RUTH MILLINGTON

AWARD-WINNING WRITER, PODCASTER & ADVENTURE TRAVELLER

STAYCATION: YOU MEAN I’M ON HOLIDAY IN MY OWN COUNTRY?!

The world is full of buzzwords and travel isn’t exempt.  As marketing tools, they are very effective in getting us to try things out although, in reality, the concepts they are promoting are rarely new.  

The latest to hit the travel scene is the ‘Staycation’ (as opposed to the ‘Awaycation’ as I like to call them).  We used to say, “I’m going on holiday this year in my own country,” but now it’s fashionable to say “Staycation”, a buzzword that easily rolls off the tongue. 

And as fashion goes, a Staycation couldn’t be more eco-friendly.  You’ll be reducing your carbon footprint by not flying abroad (or at least taking a shorter flight).  You’ll also be pumping money back into your economy especially with the pandemic causing the domestic holiday industry to be hit so hard.  And, believe me, there are lots of fascinating gems you will find in your own country, ones which perhaps your family and friends don’t even know about.

I’ve always found one of the best ways to hunt out gems is to first get a map of your country (either a printed or a digital one off the internet).  Pick a region and slowly run your finger across the area, noting any names or points of interests.  Then go and research.  Find out the history, how many people live there, the sights and surrounding areas.  Check out photos, websites, reviews about the area.

I was always fascinated by the shape of the East Yorkshire coastline so I found a map and got studying the area

I did this a few months back.  I was always fascinated by the shape of the East Yorkshire coastline so I found a map and got studying the area.  Every summer during my childhood, I had gone on a Staycation to Scarborough, an old Victorian seaside resort.  We’d travelled once to Robin Hood’s Bay when I was little and some of the surrounding coastal resorts further south which, to be honest, I don’t remember even though my parents reassure me I have.  I had also been to Filey a few years back to visit a friend, but I had never gone to the more northern coastal resorts on the east coastline.

After spending the day in Harrogate visiting the likes of Betty’s Cafe Tea Rooms – a local institution – and taking a one and a half hour tour of the city with a very entertaining guide which I can highly recommend, I drove northeast to stay the night in a small bed & breakfast in Redcar which is just above the North Yorkshire Moors National Park and south of Middlesbrough.  Redcar, ordinarily, wouldn’t be my scene, but because of unprecedented demand during the pandemic, there wasn’t a single bed available for the night around the national park or down the East Yorkshire coastline.  The only room at the inn was the guesthouse in Redcar, close to the seafront. It came with an ensuite and was cheap.

Redcar is an interesting, if undesirable, place…..Men queue for fish and chips in football shirts and women wear scrunchies in their hair….and everyone says ‘Whey aye man’ even though it’s in Yorkshire

Redcar is an interesting, if undesirable, place.  At the end of the beach, there is a large steelworks which from a distance looks more like a nuclear power plant.  Men queue for fish and chips in football shirts and women wear scrunchies in their hair.  The houses are the old fashioned northern red brick terraces like you see on Coronation Street, except young girls sit on the doorsteps wearing false eyelashes and heavy makeup, and everyone says, ‘Whey aye man’.  I got the impression that The Queen doesn’t visit here often, if at all.  It might be because she knows, just like I later found out when sitting in one of Redcar’s many pubs, that the town is frequented by undesirable types or “ruffians” as one publican called them as he bolted a side door behind me. 

Redcar: where the sun and The Queen rarely visit

© Ruth Millington

The beach, though, is smooth and sandy; a brisk sea breeze ruffles the cobwebs out of your hair; the screech of seagulls wakes you from your senses; and it’s progressive in the sense that there is a field of wind turbines out in the sea which makes an impressive sight particularly on a warm, sunny, July evening.  But what you can’t take away from this place is that this is a town lost in time.  Let down by governments and long forgotten by its people.  And what I couldn’t get my head around, was that Redcar was in Yorkshire but everyone spoke with a Geordie accent.  

That evening, I ended up driving to a hotel pub in a hamlet just outside of Guisborough for dinner after doing a detour via Guisborough central and finding a few more ruffians hanging outside what looked to be a pretty, Tudor style pub.  The hotel pub was quiet.  A few people were seated on benches outside but, as the night was drawing in, I decided to sit inside next to what turned out to be the local drunk whose rants were a combination of political commentary, sport and something about a bloke in the area causing trouble.  The bar had stopped serving food at 9 pm and, with no hope of a meal in sight, I resigned myself to a large glass of prosecco and a bag of salted peanuts as the drunk serenaded me by the light of his mobile phone and the music playing overhead.  

The next day, knowing I was well on the way to Nirvana now having ticked Redcar off the list, I hastily headed south along the A174 road which weaves its way along the coastline like an assault course

The next day, knowing I was well on the way to Nirvana now having ticked Redcar off the list, I hastily headed south along the A174 road which weaves its way along the coastline like an assault course.  Occasionally, I would turn off to take a peek at the likes of the coastal resorts of Masrkse-by-the-Sea and Saltburn-by-the-Sea, before easing my way gently down the rolling road towards Staithes.

