Maps: OS Landranger 94; Outdoor Leisure 27
Start: Coach Road bus stop, Sleights (867081)
Finish: Whitby bus and train station (898108)
Distance: 5.0 miles (including out and back to Whitby Abbey)
Going: An easy walk but allow time to visit Whitby Museum and Whitby Abbey
Natural England NCA: 25 (NY Moors and Cleveland Hills)
Special interest: Whitby Museum, St Hilda and Whitby Abbey
Alight from the Coastliner bus at Coach Road and walk down towards the railway station. Turn right along Low Dale Lane for about 70m; go left along Echo Hill road and turn left at the T-junction (A) on to the earth track. Turn right behind the houses at Echo Hill (B) and then continue up the slope on the signposted Esk Valley Walk (EVW). Turn left at the waymark (C) and, checking which side of the hedge the waymarks direct, continue along field edges, swinging up right to the stile at (D). Here go sharp left. Cross a small stream and continue up towards Hagg House.
At the path crossing (E) just before the farm turn left, staying on EVW. The path goes down, swings right and descends to the railway level crossing at (F). Cross the rail line; carry on to the next crossing; cross back and continue to the main road bend at (G). From here, follow the road, go over the river and railway and into Ruswarp. (A Permitted Path runs beside the railway all the way into Whitby but this is not the recommended walk.)
Walk up High Street as far as the fingerpost (H), just after the pillar box, directing right on the EVW. This next section is a flagged pathway round to the steps leading up the steep embankment at (I). At the top, bear right as far as the steep descent at (J).
Here go down the steps and turn left along a wide former rail track lined with mature trees. This soon joins the other old rail track, known as the Cinder Way, which was the old Whitby to Scarborough line. Continue to where the track is blocked off (K) and go down another set of steps. Carry on along the road that is called Southend Gardens to the mini-roundabout.
Bear left, cross the road and enter Pannett Park. The display board shows the variety of activities on offer and of especial delight is the Jurassic Garden, a highly imaginative display showing the international importance of the Jurassic period in Whitby’s history.
Keep walking around the edge of the Park and exit down (yes, more) steps and continue down Newton Street. Turn right down Brunswick Street and first left down the pedestrianised Baxtergate. At the end, bear left to the swing bridge over the River Esk (L).
Cross the bridge, continue a short distance to where the road bends right and then almost immediately go left up Caedmon’s Trod. When the steps finish, turn left to reach St Mary’s Church and Whitby Abbey. Remember that the Abbey ruins are not always open, so if wishing to visit, check opening times beforehand.
To catch the Coastliner bus home, descend the 199 steps, go left along Church Street, cross the swing bridge and bend left to the rail and bus stations.
Congratulations! You have finished the Coastliner Way (Whitby) Walk! (But have you yet completed the other two?)
Pannett Park was bequeathed to the people of Whitby by Robert Pannett in 1920 and opened in 1928. It is home to Whitby Museum, with its world renowned fossil collection. The continuous sequence of Jurassic rocks found in North Yorkshire makes the area internationally significant and it was here that many of the original ideas about the science of geology were formulated.
A major refurbishment of the park was completed in 2010 and amongst a number of imaginative displays and park trails, perhaps the most impressive is the Jurassic Garden. A specially constructed pathway leads us through the entire Jurassic Period. There are 19 divisions, or ‘bands’ in the path and each one represents a different type of rock from the Jurassic times that is found on the Yorkshire coast. So, starting from band 1, we travel forward in time from the beginning of the Jurassic (about 195 million years ago) to its end at band 19 (some 60 million years later). The length of each band is in proportion to the depth of the rock and each band also contains casts and impressions of fossils. These fossil impressions have been taken from actual fossils in the Whitby Museum collection and the impressions have been placed in the rock beds where the original fossils were found. Adding to the atmosphere, plants from the Jurassic period, such as tree ferns, gingkos and an araucaria (monkey puzzle) tree have been planted alongside the path. It is a highly imaginative display and the free explanatory leaflet (at the Museum) contains a wealth of factual detail.
And if you still have time to spare, there is also an excellent tree trail around the park to discover some of the Park’s rare and unusual tree specimens, as well as two fun trails for children. Phew!
