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We visited Whitby Abbey recently when we were on holiday in Yorkshire last week. We were staying in Whitby itself so it seemed natural to visit the abbey although I think we probably would have visited anyway if we were staying somewhere nearby as it is obviously a famous landmark and it is the sort of day out we enjoy. Also, being English Heritage members meant it was included in our membership so in effect our visit to the abbey was free which is always an advantage!
==Arriving at the abbey==
We walked to the abbey from the other side of Whitby. If you are parking in the centre of Whitby or staying in Whitby the abbey is easy to find. It is situated on the top of a hillside so you can see it from the majority of locations in the town but it is also signposted really well. I found the walk up to the abbey pleasant as we had just arrived in Whitby and it allowed us to see a lot of the town and therefore decide what else we wanted to see during our time there.
If walking, you have two options of how to reach the abbey. You can either walk up the donkey track which is extremely steep cobbles or you can climb the 199 steps beside it! We opted for the steps which weren't exactly easy!
If driving, there is a car park up next to the abbey itself. When we visited we could only see coaches in the car park but we did visit quite late on in the day and we were some of the only visitors there. I think we saw two or three couples whilst we were walking about but that was all.
If using public transport, Whitby is easily accessible. I'm not entirely sure whether there are any bus stops closer to the abbey than the actual town itself so if you are planning on travelling by bus it may be an idea to have a look at the timetables before setting off.
When you enter the grounds of the abbey, you go into the shop first to buy your tickets or to show your membership cards. The lady in here was very friendly and told us which way to go. You then leave the shop and go through to the abbey.
There is a good sized museum here which you can easily spend a quarter of an hour in which gives lots of information about the abbey itself and also history about when the abbey was in use. There are artefacts in here too which were good to look at and if you have children there is plenty to keep them occupied in here too such as printing stamps and crayon rubbings.
After looking at the museum you leave through some doors and you are then in the grounds of the abbey itself.
The abbey is a ruin but it is spectacular. The image of the abbey is famous worldwide and it is easy to see why. There is a lot of the abbey left so it is easy to picture what the abbey would have actually looked like. The ruins actually stretch up to the very top of the abbey which I thought was spectacular because it really allowed you to imagine how big the abbey would have actually been and also meant it was easy to picture what it would have been like here.
There are no sections of the abbey which are out of bounds which is great because it really does allow you to get up close to the abbey and to see the stone work and also to appreciate the sheer size of the abbey.
Because of the position of the abbey you can also see some spectacular views over Whitby and also of the coast. It was a clear day when we visited but not sunny, I imagine it would be lovely on a sunny day.
There are a few information boards dotted about which I found really useful as there were sketches of how the abbey and the surrounding area would have looked which allowed me to understand further how they would have lived in huts surrounding the abbey in sort of a little village.
==Did we enjoy it?==
We did enjoy our visit to the abbey. We spent around an hour here which for us was long enough as we had seen everything and had plenty more to explore in the town. However, you could spend a little longer if you wanted to. On a nice day it would be lovely to take a picnic along and to have an hour or two relaxing in the sun.
Four of us visited the abbey and we all found it very interesting. A lot of English Heritage properties are ruins so therefore there is a limited amount of things they can do to the subject in order to allow people to experience it. The abbey I feel is definitely one of the top EH properties that we have visited over the past year. I felt that we were provided with a good amount of information which allowed us to understand the abbey completely but we didn't feel as though we were being given an overload of information.
For us, the main attraction of the abbey was its appearance. It is a large building which looks very imposing against its coastal backdrop. The abbey has survived well over time and although a lot of it is gone there is still a wonderful profile to be looked at which allows your imagination to picture what life would have been like there.
We would definitely recommend the abbey and think that it is well worth a visit at some point because it is a piece of British history. It's a lovely way to spend a couple of hours and it would be a great place to go on a summers day when you can relax with a picnic.
Current opening times: 10am - 6pm Daily
Admission prices: Adult: £6.70, Child: £3.70, Concession: £5.60, Family (2+3): £16.10
A lovely place to visit providing you with a real chunk of British history. Recommended.
A BIT OF HISTORY...
The abbey stands high on a cliff and can be clearly seen when standing in the centre of Whitby, so even first time visitors like ourselves find it easy to locate.
The first abbey was built in AD 657 by St Hilda and was destroyed in a Viking invasion in AD867. It was rebuilt in the late 1070s and the building of the present church began in 1220. Because of its location on the top of a cliff, it was not destroyed during the dissolution in Henry 8th's time but was (and still is ) used as a navigation marker.
We went to the abbey from the Whitby harbour area, where the abbey can be reached by climbing the 199 'abbey steps' (or Caedmon's Trod). Foa anyone not feeling up to this, the abbey can be reached via a well-signposted road leads from the town outskirts to the cliff-top abbey. The walk up the steps is quite tiring and not at all suitable for anyone with mobility problems. However, if you can walk them then I would recommend you do so as the views to the sea are tremendous. Also, the time of year we went allowed us to see lots of chicks peeping out of the chimneys chirping for food- fantastic!
