I love it when a town I thought I knew really well comes up with new delights, even some 45 years after my first visit. So it was with Whitby, where I found a new place for coffee this week and discovered a tea room that has actually been there for nearly 150 years. Why did my granny never take me to Botham’s when I was a kid?
I always get a rush of excitement when approaching Whitby, whether by car or train. It’s the way the Abbey suddenly appears on the cliff above the old town, with the whale bones standing upright on the Westcliff.
And then I get dreamily romantic about Dracula bounding up the steps to the abbey or Captain Cook planning his voyage to Australia.
Nearly everybody who comes to visit us in North Yorkshire seems to want to go to Whitby, so its reputation clearly extends across the world and on most days in summer its narrow cobbled streets in the old town are packed with day-trippers.
It was still fairly quiet when I pitched up at Java coffee in Flowergate, although half a dozen local regulars were sitting on the stools in the window watching the Whitby world go by. Apparently this is a prime people-watching spot, especially during Whitby’s two Goth Weekends each year (next one in November 2013).
I didn’t get to meet owner Ben, but was given a warm welcome by manager for the day, Lacey, who also happened to be the baker of the rather good cheesecake I had with my coffee.
Ben, it seems, is a volunteer lifeboat crew member. And you start to see the significance of the lifeboat in Whitby life when, as it happens, one of the guys who runs the tea room we’ll be reviewing also does shifts for the RNLI in town.
The current lifeboat is of course a bright, shiny orange vessel, clearly visible over on the east side of the harbour. But if you fancy finding out how it felt to be a member of the lifeboat crew in earlier days, you can actually go on a half-hour trip in Whitby’s Old Lifeboat (departures just by the swing bridge) – even with a mild swell, this boat rocks about a bit, but it’s well worth the trip!
Nick Botham is the guy from the tearoom with a lifeboat link. But he’s only one of several great grand children (and great-great-grandchildren) of the original owners of Botham’s of Whitby who are still involved with the business today.
This place began life as a baker’s in 1865, which means it came into being 32 years before Dracula was even conceived in the mind of Bram Stoker.
It quickly became a place for a cuppa or an afternoon tea in Whitby. It is one of the loveliest tea rooms I have been to in the four years we’ve been doing Fancy a Cuppa? reviews, and I can’t believe I was never brought here as a treat when my family made their regular weekend visits to Whitby in the 60s and 70s.
There’s a fabulous range of loose-leaf teas here (though my neighbours at the next table were also raving about Botham’s coffee), and a very reasonably-priced menu of cream teas and afternoon teas.
I went for a cream tea with the house blend – a really excellent mix of Assam, Kenya and Ceylon. And the scones, with Yorkshire clotted cream, were fantastic, too.
This place is a must for any visitor to Whitby.
No visit to Whitby is complete without following in Dracula’s footsteps up the steep hill to the parish church on the cliff top (such a shame most of the cemetery is out-of-bounds after this winter’s landslip) and the abbey behind (where there’s a great collection of Dracula books and paraphernalia).
But, even as I was making that climb, a Tweet was coming through from a local architect, telling me I could not leave the area without trying a new coffee shop, just up the coast at Sandsend.
Sandsend is as its name suggests: the spot where Whitby’s three mile long sandy beach comes to a rocky end.
It’s home now to Tides, a wonderful coffee shop that sits right on the edge of the beach looking out to sea. Owner Fraser’s connection to the sea is through his surfing rather than the lifeboat, but he’s also really into his coffee, and has set up what is probably the best new coffee shop in the area.
Great views, lovely atmosphere and really good coffee. My flat white looking down on the sand and the sea made a perfect end to yet another wonderful day in Whitby.
How does this town do it?
I’ve always loved coming to Whitby, and it comes up with something special every time!