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Whitby's Nautical Heritage

Nov 18, 2007
Whitby's nautical heritage runs deep in the town's blood, and everywhere you go there are reminders of this affiliation - from the dark passageway leading to the old and evocatively-named Old Smuggler café, nestled unexpectedly between two modern shops on Baxtergate - to the more obvious reminders in and around the town's harbor.

Whitby's first and last link with the sea was fishing - ever since its foundation, fishing has been a means of supplying the settlement with food, but over the years fishing and ship-building were to grow from subsistence and small-scale businesses to become major sources of income for the town.

By 1706, Whitby was the sixth-largest shipbuilding port in the UK, building more than 130 cargo ships each year. The output of the local alum mines kept local merchant shipowners busy transporting alum for the textile and tanning industries, and the coastal trade in coal had a strong presence in Whitby.

Although the alum industry gradually closed down in the 19th century, rendered redundant by more modern dyeing technologies, by then the Industrial Revolution had led to an increase in demand for one of the fishing industry's most lucrative seasonal catches - herrings.

Once a year, in late summer, fishing boats from as far afield as Scotland and Cornwall would converge on Whitby, ready to take their share of the herring catch. Much of the fish was exported and for a time both supply and demand for the little silver fish seemed insatiable.

The period from 1753 until the middle of the 19th century also saw great wealth and success for Whitby's whalers, which although fewer in number could make huge profits from a single trip, creating a number of extremely wealthy men in the town. The whaling industry is commemorated by a huge whalebone arch, several times the height of a man, which stands at the top of the steps leading to West Cliff. Nearby stands an equally impressive statue of Captain James Cook, perhaps Yorkshire's most famous seafarer.

Today, fishing is conducted on a fairly small scale, with a mixture of a few deep sea trawlers, and rather more smaller boats which are used to catch the shellfish that Whitby is so popular for. Most of this freshly-caught produce will later grace the tables of luxury restaurants, both in the town and elsewhere in the UK. Its premium quality fetches strong prices and is one of the ways in which the fishing industry continues to survive in Whitby.

Many of today's visitors to Whitby are content simply to see, smell and occasionally paddle in the sea, but for those of a more adventurous or hands-on nature, there are a range of seagoing activities available.

Lovers of deep-sea fishing will find ample opportunities to practice their craft, with both group charter services and scheduled excursions available, often with all equipment provided.

There are a range of boat trips available in season, appealing to the inner child within us all - Whitby's old lifeboat makes regular trips around the bay, and for the more adventurous rides on a jet-boat are on offer.
About the Author
Alan Moore invites you to join his free email newsletter, The Whitby Bite: http://www.dracula-in-whitby.com/whitby-bite.html, where you can learn more about the real Dracula and his connection to Whitby, Yorkshire's unique vampire town.
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