Into the entrance we went, paid our admission fees and walked up some stairs. I do believe there is a lift so wheel chair access is possible, but remember, once back outside again it's all grassed to the abbey.
The museum part of this attraction is actually situated inside the recently renovated Abbey House. There is a long room with lots of interactive activities which was really appealing for the children. Children and adults could use the Medieval stamps to write letters and make patterns, and there were lots of different rubbings as well as books making funny people depending on the era you chose and archaeological dig games. As well as the interactive stuff, there were the usual museum exhibits with small bits of information about each one so we didn't get too bogged down with information. The children in this area seemed to be having a great time and we came out with lots of illuminated writing type stuff as well as rubbings.
Once out of the museum, there is a short walk across the grass to the actual abbey, and it is indeed very impressive. We can still see where the windows were and it's quite awe inspiring walking through the ruins. There are little bits of information dotted around the place and pictures of what it may have looked like, but just like the museum the information is in small doses so it's all very easy to understand and to explain to little ones.
One of the things I liked about the place is that it is really relaxing, and nobody seems overly "precious" about the site. People are free to have picnics around the abbey and there were plenty of people just sitting on the old stones enjoying the sunshine. For anyone with a picnic there are also some geese ready to greed food from you but fortunately for us (and perhaps unusually) these are in fact very friendly geese and not at all hissy.
ADMISSION CHARGES AND OPENING TIMES...
There is an audio loop included in the admission price with a history of the abbey
So for the 3 of us we paid £12.50 which at the time I thought was a bit steep, but once we got inside all that changed because there was a lot more to do than I originally thought.
Opening times depend on the time of the year. It is open longer during the summer months, but for anyone wanting to visit, it's best to check.
OTHER BITS OF INFORMATION...
*There is a tea room in Abbey House which is rather pleasant because visitors can sit outside when the weather is nice.
*Dogs are allowed if they are kept on leads but are not permitted in the visitor centre
* There are toilets close to the tea rooms, and also toilet for disabled users.
* Very limited parking close to the Abbey (charge payable)
For anyone in this area, I would recommend a visit to the abbey. There is plenty for children to do in the visitor centre, and once outside, the large open spaces with the sea air has a real feel good factor. The abbey is incredibly historic and I learnt a lot just by reading the bits of information, but apart from all of this, it's a great place to see. Very peaceful with a real sense of calm- a day out for all the family.
Thanks for reading.
Whitby is a picturesque little town on the north east coast of Yorkshire. The main industry of Whitby is fishing as it has been for many years and you can still watch the boast coming in and landing the catches if you're up early enough!
It is set at the mouth of the River Esk and the town is split with shops, pubs and houses rising steeply on either side of the river, which is spanned by a swing bridge to allow ships to pass upstream.
On the east cliff of Whitby stands the ruins of Whitby Abbey which is reached by climbing 199 steps so it's not for the faint hearted, although to be fair you can also get to it by road which cuts out the steps. You might think I'm mad but for me walking up the steps was part of the attraction. There is also a slope at the side of the steps but, trust me, you wouldn't want to try and push a wheelchair or even a pushchair up as it is very steep!
It was originally founded in 657 AD by Oswy who was the Saxon King of Northumbria and was home to the Saxon poet Caedmon.
In 867, the abbey fell to Viking attack, and was abandoned until 1078, when it was re-founded by Regenfrith who was a soldier monk, under the orders of his protector, the Norman, William de Percy.
The second monastery lasted until it was destroyed by Henry VIII in 1540. The abbey buildings fell into ruins, and were mined for stone, but remained a prominent landmark for sailors.
The historical information in the last couple of paragraphs has been taken from http://www.whitbyabbey.co.uk/
The Abbey, already in ruins, was then heavily bombed during the war.
It is a lovely place for a good walk round. There is enough of the Abbey remaining to get an idea of how it must have looked all those years ago. The views of the ruins and out across the sea are wonderful from up here and you certainly get a breath of fresh air whether you want it or not!
Work is ongoing at the ruins and they have recently uncovered a 17th century garden which has been restored to its former glory.
The church of St Mary is next to the Abbey and houses an 18th century wooden interior carved by shipbuilders. Go in and have a look at the pews - they are 'family pews' with little doors from the aisle so only the correct people were allowed in. I have never seen these in such quantities anywhere else before or since. Mind you I think it gives the church an unfriendly feel, which is very sad.
When I went in August one year there was a mediaeval pageant on up at the Abbey ruins, with old crafts, games and sports with everyone dressed in period costume.
