The rain comes as soon as we get off the bus. Heavy, windy rain, and as we struggle up the steps to our hotel on the West Cliff through the whale bones, we are soaked to our bones. We’re only here for one night but somehow, though we said we wouldn’t, we’ve packed a lot of stuff. Books, magazines, tea bags in cling film, hobnobs in Tupperware. We are prepared. But I didn’t bring another pair of jeans. Or a waterproof coat.
The sea is to our right, the hotel ahead and on the left. I know this scene already – I’ve Google street-viewed it. Everything is where it should be. The internet seems to make finding somewhere to stay both easy and complicated. Or perhaps the word is intense. Inspecting photographs and reviews, making comparisons, just checking one more place… I did the thing that people do when they go shopping: after hours of searching, we are staying at the first place I found.
Our hotel room is high up, not in the eaves, but close. There are two windows: one looking to the harbour and the dramatic ruin of the Abbey, the other out to the wide open sea. The view is grey, both the sea and the sky. The windows only open an inch or two, and we say we’ll ask reception later if that can be altered. But in the end we don’t, because most of the next day and a half are spent outside.
Right now we are hungry and keen to make the most of our time. The rain has slowed so we put on damp jackets and head out. There is only one thing on our minds: fish and chips. Last time we were here, seven years ago, it was November and The One – The Famous One – the fish and chip place that everyone says when you say Whitby, was closed. But The Magpie is open today. We want to eat in the open air so we get ours to take away and eat too quickly standing on the pier, balancing the long trays on our arms, looking at the choppy water of the high tide. Breathing in and feeling glad.
We walk a little, away from the town and along the cliff. I notice the hotels we almost stayed at. One place has bigger windows and they probably open all the way out. Not that it matters, I tell myself. I concentrate on now. There is something calming and energising about walking with the sea by your side. A few years ago we lived, just for a while, in a seaside town. Being able to leave the house and be at the beach in minutes never lost its wonder. I feel that one day we’ll live by the sea again.
We find ourselves tired and ready to rest. Dinner is simple, half from a supermarket, half from a take away. I buy grapes to help make myself feel healthier. We also buy wine and take it out when it’s dark, to a bench across from the hotel, facing the sea. Taking turns to sip from the bottle. We’re seventeen again. We’re tired now, and retire to our room and watch a 1970s portmanteau horror on the DVD player we brought with us.
The next morning and the sky is turbulent looking, but there are blue patches, white clouds. Some dark clouds too, but a high wind keeps them moving. The hotel agrees to look after our bags until we leave for home later. We have ideas about how to spend the day: The Dracula Experience looks like kitsch fun (‘See a vampire die!’), there’s a fishing trip (‘Non-fishing enthusiasts welcome!’) and of course there is the Abbey, and the old, winding streets of the town.
But we head for the thing we came here for: the beach. The tide is out, and the weather blustery but dry. We walk on the sand, which is flat, compact, not at all hard work. The sun starts to show through the clouds.
We make this walk along the water together, but we do our own thing. I hang back, take photographs, while he moves forwards, bare feet and jeans rolled up. He inspects the sand, collects stones. Later we’ll pick our favourites and they’ll be placed on the edge of our bath at home.
After a while we sit together, on our coats with our eyes closed, inhaling and feeling how you do when you are close to the sea: connected, part of something before you, bigger than you.
The beach is where we stay until it’s time to leave. We buy a blanket so we can lay out. We sit close and eat more famous fish and chips. We say to each other, “This is lovely” – we know we are lucky that the rain didn’t stay. But we say if it had, we would have sat under an umbrella, sipped hot tea, and said, “This is lovely”.