If one can ‘do’ York in 2 days, then the trips to Whitby or Scarborough can give a different colour to the atmospherics. Castle Howard, Whitby and Captain Cook’s home are the unmissables.
This magnificent mansion is virtually in the middle of nowhere as there is hardly any other building within eyesight for miles around. It is just 15 miles to the north of York and is a favourite location for movie settings which need a period aura. Castle Howard has been featured in films such as “Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night”, “Brideshead Revisited” and “The Buccaneers”. Quite like what Harry Potter has done to Oxford, ‘Brideshead revisited’ has grown on Castle Howard, giving it a larger than life ambience.
The designer of the structure John Vanbrugh, began construction in the early 1700 but it took 90 years to complete it. So grand was the construction that it earned the interest of Queen Victoria in 1850. She came over as a guest just to see it for herself. She was housed in a special dressing room embellished by Marco Ricci paintings.
The third day, it was a longer drive to Whitby. From what we had read about it, the two main reasons that drew us to Whitby were Dracula and Captain Cook. However, when we reached Whitby, the fishing and shipbuilding coastal town seemed to exude something more. It had more than what travel books might describe its two popular heroes.
Bram Stoker came there for the first time with his wife and son in the summer of 1890. Just a few months later he had started rough notes for a novel that would become the famous novel – Dracula. Whitby is a coastal town and is dominated by the cliff-top ruins of a beautiful 13th century Abbey. There are 199 steps leading from the old town up to the Abbey and its stately architecture influenced the novelist quite a bit.
However, the Whitby Abbey has none of the gore which Stoker incorporated in his vampire novel. It is actually the remains of an abbey where monks strove to lead a godly life. An interesting museum with very interactive presentations tells the story of the Abbey. The Abbey is the highest point in the town and looks down at the fishing boats, yachts and other sailing vessels by the shore and also in the harbour. The view of the abbey from the other side can be quite stirring in a way. One can appreciate the emotions of loneliness, dread and romanticism that might have inspired Bram Stoker to serve his fare.
A statue of another famous son of Whitby stands tall near the harbour. Captain Cook was a young apprentice when he arrived here. Captain Cook, as history books say, explored more of the earth’s surface than any other explorer. However, he is still a misunderstood character in history. The Captain Cook museum is an interesting place where the record is sought to be set straight.
The house where he stayed as a young boy, including the room from where he looked out at sea, is well preserved. The trust managing the building has gone to great lengths to ensure a proper presentation of its heroic voyager. Unfortunately, he is also seen as a coloniser of sorts but the navigator’s achievements are for posterity. The museum presents an interesting journey into the life of the famous explorer.
On the way back, we drop by to enjoy the sight of an old rail station, made famous by Harry Potter and its old world charm. The expanse of hills and heather countryside is enchanting – in between destinations, the landscape is quite an eyeful.
Even a 3 day stay in York and short excursions from there offer a window to the ancient history of England. However, the joy is in discovering the quaint details which most history books will gloss over.
Discovering York is a trip back in time. Interesting tid-bits of information pepper up this discovery. For example, that ‘my life is in a shambles’ could well come from the narrow butchers street in York called ‘Shambles’. Once messed up with wares of butchers and its discard, it is now touted as the most elegant shopping lane with its low built houses, shops and cobbled street. The tales of ghostly apparitions walking by the pier and by the river abound at every corner, even the pubs.
The figure of Constantine, the emperor who changed history dramatically, sits on his pedestal as a statue outside the Minster, Cliffords’ Tower with its history and tales.
They even say how Queen Victoria was cheesed off with York unfortunately. Seems she overheard someone mention what an expense it was to the city to host her almost a century ago. This drew her indignant response of downing the shutters of her coach whenever her train passed York ever since. Such little nuggets of information keep visitors mightily entertained.
In times of political correctness, stories around the street called ‘Whipma whopma’, scandalise a few of us. That street, it is rumoured, was where local men could actually bring their rebellious ‘missus’ to give them a sound thrashing. It invites laughs – just because it’s all a story and really no need to start frothing over it. There’s an old archaic rule mentioned in industry archives. That rule forbade locals from ‘shooting at Scotsmen on Sundays with bows and arrows’. This is bound to tickle funny bones and not raise discord for god’s sake!
York is bigger than these sidelights. It is a living history book with many elements in its present to ignite one’s interest. There is enough to keep you busy for quite a few days. Despite the fact the city goes to sleep by 7 pm.