“ Address: The Dock / Old Village / Robin Hood's Bay / Whitby YO22 4SH / North Yorkshire „
~Dithering for Decades~
By education I am a geologist - though it's a very long time since I bashed a rock. Seven years of hanging around drinking coffee and occasionally paying attention to people who knew much more than me left me with a knowledge of the geography of the UK that owes more to what was going on many hundreds of millions of years ago than what's happening today. One place which stuck in my mind as a geologically significant location despite the passage of a couple of decades away from the rockface was Robin Hood's Bay in Yorkshire. RHB (as I'll henceforth refer to it) was a great favourite with early fossil hunters and was famed (at least in geological circles) as the location of many great dinosaur and fossil finds. In my mind RHB was a mysterious place, a land that time forgot so when we decided to have our summer holiday in the North East of England, I put it forward as a potential place to visit since it was a place I'd wondered about for many years. I hunted for all our other hotels but Bramblewick was the one my husband found on the internet and proposed as the location for our first two nights.
As a small independent place, Bramblewick isn't listed with the hotel booking sites so I emailed to ask if they had a room for the days we needed and was told there was just one left. Robin Hood's Bay is the end point of the famous Coast to Coast Walk so accommodation tends to get booked up well in advance by people planning their marathon walks so I wasn't surprised that availability was 'slim'. I was asked to phone with my credit card details and pay up front for the two nights. The room was £70 per night for bed and breakfast and whilst that might seem a bit expensive, nothing in RHB is cheap and there are so few hotel rooms that prices are always high. I was asked if we wanted a table in the restaurant on both nights and I asked for just the Saturday night as we expected to arrive late on the Friday after driving up from the East Midlands.
With typical Friday traffic slowing us down, we eventually reached RHB at about 8.30 in the evening. We knew that it wouldn't be possible to park in the village but we'd be OK to drop off our bags at Bramblewick before heading out of the village centre and looking for a parking space. We entered through the restaurant which was probably a good thing as arrivals in the afternoon can be tricky if nobody's around to hand over the keys and most of the premises have complicated little key boxes with codes for opening them and retrieving the keys.
We were led up to our room, dropped off our bags and then went in search of a place to leave the car. The main village of RHB is located on the sea front down a shockingly steep hill with a 30% gradient. The road is narrow and there are few places to turn and few to even pass other cars. There's a car park at the top of the hill where you can buy a ticket to leave the car for up to 24 hours for something like £5 or if you're feeling both mean and more energetic, turn left past the car park and head down to the church where you can park on the road for free. We clearly parked under a tree where albatrosses were nesting, judging by the amount of poop deposited all over our car.
~Onwards and Upwards~
Bramblewick, like most of the properties in the village is a tall narrow building. There's not a lot of land in the village so developers tended to build upwards rather than outwards. The ground floor is the restaurant and the kitchens are on the first floor above the restaurant. Up two flights of stairs we came to our room, one of three on the second floor. There's another floor above with a 'studio' room which comprises a bedroom, small bathroom and a sitting area with a small kitchenette.
Bramblewick has just four rooms and ours was room 2, sandwiched between room 1 and room 3 as you might have guessed. If you like old and creaky then this is just the place for you but you won't fail to notice that every noise from your neighbours - speaking, running taps, flushing the loo, coughing etc. is going to be heard in your room, especially in room 2 where you get the noise from both sides. However, whilst it's a bit noisy inside, the noise from outside is minimal - RHB goes to bed when the sun goes down and with no cars allowed in the village and not much going on, we slept really well, even on the first night when I'd left the window open.
~Cosy, Creaky, Charming~
Our room was small - I'd guess about10 foot by 8 foot - with the bathroom off to one side up a couple of steps and through what looked like a cupboard door. This was quite appropriate since the bathroom itself was rather cupboard-like. The tiny shower cubicle was a challenge due to a rather large shower head which stuck out so far that it was almost impossible to dodge the water whilst soaping up or waiting for my conditioner work. There was no shelf over the tiny tiny sink so we had to use one behind us, perched over the loo. Personally I'd find that a bit annoying and would be looking for a better way to provide storage around the sink. Our wash-bag had to stay in the main room as there wasn't anywhere suitable in the bathroom. After watching far too many reruns of Channel 4's car crash television show 'Four in a Bed' we did a picky picky inspection which revealed pretty nasty grout in the shower which would have had B&B proprietors in fits of indignation. However, I take a bit of grotty grout as no indication that it's not clean - grout's a bugger and once the black mould gets in there's no too much anyone can do to sort it so I'm happy to ignore such things. One criticism I would make was the lack of soap in the bathroom. We got a couple of sachets of shampoo but no soap which is frankly a bit unhygienic.
