Almost as uplifting as seeing the sea again, after what seems like an age, was the sight of the town dusting itself down, putting the trials of the pandemic behind it and looking forward to the summer with a sense of optimism that was almost palpable.
Although a weekday, it was busy, the pleasure boats heading out to sea were as full as they could be, and every café was doing a roaring trade.
It was a picture of one of the greatest of all seaside resorts gathering momentum towards getting completely back to normal.
My partner and I went in style, aboard the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, not only because steam trains and Whitby’s heritage go together as perfectly as fish and chips, but because we’ve decided to spend whatever we can afford on attractions within Yorkshire for the rest of this year.
The heartening sign is that a lot of others are plainly thinking the same – and not just our fellow Yorkshire people.
In the railway carriage, we got talking to the other passengers, and all of them were visitors from outside the county.
A party of four from Birmingham, a couple from Hertfordshire, three people from London, a couple with a baby from Manchester.
Some were here for the first time, others making a return after a gap of many years, but all had chosen to make Yorkshire their first destination once travel restrictions lifted and it was possible to stay away from home overnight.
It was the same in the Magpie Cafe, where we had lunch – fish and chips, naturally.
Every table was booked, and as we passed the time of day with the people around us whilst waiting to be served, the list of places today’s visitors had come from lengthened – Scotland, Essex, Worcester.
It was the first time in Whitby for the Worcester couple. They’d known about the town for donkey’s years, often thought about visiting, but only now had they got around to doing so.
Their reason for doing so chimed with us.
Like them, we don’t fancy venturing abroad – too many uncertainties about quarantine and, frankly, too much hassle – so any break will be a staycation in Britain.
Anyone who knows Whitby will be familiar with where the bulk of its visitors – especially day-trippers – come from. All across Yorkshire, of course, and the North East.
This though was something different – a wider spread of places, and I’ve a hunch that it’s a sign of some long-overdue good news.
Could it be that the silver lining of the cloud Covid has cast over tourism in Yorkshire is an influx of new visitors from farther afield discovering the county for the first time?
There were other signs of this in addition to the train and restaurant.
At the top of the 199 steps to St Mary’s Church and the Abbey, I saw people who were plainly delighting in the views for the first time, a few consulting online guides on their phones.
I’ll bet it was the same on the opposite side of the harbour, on the West Cliff, where visitors would be taking in the whalebone arch and the Captain Cook memorial for the first time.
There’s every reason to suppose that this snapshot of a sunny afternoon on the coast is part of a bigger emerging picture of people from around Britain discovering Yorkshire as a place to holiday.
The Hertfordshire couple across the aisle from us on the train made the point that coming here is far enough from their home to make it feel like a real getaway to a completely different environment, which is what a holiday should be about.
That’s bound to be a factor in a lot of other people’s thinking too as they cast around for a destination this summer.
Another factor is the breadth of what Yorkshire has to offer, whether it is coast, country or city, which must place it in the forefront of people’s minds when considering a choice of staycation.
The Hertfordshire couple had the Dales on their must-visit list whilst here, thanks to the rebooted All Creatures Great and Small on television, and the principal reason they were aboard the NYMR was that they had become big fans of The Yorkshire Steam Railway: All Aboard, also on Channel 5.
Well, thank you Channel 5 for giving our county so much great exposure, not just in those two series, but on The Yorkshire Vet and Our Yorkshire Farm as well.
Images of the Broad Acres in these programmes surely proved especially appealing to people cooped up in lockdown, getting sick of the sight of their own four walls, and, if they were lucky, a garden.
Looking out to sea from Whitby – or for that matter, Scarborough, Filey or Bridlington – is the ideal antidote to that.
It will be a while before we know for sure if this bank holiday weekend, and the summer ahead, is bringing us a whole new wave of visitors.
But my money’s on the evidence for that being there in the bookings rolling in to hotels, guest houses, holiday flats, caravan parks and campsites.
Let’s hope so. Our tourist businesses need them, and the genuine warmth of our welcome will do much to guarantee that first visits won’t be the last.
Read Andrew Vine in The Yorkshire Post every Tuesday.
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