Day out in Whitby

The early spring sun shone intermittently through the patchy clouds. The breeze was a little fresh but gave no warning of the drama about to unfold. We both were at a loose end that Saturday and had decided to catch the Whitby train on impulse. Although rain had been forecast, away from the coast the day seemed quite mild and as we both wore appropriate clothing we weren’t too bothered.

We did the usual things one does on a visit to Whitby. After crossing the swing bridge to the south side of the harbour, fish and chips were bought from the chippie opposite the old market. We wandered up the hill along the narrow winding cobblestone streets and on to the centuries worn steps that take you to the ruins of Whitby Abbey at the top of the cliff.

Standing amongst the old gravestones, arm in arm we took in the surroundings. The view was magnificent. Looking north over the red tiled roofs, the harbour, quay and breakwater were in full view and beyond, the open sea. We stood in silence for a while soaking up the view. Further to the east, outside the harbour mouth, white caps were forming on the waves as the wind picked up and the sky darkened threateningly.

“The Whitby Lifeboat, ‘The White Rose of Yorkshire’, battles the breakers”

On the way back, past the quaint little shops with their windows full of local jet1, we rested alongside the lifeboat shed, hung over the handrail and watched the seagulls fighting over discarded fish scraps.

Out of the blue, a man ran onto the narrow jetty next to the lifeboat slipway. He set up a metal framed apparatus, inserted a long cylindrical object, then stepped back.


A rocket shot skyward and burst into a cascade of white stars, accompanied by a loud bang. Within a few minutes’ men arrived from all directions, some on foot others on bikes and one in a delivery van. Two of the men wore overalls, one a butcher’s apron and another looked like a postman.

The doors of the lifeboat shed swung open and the lifeboat slid down the ramp into the sea. Some of the men were now dressed in bright yellow rain gear and orange life jackets; others struggled into their gear in various stages of dress. Two local shopkeepers arrived and threw what looked like cigarettes, chocolate and a bottle of something to the crew as the engines roared to life.

The lifeboat heeled to the right, surged across the harbour and disappeared out into the open sea. The entire operation was completed in minutes. We never heard what the emergency was or what vessel was in strife that day.

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  1. Semi-precious shiny black gemstone