In the main room area everything - walls, ceiling, wooden cupboards, ceiling beams - were all painted in a yellowy shade of cream. Only the dark red brown bed frame contrasted with the cream. The bed had an annoying wooden edge to the base of the frame which - due to restricted width meant I caught my leg on it a couple of times leading to a lot of swearing. I didn't spot it at first but my husband commented that the room was full of mirrors - four in total and each different. I don't know if it's an attempt to make the place look bigger or not but it was a bit unusual especially as it's not unusual for a B&B to have no usable mirrors. There was a large wooden half-height storage cupboard (though it's fixed closed so it's more of a ledge really) with a kettle and cups and a small shelf above with a teeny tiny television. Since this is the land of the dinosaur rather than the land of the digital, you'll do well to find four snowy channels and there's no digital radio signal here either - much to the disappointment of hubby who'd brought along his clock radio. Additionally there was no mobile phone signal in the main village area and Bramblewick doesn't have wi-fi so if you're the kind of person who dreams of being cut off from the outside world, then this is the perfect place to be.
On either side of the bed were small cane side tables each with a lamp. There was a large built in wooden cupboard in the corner for hanging clothes or just stuffing everything out of the way and a two drawer unit in the room which doubled as a case stand. The room was a bit of a squeeze but it had all we needed and we really liked being there. If you're looking for a swanky chain hotel then Bramblewick won't be your dream hotel but I spend half my life in such places and really enjoyed not being in yet another Novotel where you know exactly what's going to be in every drawer and where the hairdryer is sure to be hidden.
~Backdoor and Breakfast~
For when the stairs become a bit annoying, you have the option to exit the hotel from the second floor onto the road at the back. This is also a way to get in and out when the restaurant isn't open and several times we went out on the second floor, scooted down the road and went into the restaurant two floors lower. This isn't a hotel that's ideal for anyone who can't handle stairs but in all honesty, if that's the case then RHB probably isn't for you. The 30% incline getting in to the heart of the village is just the first challenge and then every access route to the seafront requires stairs or slippery slipways.
Breakfast is served between 9 and 10 which suited us just fine but wouldn't be much use if you're there on business and need an early start (though I'm really struggling to imagine what possible business you could have that would involve staying in RHB). Breakfast options were extensive with juice and cereals followed by a choice of hot dishes including a full English, scrambled eggs, bacon butty, omelette and others. The coffee was exceptional and served in enormous cups.
Dinner in the restaurant on the second evening proved to be quite a treat although it's not a cheap option (though no more expensive than most of the restaurants we found on our trip but much better quality). The restaurant is decorated in shades of blue/green pastel with black stone topped tables which as an ex-geologist I'll bore you by a provisional identification of gabbro, a course grained basalt. Clearly not a local stone but a very nice table top. The restaurant seats about 26 people and all the food is cooked to order by the chef (and owner) upstairs whilst his wife handles the front of house. I ordered two starters instead of a main course whilst my husband went for a main. They have quite a good wine list but we fancied beer. All the beer is bottled but the selection is quite surprising and I had a gorgeous locally bottled 'blonde' beer called something like an Orange Pippin whilst my husband polished off a couple of bottles of bitter.
My 'starter starter' was scallops with mango sauce and cauliflower bhajis which was beautiful but not terribly big. There were three delicious scallops cooked to perfection and a couple of very lightly battered pieces of cauliflower which were lovely and the mango sauce was smooth and fruity. My 'main starter' (if you see what I mean) was a bowl of mussels with a bread roll. My husband - clearly not thinking about just how ubiquitous they'd be all week, chose fish and chips with mushy peas. For a starter portion it was really generous and I was impressed that the waitress thought to bring a bowl for the shells though I turned away the other bowl with cold water for rinsing my fingers because the table was just too small. From the whole bowl of mussels, only one has to be discarded for not opening. I stole a chip from my husband and it was delicious, clearly hand cut from really good potatoes. Service was fast and effective and for the only time in our trip we gave in to pudding temptation and shared a chocolate fondant pudding. The bill came to £46 in total which we considered good value for the quality and quantity.
One of the best things about Bramblewick is the really nice owners, Hayley and Danny. Danny is the chef and he's an absolute wonder. Quite how one man can cook for up to 50 covers a night and supply breakfast for not only the guests but lots of passers-by lured in by the reputation for great breakfasts, is a mystery to me. Hayley is wonderfully bubbly and helpful, happy to give lots of great advice on where to go and what to do, and when we asked if she knew where we could find wi-fi in Whitby, she left the restaurant to go and ask a friend in the shop over the road, providing really detailed instructions to quite possibly the only place that had it in that town. They have a small staff of young local girls who help out in the restaurant and with the housekeeping and we were made to feel very welcome. They've had the hotel for about 3 years and it's clearly a labour of love and something they're both deeply committed to.
I adored Robin Hood's Bay and 2 nights was just about the perfect amount of time to be there. It won't be everyone's cup of tea due to the accessibility issues and if you can't function without constant access to the outside world, you might find it just a bit too cut off from the rest of the world. Mind you, how many places can you find these days with no mobile phone signal, no digital television, not even a good signal for the radio and not much in the way of wi-fi? If that sounds like heaven on earth, then throw in a spectacular coastline and a wonderfully quirky little village and this could just be the perfect place for you.