Saturday 18 June 2011

Return from Robin Hood's Bay

It's been the better part of a week since I returned from my week away at Robin Hood's Bay.  It was perfect.  I had no phone.  No internet.  I didn't now a soul there.  And the weather even cooperated.

While there, I took about a gazillion photos.  The place and the surrounding area is so beautiful that there are gorgeous views every which way you look.  Worry not, I haven't posted them all here, just a selection.

Here is the main road through town.  It really is as steep as it looks.  My self-catering flat was near the bottom.

The village has lost nearly 200 houses to the sea in the past couple of hundred years.  In the 1970's a sea wall was built, and in the year 2000, a reinforcing wall of boulders was put into place.  Walking around, one is so aware of the sea, its relentless presence, its offerings and its threats.  It's amazing to me to think of a group of people - as these villagers were, and to some extent still are - who are at the mercy of nature in such an existential way.  It's easy to Romanticize the sailor, the fisherman, the coastguards, the women and children of the village, but that's for good reason.  They were living with nature in a way that I as a comfy city dweller can only imagine.

At the foot of town is the North Sea.  At low tide, one can walk and troll for treasures: shells, feathers, stones, and fossils.

A cave typical of the area.  No forgotten store of smugglers' rum.   At least, not that I could find.

A path to nearby "Boggle Hole."  I had no idea what a Boggle was.  I do now: it's rather like a Bogart.  Afraid I didn't see any down there, not that they didn't see me...

On one day, I took the costal path to Whitby.  The walk consisted of about 3 hours of magnificent views; views of the sea to my right, and large, sweeping fields to my left.

The sea and the sky would change every few minutes.  And within the course of an hour, the sea's colours would go from black, to Payne's grey, to every shade of blue, and into greens, and even beige, and to white.   Mesmerizing.

A gulls' rookery on the very edge of the cliffs.  

Before I knew it, the silhouette of Whitby Abbey loomed in the distance.  It's the ruin of a Benedictine Abbey, established in the seventh century.

Unfortunately, by the time I reached it, my knee was out of commission.  (Didn't realize I had a knee issue!)  All of the steep downward climbing on the path and perhaps in the village seemed to have done it in.  When I got to the Abbey I was so miffed because of my knee that I didn't take a tour of it; I just wanted to find the nearest apothecary for a tension bandage.  To add insult to my injury, from the Abbey there is a descent down at least 100 steps into town.

Lobster pots on a Whitby dock.

In spite of the knee, I did wander around Whitby.  One of my aims was the Whitby Museum.  It has a small fascinating collection including prehistoric fossils found in the area, Victorian bric-a-brac carved from local jet, items pertaining to Whitby's seafaring past, taxidermied local wildlife.  Of course, one of the main items I wanted to see was their "Hand of Glory".  Photography was not allowed, so I'm afraid I have none to show.  (My camera was probably thankful for the rest.)  I'm one of those people who is fascinated by the macabre, but I'm also a complete and utter wuss.  I had to do my utmost to put said hand out of my mind as I tried to get to sleep that night.

Back at the Bay.

On my various walks, I found some stones and a clump of sheep's wool.

The closest I came to a fossil, was this rather interesting stone.  I have no idea what it is, but it looks organic and...well...fossily.

Over the past few months, I have been very much inspired by Milly's beautiful blog: drawings from nature.  She collects items from her sea-side walks in the lake district of England, and makes gorgeous coloured drawings of them.  I did my thing with some pencil sketches.   There is nothing like drawing an item from nature.  I am reminded of a quote by artist Alan Lee  which I came across somewhere - I'm afraid I forget where - in which he talks about how the act of drawing a tree (I think it was) is an act of deep reverence to the tree and to all of nature including the observer.   Must look that up - it is a beautiful, beautiful quote.

And when I wasn't out walking along the coast, or trolling the beaches; I trolled the three second hand bookstores in town.  To my delight, they sold copies of Agatha Christie mysteries very cheaply.  They are the old "Fontana" editions which I love the feel of and the cover art of.   I read this stack in the evenings.  Nothing like murder to get your mind off a Hand of Glory skittering its way across the floorboards.

Theodora Goss, on her wonderfully inspiring writing blog wrote about Agatha Christie a while ago.  I remember smiling as I read it, as I also enjoy Ms. Christie's books, no matter how outmoded they might be.  (There are also, unfortunately, moments of racism and classism in some of her books which a reader must, if they wish to get to what's good in the books, ignore.)  Her plots are usually admirably tight, her wit sharp, and her observations of human nature so cutting and spot-on that I often find myself mentally nodding in agreement.   Here's one of my favourite covers.  It's from "Sparkling Cyanide" and features a lady's handbag, a class of Champagne, and a dose of cyanide.  Elegant and lethal.

And, as I promised myself, I did a bit of writing of my own.  Here's the photo to prove it.

Well, not that that actually looks like writing, but it was.  Really.  I needed to get an overview of the chapters and scenes of my manuscript - which is closer to being done, but not quite finished yet.

