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About A Week: Winding Down In Whitby

Peter Hinchliffe spots an advert for a holiday break in Whitby, North Yorkshire, that sets him dreaming of might-have-beens.

Stressed out? Nerves a-jangle? Need to get away from it all? To recharge the mental batteries?

This may be the very thing. A three-day stay in a fisherman’s cottage in a place where red-tiled rooftops tumble pell-mell down the steep sides of an estuary to a pretty harbour.

There’s a maze of cobbled streets, an invitation to explore winding alleyways. Pastel-painted wooden fishing boats rock and sway as the tide comes swelling in through the harbour mouth.

“Yes, yes!’’ you say. “Just the place. Where is it? Spain? Italy? One of those Greek islands?’’

Actually no. This hideaway for work-worn souls, so glowingly portrayed by the advertising copywriter, is…Whitby. Good old Whitby, East coast magnet for many a thousand bus-loads of day-trippers.

And a three-day break in this particular “period’’ cottage, located near the foot of the famous 199 steps, costs a mere £311.

I’m not saying the holiday rental firm are overcharging. That may very well be a reasonable rate for your personal piece of period charm in an atmospheric old whaling port. But 311 quid for three days took my breath away.

You see I know that cottage. I’ve known it for more than 60 years. My dad had chance to get another cottage alongside it for £150. That wasn’t £150 for a three-day let. It was to buy the place, lock, stock and kitchen sink.

“It’s a lot of money,’’ said dad, pacing our living room after contacting an estate agent. “And there’s a lot of work needs doing. ’Course I could do most of it myself. Thing is though we’d have to go to Whitby for our holidays every year.’’

“Well we do go to Whitby for our holidays every year,’’ said mam.

Despite her logic dad didn’t buy the cottage. £150 was more than he could afford.

Of course it’s daft to compare prices then with prices now. Doing so leads inevitably to exaggeration. “You could go to Blackpool for the day, have a cooked breakfast, fish-and-chips for dinner, go on every ride in the Pleasure Beach, go swimming in Derby Baths, ride the length of the prom on a tram, drink four pints of beer, and still have enough change out of a pound note to buy a few shares in the Tower…’’

Sure you could have a great day out for a quid, but for lots of folk that was half a week’s wage.

I find myself doing speculative sums, If dad had bought that cottage… £311 for three days. Let’s say two lets a week for 40 weeks… £24,880 a year! Almost as good as buying shares in Microsoft.

There are many worse places in which to unwind than Henrietta Street, Whitby. A view of the harbour. Seagulls engaged in cawing rooftop conversations. The appetising smell of fish being cured over slow-burning oak shavings. A pre-breakfast walk to the top of the 199 steps then along the cliff top toward Robin Hood’s Bay…

But make sure you take an umbrella. Whitby is in England you know, the land where the Weather's idea of a good joke is, unannounced, to sprinkle water on folk's heads.

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