Saturday, September 27, 2008

My pilgrimage - continued

I realise that I have left part of my story untold, one kind person unacknowledged, and one picture unidentified. To set the scene I must reveal my wimpishness about travel. The journey from my home to Whitby by train is horrendous, involving three or four changes. It is possible to take a coach for part of the route, but coach travel makes me sick. I find all journeys with luggage by public transport stressful and tiring in the extreme, and I do not drive long distance any more either. But I am lucky enough now to be able to indulge myself and travel by hired car if there is somewhere I desperately want to go. The journey to Whitby was a major extravagance, but it was worth it.

So, back to the last morning at Sneaton Castle, when the sun was shining so brilliantly that the blue of the sky looked almost dark in its intensity. I was basking blissfully while I waited for my driver to arrive, and on the seat beside me was my folder of pictures with the one unidentified painting. The receptionist had told me she thought it might be Robin Hood's Bay. This old fishing and smugglers' port, now a favourite tourist spot, is only a few miles south of Whitby, and when my driver arrived I asked him if he would mind making a detour, so that I could see if there was any resemblance to my mother-in-law's painting. (This is at the start of a journey which is going to take four and a half hours at best, even if we don't stop for food on the way!)

He made no objection, and after a while we turned off the main road and began a long trek through narrow country lanes until we eventually emerged at the viewpoint which had been marked on the map. It was staggering! We were high up on the clifftop above the town, with a shimmering panorama of sea and sky in front of us. We parked the car and passed through a small swing gate to find ourselves at the top of a very steep path down to sea level. It was clear that if I wanted to study the buildings at the water's edge I should have to go down it. It was equally clear that my 80-year-old heart would not be equal to the climb back up again.

So what does this good man do? I have shown him the picture of course, and explained my mission, so he says "You stay here and take some pictures, and I'll go down and have a look for you." There were a couple of benches just inside the gate, and I sat there and resumed my basking mode from earlier that morning. After a while I began to feel he had been gone a long time, and got up to look for him. There he was, slogging up the hill by another route, showing all the evidence of a stiff climb. He said he thought that some of the sea wall by the slipway might have been what I was looking for, so I asked him if it was possible to drive down.

He thought it would be, so we got back in the car and started off down the very steep street. We had to drive extremely slowly, and pedestrians had to flatten themselves against the walls to let us pass. My driver observed that they didn't look as though they expected any cars to come that way, despite the yellow lines on the road. Indeed, he was right, as I found out when I went onto the village's website later: the roads are banned to tourist traffic! So we only got our just deserts later as we drove away, and found ourselves stuck on the hill behind a security van, which gave every appearance of having stopped for a cup of tea and a chat, and being in no hurry to leave.

We parked, also illegally, and my driver said he would wait with the car while I took a quick look. However, a few minutes later he came after me, for which I was grateful, as I had nervously picked my way over the cobbles of the slipway right down to the sand, wishing heartily that I had a walking stick with me; I was very glad of his arm to get up the slipway again later. We had a good look at the two buildings at its foot, and I took photographs for further study.

I still don't know what to think. Allowing for the passage of 100 years, and for much change and rebuilding, not to mention artist's licence, I think the painting could just possibly be either of the two round walled structures, which at high tide have their feet in the sea.

Lifeboat launch at Robin Hood's Bay in years gone by, and The Bay as it is today.
[These two photographs are from the Robin Hood's Bay official website.]

1 comment:

Granny J said...

judith -- what an absolutely heart-wrenching, fascinating historic adventure. The watercolors are lovely, your pictures are great and you make me wish for one more trip to the UK to see such history.