In the summer there is an open top bus tour of Whitby which gives a magnificent view of the town and the Abbey from the bridge over the River Esk which is slightly further inland. One of the stops on the tour is next to the Abbey ruins to save you having to climb the aforementioned steps. The guide on the bus will give you an interesting insight into the old town of Whitby with stories of smuggling and tales of the high seas.
The Abbey is open from 10am until 6pm from April to September and from 10am until 4pm from October to March. It is owned by English Heritage and the cost to visit is £5 for adults, £2.50 for children and £4 for concessions. A family ticket will cost you £12.50. There are good picnic areas and the customary souvenir shop on site.
The Abbey is reputed to be part of the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula, which is very believable as you look up at the atmospheric ruins, particularly at dusk when it stands out against the disappearing light.
If you are ever in that part of the country I would recommend that you visit the Abbey - I don't think you will be disappointed.
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If you visit the small, picturesque seaside town of Whitby in North Yorkshire the one thing that you cannot fail to see are the eerie ruins of the Abbey, perched high on the hillside overlooking the town. If you decide to explore this little fishing town further you will find reference to Whitby's most famous hero, Captain Cook at every turn, but almost just as prominent, though less well known nationally, are the references to St Hilda.
During the 7th century AD the Northumbrian tribe ruled these lands and Lady Hilda, was the niece of Edwin, who was the first Christian King of Northumbria, having been converted to Christianity by the Irish Monks that had settled close to here. Hilda was a formidable character, her Saxon name is even derived from the word "hild" meaning battle, and her uncle appointed her the Abbess of this Abbey. In short, Hilda was in charge of the Nuns that lived at the Abbey.
The Saxon King of Northumbria, Oswy, founded the Abbey itself in AD657. Archaeological research undertaken by English Heritage, who now own this site, has shown that this would have been a prosperous site and a bustling settlement. It was also the burial site for the most prominent members of the Northumbrian Royalty.
A Viking invasion in AD867 destroyed much of the Abbey but the Abbey was restored back to its former glory by 1070. At this time there was also a Norman Church next to the Abbey and this remained in use until 1220 when it proved to be inadequate. This is when the current Church that occupies this spot was built.
In 1538 King Henry V111 abolished all of the English Abbeys but whilst almost all other Abbeys fell into disrepair this one at Whitby was largely preserved. This was largely due to the fact that its prominent position had turned it into important shipping landmark and even today it is still so. Following the dissolution of the monasteries this Abbey became the family home of the Chlolmey's. This family built a lavish mansion within the grounds of the Abbey from materials that were plundered from the Abbey. Part of this former mansion house is now used as visitor centre.
English Heritage has carried out extensive work on the Abbey and its surrounding area and this work is still ongoing. One of the most important findings was that of a 17th century garden, which was unearthed. This was originally adjacent to the mansion and features a design that was inspired by the Chlomley family's various visits to both Spain and France. This garden has now been fully restored to its former glory and is more or less unique within the UK.
Inside the visitor centre there are many display cabinets that contain artefacts that have been excavated from around here. In addition to the items that are obviously related to the Abbey there are several "foreign" objects too. Some of these refer to the sea and it is thought that the early occupiers of this site probably had trading links with the ships that passed along this important shipping route. There are also artefacts that relate to the Chlomley family.
There is also a detailed account of the way that the landscape around here has changed over the centuries. These include several state of the art computer generated images. This same format has also been used to recreate how the Abbey would have looked during medieval times.
Also within this visitor centre there are displays that relate to some of Whitby's most famous residents. These include St Hilda, whose story is told here as well as Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, who used this Gothic Abbey as the inspiration behind his creation. The most notable omission here is virtually no reference to the town's most famous resident, Captain James Cook. This probably has something to do with the fact that he has his own museum dedicated to him in the town. Next to the visitor centre there is the customary gift shop with souvenirs and toys etc.
Most visitors to the Abbey, myself included, reach it from the harbour via 199 steep steps known as Caedmon's Trod. Caedmon was a famous poet that took refuge within the walls of the Abbey. This route is however bot suitable for the disabled or the infirm as it is very steep. There is a slope at the side of the steps and during my visit I did see a young couple trying to push a pushchair up there but it quite a struggle. For those that are unable to climb these steps there is an alternative route from a road at the top which is well sign-posted at if you choose this option it is also possible to park nearby, although this is on a pay and display basis. If you are able to climb the steps then this is certainly the recommended route as the effort is rewarded with the most amazing views.
If you are planning a visit to Whitby Abbey it is open at the following times:
1st April to 1st November - daily from 10am until 6pm (or dusk if earlier in October)
2nd November to 31st March - daily from 10am until 4pm.
Current admission charges are as below:
Adults - £4.20 (6.3 Euros)
Children - £2.10 (4 Euros)
Family ticket - £10.50 (16 Euros)
Concessions - £3.20 (4.5 Euros)
English Nature members - Free