Whitby, mid-January, saw the town ghostly and devoid, it seemed, of inhabitants. You could lick the blanket of grey drizzle that hung in the air.
I find the melancholia of the English seaside irresistible during the long winter. The challenge is seeing the light beyond the damp gloom, sensing the faint optimism for the long-off summer, feeling mesmerised by the flicking lights in empty amusement arcades.
After finding our hotel – The Marine; a tight maze of rooms and corridors, tiny restaurant with grand piano, room generous and contemporary; roof-top views over Whitby’s higgledy-piggledy form – we set out.
Dusk encroached; the sky turned purple. Climbing the steep, cobbled path to the dark, brooding Abbey, the lights below us tentatively illuminated. Returning, there was time for a hot teacake in an empty caff, and a drink in The Pier. Draped in fish-related paraphernalia, the pub was barren, save for two other lost souls engaging the landlord in shallow banter. Eating late at The Marine – lively with locals; a good sign – it satisfied with well cooked local fare.
We were awoken by shouts at the adjacent fish market as the morning catch was landed, and a convoy of vans took it away. Winter life in Whitby is most frenetic at 5am.
Later, along the stone pier, the sun broke low over the river, casting long shadows over the western side of the town, promising a crisp morning. We walked back past the shove penny machines, stopping to feed them with 2p pieces in the hope that a few would drop into the shiny metal pockets beneath, making us millionaires. On the whole they didn’t; too cold to stray from their copper huddles.
Rising above the river on the west, the heady mix of charity and independent shops were enough to take us through to lunch, by which time there was a resonant sense that the place had hit the peak of its waking activities. Java, on Flowergate, did panini in northern portions at northern prices. It put the alfresco fish and chips we’d anticipated out of minds for the rest of the day.
Despite everything – dampness, darkness, wetness, nothing vaguely touristic open – we had a smashing time. The bracing wind and fading light is tempered by winter sun, warm pots of tea, stoic locals. The sense that all this is yours and yours alone make the melancholia magic.