specimens of ammonite line both sides of the narrow deserted street. All the shops are firmly closed; notices that advertise opening dates are pasted to the doors. Despite the desolate atmosphere here today, I can imagine the street filled with laughing children carrying buckets and spades, darting in and out of the brightly-painted stores as they make their way down to the beach during the summer holidays. But today there is a grubby film of salt on the store windows adding to the atmosphere of neglect. Perhaps one day I will have the opportunity to return during warmer months. It is cold and we are glad to return to the car just as our paid stay is expiring.


In January 1981, Helene and I travelled through the UK and Ireland using a combination of guided tours, hire cars, and the train. We had pre-purchased a 15-day Britrail pass, which gave us unlimited access to any train service in England. We used that pass and travelled the length and breadth of the country. On one occasion, we had taken the train to York then hired a car in drove to Haworth to visit the Bronte Parsonage before continuing our journey to Scarborough, Robin Hood's Bay, and Whitby - similar to the route we are taking today. As we drove north along the coast road, surrounded by spongy Yorkshire moors, we took a detour on a whim to visit Robin Hood's Bay; a place that had been referenced in a book I had read as a child. Upon reaching the turnoff, I drove down the almost-perpendicular street, stopping suddenly at the tiny turnout at the end of the road. The hairs were standing upright on my head as I had negotiated the steep road, at the same time pumping on brakes that didn't seem to want to work. I honestly thought we were doomed! But we survived and we explored the tiny village before driving up the giant hill, handbrake used often to prevent the little car from sliding back down.


As Natasha and I arrive at Robin Hood's Bay, we stop at the large parking area at the top of the hill as I had suggested that we walk down to explore the tiny hamlet by foot. I'm not surprised to see a sign that gently advises motorists not to drive down the road.


Using the stairs and paths, we explore the quaint little village built by the cliff. Tiny narrow laneways join houses and stores, many of which date back to 1650, and when we reach the bottom of the cliff, I can see that the turnout that Helene and I had used to park our car almost exactly 41 years ago now houses a fishing boat; probably strategically placed to stop people like us from parking there. The tide is high and waves smash relentlessly against the concrete seawall. Some large waves splash high into the air and would soak anyone unfortunate enough to stand beneath. It's time to warm up and there is no better place to do so than the pub sitting on the cliff. As we watch meals being served, I am sorry we didn't skip Scarborough and come here instead.


Although Robin Hood's Bay is primarily a fishing village and whole families have been traditionally involved in the fishing industry. It is also rumoured that it was a centre for smuggling and that subterranean tunnels and passageways link the houses together. I am in no doubt that this village would make an ideal location for smuggling goods and its history is very interesting.


The days are not long enough, but I'm glad we are only fifteen minutes away from Whitby, our final destination for today.


Title Quote: Penelope Wilton



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