Whitby steals a march on Bruges this Christmas

BRUGES has cobbled streets and canals and Budapest boasts fancy food and folk dances.

Kate Longmate, co-ordinator of the Totally Locally Whitby scheme. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

But when it comes to truly unique selling points, Whitby may have stolen a march on our Continental cousins and their Christmas markets.

The Yorkshire coastal resort might be a bit late to the party – its first ever Christmas market opened last night – but the town’s use of beach huts as stalls isn’t something you will see across the Channel.

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Twenty one brightly coloured beach chalets have been festooned with lights and turned into market stalls alongside another 20 traditional stalls on Endeavour Wharf, overlooking the River Esk.

As a backdrop, the harbour and Abbey are as impressively dramatic as anything you might see in Germany or France.

The end result in Whitby of weeks of organising and cajoling is impressive, says co-ordinator Kate Longmate.

Earlier this year she tentatively asked a council official if he would consider allowing the beach huts to feature in a Christmas market.

She half expected a polite “no”.

“I didn’t expect them to say yes,” she admitted.

“I thought it was a crazy thing to ask because they go into storage for winter. But they said yes.

“We are over the moon that the council helped us. The beach huts have never been anywhere but the promenade. It’s brilliant of the council to work with us.”

Ms Longmate, who hails from Whitby and is a trader herself, says the market is as much about bringing together the town’s community at Christmas as it is about making money.

But she sees the long-term goal as growing the market and attracting visitors from all over.

Speaking from her makeshift hut-office, she said: “Everybody is saying how it looks amazing. I am really delighted with how it looks. Everyone has been good neighbours, with lots of lending of stepladders.

“And I am quite enjoying being the madam of the market,” she joked.

The market has a range of traders and artists, including businesses selling the all-important mulled wine, roast chestnuts and mince pies.

Ms Longmate, who is involved with Totally Locally Whitby, had been thinking about asking to use the beach huts for a long while.

“I‘ve been thinking about a beach hut Christmas market for a few years, so I’m over the moon that Welcome to Yorkshire and Scarborough Borough Council have been so helpful in making it possible. The Beach Management Team has taken on the challenge of moving and re-assembling the beach huts.

“Money spent with local independent traders will circulate in the local economy, and be used to employ local accountants, decorators, to pay for piano lessons, in restaurants or other independent shops, and will have a far more positive effect locally than if it’s simply driven out of town in a security van.”

Councillor David Chance, Scarborough Council’s portfolio holder for tourism and culture and representative of Whitby’s Mayfield ward, said: “This is a unique local initiative and it’s wonderful to see businesses pulling together like this to benefit the local economy – I hope this is the first of many such initiatives in Whitby. We’re delighted to be able to support it.”

Welcome to Yorkshire’s North Yorkshire director Janet Deacon said: “This is a very festive event with a unique seaside twist.”

Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, added: “Christmas markets have the potential to provide a boost to the local economy and help drive extra visitor numbers into the wider area. It’s an opportunity for other businesses to look at what they are offering and take advantage of the extra footfall too.”

Colin Stonehouse, of Whitby’s Station Inn pub, has the plum job – being in charge of the mulled wine at the market.

He believes the market can attract visitors from afar.

“Next year we are already aiming for it to be bigger,” he said.

The market will be open from noon to 9pm today and tomorrow, and from noon to 6pm on Sunday.