Picture Post: Tourists’ favourite is small but perfectly formed

PIC: James Hardisty
PIC: James Hardisty
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When it comes to coastal towns, Whitby pretty much has everything.

Busy harbour? Tick. Some of the best fish and chips in the country? Tick. Links with Captain Cook, one of the world’s greatest ever explorers? Again tick. Ancient abbey ruins, which inspired one of literature’s best-known horror stories? Yes, Whitby is hard to beat.

It also has history in spades. The first record of a permanent settlement there was in 656, when Oswy, the king of Northumbria, founded the very first abbey. While not the original, the imposing ruins which today overlook the town, date from the 11th century.

The land was granted to William de Percy following the Norman Conquest who founded a new Benedictine monastery and life in the cloisters continued uninterrupted for a few hundred years until Henry VIII decided to rip up the rule book. Breaking away from the Catholic church, the Dissolution of the Monasteries proved a painful and bloody period in English history, with Whitby surrendering in the winter of 1539.

Back then, the town itself was small, home to just 30 or so houses and a population of around 200. However, over the next 200 years it grew rapidly in size and importance. Hard to believe now, but in the late 18th century, Whitby was the third largest shipbuilder in England after London and Newcastle.

They still make ships there. Not on the scale they used to, but when Parkol Marine announced plans to double the capacity of its boat-building operation earlier this year, it seemed one Whitby tradition had been secured.

The fishing fleet may not be as big as it once was, but while that industry has declined, tourism has increased. Some come just to have a plate of fish and chips in the Magpie Cafe and a photograph under the town’s famous whalebones. For others its more of a place of pilgrimage.

With Irish writer Bram Stoker having been inspired to write Dracula following a trip to the town in the late 19th century, Whitby has become a magnet for fans of all things Gothic, with next festival due to take place this October.

Technical details: Nikon D3s, 70-200mm lens, 1/250s @ f10, ISO 200.