Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

A Football Tourist’s Guide to Middlesbrough – Part One: The Whitby Way

When the fixtures come out, there are certain dates I look out for: the midweekers to book leave; Boxing Day to see where all the gleaming white trainers are going to appear; New Year’s Day to see how much I can enjoy New Year’s Eve; and my birthday so I can have a nice weekend away. This year, dear reader, my birthday fell on Middlesbrough away.

So I booked a weekend away in Whitby.

I’ve wanted to go to Whitby for years. I knew from a recent hollibob to Transylvania that Whitby was key to the Dracula story. I had also heard good things about The Magpie Cafe, which served beer with its chips, not unlike my favourite chippy of all time, Steels in Clee. It was a seaside resort I had yet to visit – and it was quite close to Middlesbrough – so that was where I was going for my birthday.

I printed off a map of Whitby and plotted the points of interest on there.

I didn’t have a strict itinerary planned but everywhere looked in close proximity, so I was confident of completing Whitby pretty easily.

We set off at 0815, fuelled up and then had to make a decision as to which route to take. There were three options: down to Manchester and across, the scenic Yorkshire Dales route or North up the M6 and across. Lee decided that North was always the best option, so it was that route we took.

An added bonus on this route was another opportunity to call in on Percy Pig at Lancaster Services. You may recall from our trips to Carlisle and Morecambe that I have been disappointed to date not to hear him oink, despite appearances indicating that he might. Today he again failed to oink, but I requested a sympathy oink from Lee and he duly obliged by oinking as I pressed Percy’s button. That at least made me chuckle.

It was a gloriously sunny day today and I thought this warranted a nice summer playlist. I selected one from Apple Music.

Now I am not sure what criteria they used to select the songs on this playlist, but I didn’t consider any of the following appropriate:

  • Cruel Summer – Bananarama (it might have ‘summer’ in the title, but it is not the sunniest Bananarama effort)
  • True – Spandau Ballet (nice song, not the most upbeat Spandau number – surely Gold is summerier?)
  • Papa Don’t Preach – Madonna (nothing summery about this)
  • Wicked Game – Chris Isaak (hardly a party anthem)
  • I’ll Be Missing You – Puff Daddy & Faith Evans (come on, now…)

I was so incensed by this playlist that I spent most of the journey creating my own, including proper summer hollibob bangers, such as:

  • Summer of 69 – Bryan Adams
  • Summer Nights – John Travolta & Olivia Newton John
  • Sunny Afternoon – The Kinks
  • Hooray! Hooray! It’s a Holi Holiday – Boney M
  • Can’t Stop The Feeling – Justin Timberlake

Better, right?

On our north-and-eastbound journey we saw two abandoned cars bound in police tape, having never seen one of these before. Indeed I thought the first was a wedding car at first glance. Is this a sign of the times? Have all the tow-truck drivers gone with Brexit? Or are people driving cars until they conk out because they are waiting so long for their new ones to be built and delivered?

We arrived in Whitby a little before noon and immediately encountered driving difficulties. There was a bridge crossing the River Esk to the East side, where our hotel was – but it was closed to traffic between 1030 and 1600. Hmm. We turned and navigated our way to a car park on the West side.

The Magpie Cafe

This popular chippy is open to walk-ins on a first come first served basis between 1200 and 1400. I was keen to arrive bang on noon to be sure we got a table, so we made this our first stop of the day.

We were greeted at the door and led upstairs to our table. This place did remind me of Steels in many ways: the old fashioned building, the upstairs tables, beer on the menu. In addition, there were electronic chalk boards on the walls, which piqued my attention.

Bread and Butter Pudding of the day!
Er not sure about that one…

As for my food? Well I already knew what I was having, so I quickly placed my order and turned my attention to singing along to ABBA (One of Us) and admiring the place mats.

More of this sort of thing

Our waitress was friendly and efficient and it was not long before our order arrived. Here is what I had.

I had to try the local beer
Woof, chips and gravy

No, I have no idea what woof is either, but it was recommended to me as the fish to have at The Magpie. And I can confirm it was delicious. I overheard our waitress explaining to some people on another table that, when it was caught down the coast in Scarborough, that was what the fisherman decided to call it and it stuck.

After polishing off the above, I enquired after the dessert menu. I don’t often have pudding but I suspected from the daily bread and butter pudding offering that this was going to be an exciting one. I wasn’t disappointed. I really wanted to try the Sherry & Marzipan Fruit Cake but I could not resist this:

Sherry trifle!

