Scarborough and the North York Moors (Part 1)

June 3, 2022
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A map of the location of the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks in relation to the City of York (symbolised by York Minster and a red outline). This map shows the locations of Middlesbrough, Scarborough, Whitby and Helmsley in the North York Moors area. Scarborough is about 55 km north-east of the centre of York City in a straight line. Map data ©2022 Google, North at top.

AFTER YORK, I drove to the resort town of Scarborough, which seemed like a miniature Blackpool but less touristy.

I didn’t take main roads all the way, but detoured a bit to take in the scenery, both on the way there and on my way north to the Northumberland coast. I’ll talk about this inland scenic tour in Part 2.

Scarborough was just amazing. And all the more because I was blessed with fine weather at last. I don’t know how common that is in Yorkshire. Probably not very.

A tourist map of Scarborough. These were everywhere. In this view, north is to the left.

The older part of the city is on the neck of a promontory that sticks out into the sea. There is a high hill on the promontory itself. In that sense, the local geography is a bit like the ancient Lebanese city of Tyre, or the New Zealand town of Kaikōura. There are two bays, called the North Bay and the South Bay. The South Bay is where the middle of town is located, while the North Bay is lined with parkland.

The promontory has been a fort of some kind or other for about the last three thousand years. It was a Roman outpost when England was Roman. In the Middle Ages, Scarborough Castle was constructed upon it. Scarborough Castle has an amazing set of inner and outer walls that still survive, called the Scarborough Dykes, and you can go on a walk around them that takes about an hour.

The Scarborough Dykes loom over the town, in the manner that you can see from the following old postcard. The postcard shows St Mary’s (Anglican) Church in the foreground, a church that dates back to the Middle Ages itself, at least in part, though it has had bits demolished and been added to over the years.

From a postcard reproduced on I imagine that this image is in the public domain by now.

The writer Anne Brontë, one of the three famous Brontë sisters, is buried in part of St Mary’s churchyard. Ms Brontë’s grave is on the other side of Church Lane from the church itself.

Looking from Church Lane toward the section of the graveyard where Anne Brontë’s grave is located

As far as I know, the name Brontë is unique. The father of the three famous sisters, and several other siblings who are less famous, was a man from County Down in the north of Ireland, originally named Brunty or Prunty (the spelling seems to have been variable). In 1802, he decided to change the spelling of his name to Brontë, perhaps because he thought that this would look more posh and less Irish. Such were the social pressures of those days!

The main part of St Mary’s churchyard including the church, just opposite Anne Brontë’s grave

A section of the Scarborough Dykes, i.e., the walls of Scarborough Castle

Scarborough Rock, a bit like Brighton Rock I suppose

A view of the old town

A pleasant walk down to the seaside

The South Bay and the town

Seal trips. Just like New Zealand, really.

More of the waterfront

And the beach

Oh yeah, this was weird. Alfred Hitchcock territory!

Here is a video I made. It includes some scenes of the nesting practices of the gulls that seem to rule the town!

The waterfront is dominated by the Grand Hotel (1867). At the time of its opening, the Grand Hotel was the largest in Europe, outshining all the usual resorts like Monte Carlo and Baden-Baden.

The Grand Hotel

The Grand Hotel and a promenade

Soon after the outbreak of the First World War, the Grand’s prominence made it a key target in a large German naval raid on the whole of the North Yorkshire coast. The Kaiser’s navy was apparently under the impression that so prominent a building had to be a vital government installation masquerading as a hotel, and pasted it accordingly.

Despite being hit by about thirty shells from big guns, the immensity of the building saved it from being destroyed. The holes were patched up, and business carried on as usual. As is so often the case the raid also seems to have been a bit of an own goal in propaganda terms, helping to rally the people under attack.

‘British World War I poster “Remember Scarborough! Enlist Now!”. The poster refers to British anger about the German Navy’s Raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby on 16 December 1914 which killed dozens of civilians.’ Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons.

During the Second World War, the prominent towers at all four corners were manned by flak gunners, swivelling their artillery this way and that in case Scarborough got bombed from the air this time. As indeed it did. Once again, on the 18th of March 1941, a total of 1,378 buildings were damaged or destroyed in the so-called Scarborough Blitz. That was the worst air raid locally, but there were others.

Still, the greatest threat to the Grand was economics. Subsequent developments in the tourist trade have not been kind to Scarborough and what I suppose you could call cold-water tourist resorts in general, as opposed to those of more tropical regions to which we now flit in the era of cheap jet travel. An American parallel would be the decline of Niagara and the Catskills, just outside New York and still the most popular holiday destination for New Yorkers in the 1950s, in favour of warmer destinations in Florida and the Caribbean.

Still, I think if I were to return to Scarborough, I would stay at the Grand just to take in its past glory, with amazing bathrooms, ballrooms, and all. Moreover, it only costs about NZ $75 a night for a single room: no longer the money-spinner it once was, perhaps, but still open for business at least.

Less spectacular but no less important is the local Rotunda Museum, which is online in a virtual-tour sense. The Rotunda Museum is dedicated to the pioneering geologist William Smith, who spent some time in Scarborough and who is mainly remembered for having drawn up the first geological map of Great Britain, the so-called ‘map that changed the world’, in 1815. The Rotunda Museum dates all the way back to 1829 and was purpose-built by the Scarborough Philosophical Society, to Smith’s design, to show off the new, scientific, approach to geology.

People swore by Whitby just up the coast from Scarborough in the direction of Middlesbrough, where in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula the undead count comes ashore in the form of a large dog and runs up the town’s historic, mediaeval 199 Steps from the waterfront to the graveyard of the Church of St Mary, atop a hill overlooking the town and its bay, right next to the spooky ruins of Whitby Abbey. Which, as it would seem, are best viewed at nightfall. Woooo….

Whitby Abbey at sunset. Photo by ‘Ackers72’, 12 April 2009, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Though it was already ruined beforehand, some of the additional ruin inflicted upon the Abbey as we see it today was inflicted by the raiders of 1914, who really don’t seem to have had a very clear idea of what they were supposed to be shooting at.

Whitby has very strong associations with the mariner James Cook who was born in Marton, nowadays a suburb of the nearby city of Middlesbrough, though it was a separate village back then.

There is a Captain Cook Birthplace Museum in Marton, but Whitby was where Cook learned to sail. The town boasts a Captain Cook Museum, which I will have to take in next time. According to its website, the museum is located “in the 17th century house where the master mariner and Quaker, Captain John Walker lodged his young apprentice James Cook during the winter when not at sea.”

There are also some Captain Cook connotations in Staithes, halfway between Middlesbrough and Whitby along the same coast.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to Whitby, as turned around and went inland again after Scarborough.


An educational website on Captain Cook in the north-east of Yorkshire, maintained by the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum and the Middlesbrough Museums:

My next post will be Part 2 of this journey, describing my travels inland, across the North York Moors National Park.


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