But keep an eye on the watch – you’ve still got to climb up to Whitby Abbey yet!
Inside Whitby Museum
To the left of the entrance in the main hall can be found the collection of geology and fossils from Yorkshire’s Jurassic Coast which was its original ‘raison d’etre’. Mounted on the walls are the fossil saurians (the swimming dinosaurs). The largest of these, Ichthyosaur Crassimanus, dictated the size of this building, constructed in 1931. It was planned to extend horizontally along the breadth of the wall but had unaccountably grown several inches between measurement and completion of the building. Some thought the removal of a few vertebrae would never be noticed, but wiser counsels prevailed and it was mounted complete but diagonally.
At the further end of the hall those who trouble to raise their eyes will observe the skeleton of a narwhal or unicorn fish, complete with its valuable ivory tusk as long as its owner. In medieval times powdered unicorn horn was much prized for medical purposes – as an antidote to poison, a cure for melancholy, even an aphrodisiac. Unfortunately the mythical nature of the beasts ensured a severe shortage which wily Scandinavians mitigated by exporting narwhal tusks to parts of Europe where the species was unknown, as genuine unicorn horn. Our tusks were brought back by whalers such as Captain William Scoresby, junior, who left us his archive and scientific instruments, including drawings of the differing shapes of snowflakes and a life-size model of the crow’s nest invented by his father.
The two most popular objects are in the centre of the hall. The unique leech-driven Tempest Prognosticator of Whitby physician Dr Merryweather, as demonstrated at the Great Exhibition of 1851, contained 12 live leeches in individual bottles connected to the hammers of a bell. Changes in atmospheric pressure prior to a storm led the leeches to climb to the bottle neck, thus activating the bell. It was originally to be called ‘An Atmospheric Electro-magnetic Telegraph, conducted by Animal Instinct’, but it was thought foreigners might find this difficult to understand. Nearby is the sinister ‘pickled’ Hand of Glory, a severed human hand discovered hidden in a cottage up Eskdale and widely believed to be a talisman used by burglars as a candle holder. While the candle was lit anyone asleep in a house was sent into a coma from which they could not be awakened while the candle burned.
The somewhat nondescript Ripley Cabinet is easy to miss, but this is a genuine cabinet of curiosities begun around 1810 by a Whitby physician and added to throughout the century. Its drawers contain a wealth of bric-a-brac including the musket ball that killed General Picton at Waterloo (and a twig from the hedge under which he fell!), burnt plaster from the destruction by fire of the House of Commons in the 1830s, an open letter from his apprentices and journeymen to a craftsman begging for some time off on New Year’s Day, and an early airmail letter sent from Paris during its siege by the Prussians in 1870 – by balloon.
(With sincere thanks to Roger Pickles, former Curator of Whitby Museum)
St Hilda and Whitby Abbey(s)
In 657 AD St Hilda founded a double monastery for men and women at Whitby (then known as Streoneshalh) which soon became famous as a centre for learning. Hilda was responsible for the training of five future bishops; she was known for her wisdom and gave advice to several kings. She is especially remembered for her role as host for the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD. This had been called by King Oswy to settle differences between the Celtic and Roman branches of the Christian Church. The main item of dispute was the date of Easter. When the decision was made to follow the Roman customs, Hilda accepted the verdict although she had personally favoured the Celtic tradition.
Hilda’s original monastery was destroyed by Danish invaders in 867 but one of William the Conqueror’s knights, Reinfrid, restored it in about 1078. The new Benedictine monastery contained a shrine to St Hilda in recognition of her importance as the founder of the original abbey. Extensions and rebuilding of the simple Norman church in the 13th and 14th centuries created the impressive Gothic Abbey whose remains we see today.
By 1539, when Henry VIII closed the country’s largest monasteries and seized their wealth, there were only 22 monks left at Whitby. Over the next few centuries, the carrying away of building stone, storm damage and, in 1914, shelling by German warships, all ensured the deterioration of the building to its present condition.
St Mary’s Church, which is adjacent to the Abbey and open all year, is a focus for hundreds of visitors. Nearby stands Abbey Cross; it is not certain whether the Cross is a medieval market cross or the cross of the Abbey burial ground.