The sherry trifle was lush, with a great custard ratio (although I’m still finding raspberry seeds between my teeth now). I was, however, confused by the decorative foliage. It looked like mint. I rubbed it between my thumb and forefinger and sniffed. It smelled like Fairy Liquid. I was none the wiser. I put it to one side.

So, was this as good as Steels? Frankly, I am beginning to think that’s impossible. The gravy was too thin and there wasn’t enough of it. And you know gravy is a key component of a chippy meal for me. But bonus points for the dessert menu. I was glad I went but more from a tourist attraction point of view – there were so many conversation pieces – than for quality gravy action.

Nice salt and pepperpots though..
Rock with the bill. Made in Blackpool?

As we stood up to leave, we were directed out a different way to where we entered. We were amused – and slightly afraid – to find ourselves ejected into a ginnel at the back of the restaurant. ‘We’ve had your custom, now get out with the bins’.

It took us a while to find our bearings – having never set foot in Whitby before – and, to be fair, we did end up stumbling across some points of interest that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

Whitby Coastal Cruises

We finally found the busy harbour and were ambling off our big lunch when Lee announced:

‘Ooh shall we go on a cruise? There’s one just about to depart.’

I didn’t have time to think. This was probably just as well, as I can suffer from seasickness and would probably have vetoed this. Before I knew it, I found myself on board and heading out to sea. Bloody hell, I hadn’t realised the boat went out to sea!

But this was a lovely little 20-minute cruise. The sea was beautiful and green (like Bournemouth) and not so choppy so as to upset our stomachs. There was a pirate ship out at sea with us, which was exciting. And the views back inland – the cliffs, the lighthouses, the piers, the little beach, the Whalebone Arch, the Captain Cook statue, Whitby Abbey and the church – were stunning.

I remembered that I really enjoy being out at sea. There is something magical about it. I enjoy reading seafaring adventures too (Moby Dick and the like).

The Dracula Experience

Obvs we had to get Dracula into the weekend somewhere. He is an important part of Whitby’s history. I did read Bram Stoker’s novel some years ago but I rarely remember details of any book I read (or film I watch). I enjoy them at the time but then it is as if my brain deletes them to make room for something else. Anyway, apparently part of Dracula was set in Whitby as Stoker spent some time here when he was forming ideas for his novel.

When we had been on the cruise, I had spotted The Dracula Experience harbourside and it was here we headed when we were back on land. Lee was apprehensive as he doesn’t like scary stuff but I pointed out that I had been on the boat and it was my birthday weekend so we pressed ahead.

This was a bit like a walking Ghost Train type thing. It was dark and spooky and, with the promise of live actors, we were afraid that someone would jump out at us round every corner. Was that a mannequin or was it a person?

There were images and displays and information boards and audio descriptions at every turn but all of this was drowned out by the overwhelming fear of being leapt out on at any given second. Neither of us could concentrate on the displays.

We found ourselves at the door to a cinema, where we found other humans (phew!) and watched a little movie about Dracula. At the end, we exited the room and found ourselves in another ginnel. See ya, tourists!

Whitby Pier & Lighthouses

We ambled off towards the pier and lighthouse on the West Cliff, taking care not to wave too vigorously.

I was mindful of this review from Trip Advisor, as I only have small feet myself.

Faye was dead right, though – the planks are very gappy and it did seem good practice to carry small dogs. I took extra care with every step as turning an ankle was a real danger.

It was a nice – if perilous – little walk.

I always love the way the wind wraps round me when I’m walking down a pier – like it’s giving me a hug. But, spookily, there was no wind on this pier. Why was this?

On our walk out to sea, I had been vaguely aware of a fisherman angling off the edge of the pier with what sounded like bagpipe music playing from some sort of device nearby. As we passed him again on the way back, the bagpipe music was still playing. Who listens to bagpipes through choice? Does it attract the fish? Or did he want the tourists to jump off the pier?

Well now it was time for some pubbage.

Arch & Abbey

This micropub specialises in local produce (not unlike Shipwreck Brewhouse) and the beer offerings were thus:

I’ve just spotted the ubiquitous Black Edge beer as my eyes were drawn on the day to the Holderness Dark. I kicked myself on the way out when I spotted a beer paddle and realised I could have tried three different thirds.

We almost felt like we were intruding everywhere we set foot in Whitby (get thee in the ginnel, vile tourists!) – and here even the pubdog was more interested in sniffing the floor than having a pet.

We supped up and left. Next!

The Little Angel

Now this was more like it! This pub felt like a hug as soon as we stepped inside. A traditional, multi-roomed, dark boozer with a good selection of cask ale.

