Good food is everywhere in Whitby. Even with our Collie dog in tow, we were able to find a wonderful and furry-friendly tearoom – Sherlocks in Flowergate. Forty minutes later we had enjoyed it so much we decided it would make a great refreshment stop for those coming to the ‘Keys of Heaven’ workshop on the first weekend in December.
Bridges are always significant. We’ve lost that sense in our busy age: too consumed by ‘doing’ to think back to how civilisation was practically divided and delineated by these ‘crossings over water’ that used intelligence to change borders… Quite something, yet, today they are simply a convenience and we travel over them as though they were just another part of the road.
Children don’t… they squash their faces to the car’s windows to fully experience the water crossing – something in them is still alive to the magic of this.
The bridge in the centre of Whitby is known simply as the ‘swing bridge’. But it divides Whitby in two and allows three types of crossing: foot traffic and cars move over it, boats move beneath it. For both a junction in time and space is created. The river Esk completes its thirty mile course here, meeting the sea under the watchful eyes of light and cannon at the harbour’s entrance.
We had come down from Whitby’s West Cliff and were passing the point of the cannon and one of the town’s historic lighthouses, when Bernie, looking up at the still-distant Abbey ruins, had said, ‘A light in the winter; something new will happen, I think…”
At the time, I hadn’t given much though to it. I presumed she was referring to our present visit and not the destination workshop in December.
Now, crossing the swing-bridge and thereby the mighty river Esk, we entered the major shopping streets of Sandgate and Church Street and something made me return to her words.
“When you said something new would happen here, did you mean at the workshop in December?” I asked.
“Yes, December,” she replied. There was something in the landscape, back there with the cannon and the lighthouse that made me think that…”
She’s very intuitive. Sometimes I miss it the first time… She was right. There was a sense that this was a different type of landscape from what we had used before… and maybe we needed to react to it in a slightly different way?
Historic towns always have a contrast between what is old and more modern. There is little in Whitby that would be classed as modern – its beauty lies in the fact that it’s an historic port. The ‘Dracula’ reputation has made it a centre for ‘Goth’ festivals – which are generally good-natured; but somewhat at odds with the religious past of the Abbey and its history. Despite this, there is one thing that epitomises the town and unites the two: Whitby Jet.
Whitby Jet is a local gemstone made from fossilised wood which, millions of years ago, had been covered in other sediment in water environments and compressed into the shale beds that eventually became the North Yorkshire coast. It is a beautiful and lightweight material, making it ideal for jewellery.
Mining of Whitby Jet has never been allowed. Instead, a local tradition of lowering young men over the cliffs was permitted. They would dig into the cliffs to extract larger pieces of the raw Jet gemstone, fill their baskets and be pulled back up the cliff. It was considered an extremely dangerous career! Today, there is little left of the original deposits, but the local industry is resourceful – and world famous.
Weather permitting, we would be including a cliff walk in the plan for the weekend. Time would not allow us to sail as the ancient pilgrims in these parts did, but we could be close to the water… and high above it!
We made a note that ample time needed to be given in our December itinerary for a wander around the streets of Whitby to allow for some Christmas shopping…
Beyond the market the streets began to narrow. You could just ‘feel’ that this far part of the town was the approach to something very different…
A final turn – a final tearoom – and there were the steps up to Whitby’s famous Abbey. Nearly two hundred of them, apparently… The next stage of our exploration beckoned – and we would have to work for it… We were finally approaching the symbolic centre of the coming weekend.
To be continued…
Details of the Silent Eye’s ‘Keys of Heaven’ Weekend
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.
The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.