Staithes is a small fishing port 16 miles from Redcar.  It’s a jumble of centuries-old shabby chic houses painted in bright whites, blues and reds.  It’s set at the bottom of a steep hill and a cobbled street runs through the centre. I couldn’t help wondering how the bin lorries made their way down to the bottom.  Walk down a tiny street or alleyway and blink, and you’ll miss the minuscule doors and windows or a cottage sign with names such as Bo’suns Rest, Rockpool Cottage, Coble Cottage and the delightful Thistle-Doo Nicely.  Miniature gardens entice you to trespass.  Local shop signs point arrows down hidden troves.  

On the edge of the harbour walkway, the sun beats steadily down, dogs nestle at your feet, tourists put their faces to the sun, and the smell of seaweed and chips fills your nostrils

It’s perfect for painters and writers.  On a warm day, you can imagine a group of amateur Turners lined up with their canvasses, painting the gorgeous vista of eroding cliff faces and a harbour created by huge boulders where colourful boats bob up and down on the water within the safety of its walls, and seagulls screech above targeting your head to defecate on.  For writers, the Cob and Lobster Pub is perfect.  On the edge of the harbour walkway, the sun beats steadily down, dogs nestle at your feet, tourists put their faces to the sun, and the smell of seaweed and chips fills your nostrils. A can of coke is £1, and for all those Ernest Hemmingways that enjoy a drink to bring out their creative juices, the price of an alcoholic bevvy is very reasonable.

Staithes: much posher than Redcar

© Ruth Millington

After the steep climb back to my car which I had parked just off the A174 in a 1960s housing estate in Staithes, I drove for another 11 miles to Whitby where the British explorer (and Yorkshireman) Captain James Cooke once lived.  I had convinced myself that I had been to Whitby before but turns out that I was confusing it with Filey.  Ideally, I would have stopped at Port Mulgrave and Runswick Bay en route, but I was short of time although I did feel the urge to veer off at Kettleness and ended up at a pub surrounded by fields.

Back on the A174, it’s a steep, twisty road down into Whitby Bay.  It feels like you are on a rollercoaster and, at any minute, the brakes are going to fail, and you’ll career off into the North Sea.  At the northern end of the Bay is the small hamlet of Sandsend, a small enclave of beach, parking lots and the aptly named Wits End Café.  Families trundle along with buckets and spades with kids in tow.  Around the bend, you climb a steep winding road until you suddenly plateau onto the cliff top and there, stretching out in the distance, is Whitby town with its grand Victorian hotels and a crescent of tall terraced houses, the sort you’d expect to see in Brighton or even London.

The sun was bright and the air surprisingly warm as I parked my car and made my way along the cliff edge, dropping down the winding pathway onto the beach past the multicoloured rows of beach huts that had been there for over a century.  The sands were long and wide.  The sea was out, creating rock pools and inlets of water.  Dogs played.  Children were sitting digging sandcastles.  Adults frolicked in the freezing waters.  I walked south, heading towards the West Pier and lighthouse.  

Thanks to King Henry VIII and his dissolution of the monasteries, Whitby Abbey was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’. There’s an annual pilgrimage of goths and the streets are filled with Draculas and vampires. Having a full English breakfast with Dave the black-eyed goth from Southend-on-Sea is an experience in itself

Unlike Scarborough’s South Sands, there were few arcades, but as soon as I walked around the corner the streets were packed with day-trippers and holidaymakers eating chips and ice cream, candyfloss and rock.  I made my way across the small bridge over the River Esk and headed along the narrow cobbled streets to the Church of St. Mary on the hill which you can view from across the river.  It’s a steep climb up 199 steps to the church, but the views are magnificent from the top.  Beyond is the ruins of Whitby Abbey.  Thanks to King Henry VIII and his dissolution of the monasteries, the abbey was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’.  There is an annual pilgrimage of goths from all corners of the globe when the streets are filled with Draculas and vampires, transforming the town into a Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Having a full English breakfast with Dave the black-eyed goth from Southend-on-Sea is an experience in itself.

Whitby: home to goths and Dracula types when the sun isn’t shining

© Ruth Millington

It’s an even shorter drive from Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay.  At 5.5 miles, it takes 11 minutes by car. Whilst like Staithes it’s a small port with winding streets and tiny cottages down twisty pathways, architecturally it’s very different.  The houses are Edwardian in design.  Most are of stone and the windows frames are painted white.  The road down to the portside consists of tarmac.  The houses aren’t shabby chic.  They may be small, but they seem to possess an air of superiority in terms of class, wealth and workmanship.  In Staithes, the sea air has left its mark by eroding walls and roofs, and the seagulls have covered the houses with their excrement.  In Robin Hood’s Bay it’s as if the salty air and seagulls have agreed to keep away.

Rate posh Robin Hood’s Bay

© Ruth Millington

The beach at Robin Hood’s Bay is magnificent.  Combining the geographical wonders of both Whitby and Staithes beaches, it’s long and wide, and at the far end of either, there are rocky peninsulas, great for fossil hunting and scrambling along.  If you want to eat, there’s a couple of pubs at the bottom of the village or you can walk up the steep road to the junction at the top where there’s a hotel and a restaurant.

The East Yorkshire coastline isn’t far away from me – about a two-hour drive, and it’s a beautiful gem of a Staycation.

Yours,

Ruthie x

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