I was still chuckling at the man in front of me ordering a packet of dog biscuits when I went in for the Black Cat Porter – loving the availability of dark beers here – before we stepped outside into the stunning beer garden.

It was only when we sat down here – and I perused the marketing material on the table – that I realised there was a microbrewery onsite – and I was drinking one of their beers.

I can’t speak for the dog biscuits but the beer was lush and I was reluctant to move on. However, move on we must, as our four hours parking time was almost up and we needed to reclaim the car.

Captain Cook Memorial Monument

As it was almost-but-not-quite 1600 – and thus the bridge to our hotel was not yet passable – we decided to kill a few minutes by seeking out some tourist spots on the West side. We pulled into a parking spot just for a minute while we leapt out of the car to capture Captain Cook’s Statue for the benefit of the Football Tourist’s Guide.

More of him and his local significance in Part Two.

Meanwhile, back at the car, Lee caught a local placing a note under the windscreen wiper. As he pressed the fob to unlock the car, the note-writer fled at pace.

The note read:

‘This parking space is for disabled people – not cunts like you.’

Welcome to Whitby!

Fair enough, we were winging it by parking there but we honestly hadn’t realised it was a disabled parking space. We won’t forget now, though, after what will henceforth always be remembered as #cuntgate. My initial impression of Whitby and the warmth of its locals was gaining traction. We hadn’t been called anything quite like that in Bournemouth (at least not to our faces or, indeed, in writing) and that was Down South…

Bram Stoker’s Bench

While Lee cruised around the streets of the West Cliff, I continued on foot in search of the bench where Bram Stoker had apparently sat and been struck with inspiration for Dracula. The locals we asked proved no use in directing us (‘never heard of it – think it must be a myth’) but I was mistrusting of them (we’ll have no trouble here) so decided to find out for myself. Google proved much more useful and I finally spotted it.

There was a couple seated on said bench eating their fish and chips (from Papas, which smelled delicious). I sat patiently on the adjacent bench and admired the view.

Lee called to let me know where he had parked and to enquire after where I was.

‘I’ve found it! But it’s occupied at the moment so I’m just waiting for it to become free.’

‘Oh – we couldn’t help overhearing – we don’t mind moving if you want to sit on the bench.’

Phew! They must have been tourists too. I thanked them profusely before taking a few quick snaps and scampering back to the car.

White Horse & Griffin

We drove across the bridge (because now we could, without risk of hanging or being stoned to death or whatever the local punishment would have been for driving over it five minutes earlier).

There was no parking at our hotel/pub/inn but we were advised that we could set down on the cobbled street for unloading. It was busy with pedestrians, though, and there was nowhere to turn around. We had been tutted at for pulling on there in the first place, so we reversed off straight away without unloading and found a spot nearby where we had an hour’s free parking. We unloaded, checked in, climbed several flights of stairs to our room and unpacked.

I battled in vain with the tv remote. There weren’t many channels on offer here but I decided to watch Tenable while I waited for Lee; however I managed to get audio only, with no picture. That sounded like a woman, not Warwick Davis. I was confused. I consoled myself with the nice stem ginger biscuits from the room and it was soon time to head out and continue our exploratory mission.

But first, of course, we had to move the car to a legal overnight spot. We had been advised by the hotel that there was free on-street parking further down the road, beyond The Fleece pub. We found a space there surprisingly easily – quite a tight one, but Lee managed to reverse in with some guidance. As we walked away, we double- and triple-checked we were legally parked – and it was then Lee noticed a little sign advising otherwise and I spotted we were, indeed, in a parking bay, which ended a little further down the road. Anxious not to get into trouble with the locals again, we drove off, searching in vain for a vacant space. We turned around and tried again and were delighted to see a car pulling out just as we approached. Lee gave the driver a wave and I blew him a kiss. Yes! No more parking or driving worries for us today. Now we could relax.

The Waiting Room

I was most excited to visit this micropub. I had seen that it didn’t open until 1700 – and it was a little after that now – so this was our first stop of the evening. There was no signage for the pub on Whitby Station – this was one of those secret ‘if you know, you know’ places like Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar (which I only know about because someone told me at a Huddersfield match once). I sniffed it out, though – and was disappointed to find a rope across the closed door, with a sign asking customers to wait outside. But wasn’t the waiting room inside? This was all very confusing. Of course we followed the instructions (I was now terrified of the local people) and we waited outside patiently.

Within a minute we were invited inside to take a seat close to the bar. I surveyed the beer board and was delighted to find ‘beer bats’ were offered here. I selected three beers to enjoy a third of.

