There are so many excellent reasons to visit the historic port of Whitby in North Yorkshire.
The award winning West Beach – one of the finest in the UK, whale and dolphin spotting, deep sea fishing, a trip into the North Sea aboard the Big Yellow Boat (only £3, amazing value), lunch on board the replica of Captain Cook’s Endeavour, the Captain Cook Living Museum, a trek up the 199 steps to Whitby Abbey – forever associated with Dracula, one of several Goth Weekends perhaps, a visit to Whitby Brewery, watching herrings being smoked into kippers at Fortune’s smoke-house, scoffing one of Elizabeth Botham’s famous Whitby lemon buns, perusing the many fine independent shops, bars, cafes and restaurants or simply award winning fish and chips by the sea.
Due to the town’s geographically angled north facing position on the East coast, it is even possible to see the sun rise and set over the North Sea here. The only other such place in the UK where this phenomenon can be seen is Cromer in Norfolk.
This occurs from late May to late July.
Fossil hunters can be found roaming the beaches along this coast and the fossils are relatively easy to spot and collect, so many of them are there. Ammonites to Belemnites and much more can easily be picked from the beach.
Phew, so much to see and do.
I have recently discovered yet another reason to visit and it is a real gem. Yes, really!
One of Whitby’s finest exports is Whitby Jet. Jet is an organic gemstone formed when fossilised wood is placed under intense pressure by the sea and sediment over hundreds of millions of years. Jet can be found in a few places around the world but that found around Whitby is recognised as the world’s finest. In this region it was formed from fossilised Monkey Puzzle trees, which were once abundant around here.
Jet is a deep black colour, can be shaped and polished and is lightweight, making it ideal for jewellery. Raw pieces can be found on the beaches, washed up by the tide or dropped from shale deposits in the crumbling cliffs.
Jet has been worked by locals for centuries and a huge industry grew around it.
Pieces of worked Jet have been found at Bronze Age sites and the material was known to the Romans and Vikings at York. We get the expression ‘jet black’ from this gemstone. This description can be traced back to written records from the 11th century.
In the 1800s as rail arrived in Whitby and the resort became popular as a destination for Victorian holidaymakers, they soon picked up on the beautiful jewellery being made here. In 1851 Whitby Jet jewellery was exhibited for the first time at the Great Exhibition in London. Such was the dramatic effect of this that European royal families took to wearing it. In 1860, the first Jet shop opened to the public in Church Street, Whitby.
It was after the death of Prince Albert in 1861 that the real boom in popularity occurred as Queen Victoria favoured Whitby Jet jewellery for mourning items.
By 1873, there were more than 200 Jet workshops in the town, employing 1500 people.
Today there are just a few of these small Jet jewellery manufacturers and shops, centered around the Church Street area of the ‘old town’.
The original Whitby Jet shop, now operating under the name W.Hamond’s is still as popular as ever and now has a lovely cafe on the first floor. The home made cakes are excellent and the aroma as they come out of the ovens is just glorious.
In 2015, Hamond’s took over Wesley Hall in Church Street, just a few yards from the shop. As it’s name suggests, this was a Methodist church hall, latterly operated as a flea market. Hamond’s have installed a small but perfectly formed Whitby Jet museum to the right of the entrance. There is free admission to the exhibition which tells the story of Jet whilst displaying the world’s largest collection of Jet specimens, jewellery and ornaments. A Jet gift shop concludes the short trip through the museum. Very interesting and educational at the same time.
The museum exit leads you into the former Methodist hall. The hall itself has been magnificently and sympathetically restored. It is breathtaking and no expense has been spared in converting it into Albert’s Eatery. Great pains have been taken in retaining and refurbishing the original Victorian fittings, from cast iron radiators, wooden roof beams and the original parquet wooden floor, to the wonderful Burmantofts faience wall tiles, and even the church organ and pipe array which stands proudly over the new bar.
A small mezzanine level has been installed, accessed by a spiral iron staircase.
Contained in a central glass showcase lies the world’s largest single piece of raw Jet, at 21ft long. Ammonites and other fossils can be seen trapped in it’s surface.
Albert’s Eatery is an up-market restaurant which specialises in fresh seafood though not confined to it alone. You can pop in simply for coffee and cake if you wish. After visiting the museum we were tempted to stay for lunch in these stunning surroundings, taking our place at one of the polished wooden tables. Our choice from the ‘Light Bite’ menu was Albert’s creamy seafood chowder, a light and filling creamy mix of seafood pieces accompanied by chunks of warm soda bread (£7.95), a delightful concoction.
Lovely sandwiches, many seafood choices as well as burgers, steaks and kids menus are also served at lunchtime. We lingered over barista style coffees simply admiring the architectural detailing.
For a celebratory occasion I will certainly return for the Special Seafood Afternoon Tea (£38.95 for 2), just the list of ingredients made me salivate in anticipation. Albert’s is also open for evening meals when a different menu applies. It is a superb and very impressive location for a meal.
For further information go to www.museumofwhitbyjet.co.uk. You will find it at YO22 4DE but this is a small, narrow and cobbled street busy with pedestrians and traffic is restricted. Best to park at one of the many nearby car parks and walk. Even better, use the seasonal park and ride or travel by train on the North York Moors Railway from Pickering. It is only a short walk from the station to Church Street, over the swing bridge on the River Esk and turn left.
So many reasons to visit Whitby and now one more. A real gem.