I had a lovely time away.  Away from the distractions of day to day life.  A real retreat.  I find I need solitude fairly regularly in order what?...I think it's to allow myself to listen to the quietest voices within.  This was the luxury version of it for me for which I am grateful.

Now, I need to take a bit of time each day to reflect on the trip and allow the impressions to filter through and - with luck - make their way into my work.  Not something which can be forced, but something which I want to try to think about now that I'm back in the rhythm of the day to day.

It is good to be back, though I do miss the sound of the waves and of the gulls keening overhead.


  1. Lovely, lovely, lovely, and more lovely: as evidenced by your great photography. How marvelous that you were able to take this trip and refresh your writer self. I imagine we'll be seeing evidence of your foray in future works of art, too.

    I also imagine that you might have been torn about your return to citified living: part of you wanting all that is part of your normal life; and part of you knowing how a removal from all of that also suits you.

  2. Now I'm all nostalgic for that beautiful coast! I remember the ammonites in the Whitby museum as big as cartwheels - but maybe that's only because I was so small...

    Glad you had such a soul-refreshing stay.

  3. Wow, what an absolutely lovely place "to listen to the quietest voices within." I can certainly relate to that, and I applaud the fact that you took some time to feed your soul. May much good come of it! A quote I just found that speaks, I think, to this:

    'dont ask what the world needs. ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. because what the world needs is people who have come alive.' - howard thurman

  4. "A real retreat. I find I need solitude fairly regularly in order what?...I think it's to allow myself to listen to the quietest voices within."
    Yes, I am thinking I need this too. It works to bring one closer to that which we seek and which seeks us.

  5. It was impossible to take a bad photograph there, Jan! And you're right about reconciling the two ways of living. My dream has always been to have a small apartment in a city, and a small thatched roof cottage in the country. win the lottery.

    The ammonites were incredible, Katherine! A number of shops were selling small ones and I'm kicking myself for not having brought one home for my boys. I'm afraid my fossil make much of a stir.

    Beautiful quote, Donna. Thanks for that! There is so much "noise" of many different types, which can interfere with that - as you put it - feeding of the soul.

    Leslie, I like how you've put that about "that which we seek and which seeks us". It does go both ways - we just have to remember to be open to it.

  6. I would LOVE to explore that abbey too.. all your images are simply beautiful -- and so quiet and serene and peaceful as you must have felt as you were there in person. I think we all need that quiet time once in awhile to replenish and renew.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Oops...flubbed the above comment.

    I would love to go back to explore the abbey some day, Donna.
    It really was impossible to take a bad photo. There is so much beauty there.
    And I completely agree, we all need that quiet time - which can be all to difficult to come by these days.

  9. Gorgeous photos! I visited Whitby briefly last year, but would love to go back for a longer stay. Your post has inspired me to return!

  10. Thanks, MC.
    It is unbelievably beautiful there! I'd love to go back and spend more time exploring the area. There is something magical about being by the sea.

  11. Wow! Amazing photos, and it looks like you had a wonderful time. I love the idea of being cut off from everything for a while, sounds so relaxing.

    I've always wanted to visit that part of the world; I think I may have been there as a kid but I don't remember it much. That abbey is beautiful, as is everything else! England's actually one of my favourite places to holiday, which most people I know find very strange since it's so similar in climate and culture to Ireland. They always ask why I don't want to go somewhere a bit more 'foreign' and warmer, but I just love all the wee English villages so much! And this post has given me itchy feet, must check out if there's any ferry deals on the go... :)

    Thanks for sharing your adventure with us, I feel like I've been on wee mini trip myself. And your photos are lovely!

    Roisin x

  12. I'm very glad you enjoyed the adventure, Roisin!

    I can completely understand your being drawn to England, even though it's not so different from home. When I go to a place that is somewhat similar to what I'm familiar with, I find that I have a different sort of a trip. Rather than the wow factor of being constantly confronted with everything that's different, that familiarity allows me to focus on different things - or perhaps to focus in different ways, see and experience different things.

    (Ireland is very, very high on my list of places to visit.)

  13. I love all your finds and your drawings of feathers. Thank you for sharing your stay in such a lovely post. You have made me determined to visit that coast on my own one day too!

  14. Thank you, Claire. The coast is beautiful. And a trip alone is something very special indeed!

  15. Hello, Lynn - lovely post, which took me back to the past (used to go fossil-hunting there with dear relatives). You're so right about the constantly-changing palette of the landscape. Glad you enjoyed your visit - & recounted all your fascinating impressions.
    For your next trip, if you're contemplating one, may I recommend the Lower Wye Valley? Between Chepstow & Monmouth, you'll find it ravishingly beautiful (in all weathers - luckily!) & full of history, symbolism and myth ... heavenly! I still miss it after years away: please don't miss, if time/budget allows.

  16. Hi Minnie - thank you for the recommendation. I looked up the Lower Wye Valley on your advice and it looks spectacular. It's on my wish list of places to visit now. So glad you stopped by and left a comment!