R-L (how I always drink them): 1, 3 & 6

Dear reader, the Heritage Gold was the best beer I had all day, with that distinctive beer taste that I love so much. This is brewed at the National Brewery Centre in Burton (the home of brewing) and where I enjoyed my best beer ever in Burton.

I liked this pub, too. We got chatting to an Everton fan who was seated opposite us and could have stayed chatting football with him for hours, had Lee’s tummy not been rumbling.

Hadley’s Fish & Chips

Food was hard to come by tonight, with many – nay most – restaurants and pubs fully booked for tea. There was a very lengthy queue outside Trenchers, an award-winning chippy and Lee bemoaned us not having booked in there. We tried so many places but there was no room at the inn anywhere. We ended up at Hadley’s and dived in there for a quick takeaway.

The gravy was better

I wasn’t particularly hungry so just picked at these.

Green Dragon

This was billed as a ‘must visit’ – a micropub with a fine beer offering and an adjoining bottle shop.

The pub was indeed tiny – again with a forbidding rope across the door – with a notice advising that access was through the bottle shop. We entered and were pleased to find a rare free table. I promptly forgot to photograph the draft beer list – apologies – but recall that there was an exciting-sounding oatmeal stout.

I returned to the bottle shop, where I selected this:

I confess I fell for the gimmick and was disappointed that the beer tasted neither like Yorkshire Pudding, nor was it particularly flavoursome. Nonetheless, it went down quickly.

The toilets here were quite the tiniest toilets I have ever encountered – and had the best soap dispenser I think I have ever seen.

Whitby Ghost Walk

Earlier today, Lee had spotted the meeting point signs for a couple of ghost walks and – despite us both having been terrified on the Dracula Experience earlier today – decided it sounded like fun entertainment for the evening. And so it came to pass that we found ourselves back at the meeting point of the Whalebone Arch at 1930.

Of course this was cash payment only – and we hadn’t thought to bring cash. I could only rustle up enough for one of us. Happily, PayPal offered a happy medium alternative and we paid that way instead.

The walk was 90 minutes long and most interesting. Our spooky guide – Dr Crank – pointed out a number of points of interest – including Bram Stoker’s bench. But it was his stories that made the walk so interesting. He was a great storyteller.

We learned much of the history of Whitby – not only its ghost stories but about its history as a whaling town, the origin of the term ‘daylight robbery’ and the story behind this polar bear.

Dr Crank also taught us the term ‘The Whitby Way’ – as in there’s the right way, the wrong way and the Whitby way. I think we had a fair idea what that was already, having only been here a few hours.

We learned about the ‘Hand of Glory‘ (probably not what you think it is) and wondered if we would be able to get to sleep tonight without fear of finding a severed hand under our pillow.

Quirky Den

We popped in here for a nightcap. This was another very small pub – we had already walked past it twice and it had looked full – but we spotted there was another room upstairs, so we decided to chance it.

This was cash only and we had just enough cash to stump up for a couple of drinks and a small tip.

Sea sea…
Questionable apostrophe action

We headed upstairs and I immediately went to check out the facilities.

The best loo roll holder I have ever seen

There was an odd layout upstairs. We were facing into the room, but the two tables opposite each seated two people (men on one table, women on the other) facing out towards the windows. It was half an hour before we realised the people at the two tables knew each other, so intently were they immersed in their animated conversation (the men) and staring out of the window (the women).

Tired now after a long and busy day, we retired back to our lodgings.

We decided to watch the latest episode of Ted Lasso to cheer us up before bed – for Friday is traditionally Ted Lasso Day, with the new episode appearing weekly on Apple TV. But, well, even this latest episode seemed to be made in The Whitby Way, being totally out of character in relation to the other episodes. We didn’t have a clue what was going on and whether any of it was real or not.

I was glad I had had a strong beer to end the night on and it wasn’t too long before I drifted off into a night of troubled sleep, woken intermittently by chimes marking each hour that passed throughout the night in a town which I can only describe as the Rotherham of seaside resorts. I want a seaside town – well, any town, really – to greet me with a hug. Here we had had doors and roads and bridges closed off to us at every turning, been turfed out into ginnels, tutted at, resolutely ignored by a pubdog and been called cunts. In writing.

I don’t.

Tomorrow would be better. It had to be. It was my birthday…


Coming up in A Football Tourist’s Guide to Middlesbrough – Part Two:

  • Captain Cook Memorial Museum
  • Whitby Brewery
  • Whitby Abbey
  • Ali Brownlee Social Club
  • Middlesbrough v Blackpool
  • The worst chips of the weekend

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