MY great-great-great-great-grandad, a Scottish mariner who moved to Whitby 200 years ago, would have been amazed by the fishing port’s transformation into the tourist town of today.
The small terraced house he rented above the harbour is now a posh Airbnb — while in town roam hordes of goths drawn to the North Yorks town by its link with Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.
Even the timeless ruins of Whitby Abbey on the cliff above the town cut a different shape since their 1914 bombing by the German Navy.
But strangest of all for the seasoned sailor of old would have been the sight of me doing the Downward Dog in the middle of the River Esk.
It was my first go at yoga, my second at stand-up paddleboarding, and not an Instagram-friendly sight.
My wife Morgan and I had booked the fun as part of a Stay and Surf package at the Raithwaite Sandsend, a 4 star coastal retreat at nearby Sandsend Beach.
The sprawling site boasts 73 rooms across 100 acres of rugged moorland in a small valley above stunning Sandsend Beach.
The resort is taking Covid security seriously, with advanced booking for the swimming pool, and socially distanced dining.
A new mobile app lets guests check offers, menus, hotel information and local guides.
Main restaurant The Brasserie serves up seasonal Yorkshire produce such as North Atlantic cod with Black Sheep Welsh rarebit, nettles, samphire and, for delicious extra crunch, battered cockles.
Raithwaite’s perfectly manicured gardens were even enough to tempt this well fed guest out for a stroll — and they also make a lovely starting point for a longer hike in the wild North Yorkshire Moors.
Guests can follow Newholm Beck, a small stream running through the grounds to a lake at the top of the property, or head toward the sea for a 20-minute trek into Whitby or to Sandsend village.
The hotel’s new Surf and Stay packages offer guests the chance to take in the sea air, and hopefully not too much sea water, with a surf lesson, beach yoga class or stand-up paddleboarding session.
Our two-hour paddleboarding-and-yoga taster on the Esk was run by veteran surfer Simon Palmer, from SUP Adventures, with Claire Lloyd from Your Journey Yoga on hand to help me get my zen on.
The Esk cuts Whitby in half and empties into the waters of the town’s bustling harbour — while a few hundred yards upstream is a pastoral idyll of leaping salmon and the odd seal hoping to nab one for dinner.
This being Whitby, home of the macabre, there was a strange aura on the river as a mist swept in from the moors while we pushed off from the slipway.
While we paddled past wooden fishing shacks and rotting docks, the river bubbled like soup on the stove as aquatic undergrowth let out streams of strange air.
We cruised toward Larpool Viaduct, an old Victorian railway crossing where the view through its brick arches was described by Bram Stocker, in Dracula, as “somehow further away than it really is”.
But with our instructor Simon’s infectious good cheer, there was little time to dream up ghost stories — and despite the grey clouds closing in, I was warm and comfy in my wetsuit.
Rounding a bend, we were treated to the sight of Ruswarp village — its church steeple on the hill, grazing longhorn cattle in the foreground.
Much to the annoyance of some fussing ducks, we laid down anchors by the wreck of an old ship, where Claire led us through a short and soothing yoga session.
I wondered again what my seadog ancestor would have thought of his descendant chanting strange noises and trying not to fall into the river.
Instead, next best, I asked my Nan what she thought of me pointing my backside up in the air on the river at Whitby.
“Just mind Dracula doesn’t bite you,” she said.
Maybe best we don’t know, then.
STAYING THERE: One night’s B&B at Raithwaite Sandsend is from £67.50 per person, based on two sharing.
A two-hour private Stand-up Paddleboard Safari is £60 per person.
See raithwaitesandsend.co.uk or phone 01947 661 661.
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