“Lossul Begins” – Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay, England – June 2015
20 minute read
I didn’t know if I could make it. My knees were in agony, and as my body lay slumped against the cold hard steps of the guesthouse, just a few feet away from the front door, it may as well have been a hundred miles away. The sky was covering over rapidly with dark and threatening clouds, bringing with it a sense of impending doom. With both my weakened arms I gripped onto the edge of the step in front of me and I started to pull myself up. My head and chest rose high as I pushed myself upwards with all my strength, but then the shakes began again and my body buckled. My chest and face slammed into the steps while my hands remained gripped to the edge, my elbows pointing upwards. From the front I must have looked like a pathetic collapsed letter ‘M’. The first spots of rain began. My legs were without life, but I gave it one last attempt to get a foothold and to push my body up the steps using any last remnants of energy that I could muster. I could hear thunder growing in the distance. My foot moved around slowly and somewhat aimlessly, but just then the toes of my right foot finally gripped to a raised piece of brickwork in the steps and I pushed with all my might. The pain shot through my right knee and I screamed out loud from the pain. I was in agony, but I needed to reach the front door. I didn’t have much time left. I was now soaked to the skin as the clouds opened up, bringing down a heavy rainfall which bounced up from the hard steps surrounding my broken body. I stretched out my right arm as far as I possibly could and tried to elongate my body in an attempt to reach the door. The thunder clapped loudly overhead. I was so close. I just had to reach that little bit further. My shoulder was almost popping out of its socket as I stretched and stretched, and just as my fingers were but a few inches from the door, I was suddenly bathed in light from the inner hallway as the door opened. I looked up and stood against the warm glow of the inner sanctuary was a dark and menacing silhouette. Lightning tore through the sky, revealing the identity of the mysterious figure. Was it an axe-wielding maniac? Was it an escaped lunatic? No, it was my Dad.
“Elliot? Stop messing around and get yourself up off the floor. You’re late for dinner.”
“Okay Dad. I’ll be there in a second.”
The slightly exaggerated and ever so theatrical anecdote told above were my lasting memories of my first ever trip to Whitby the year before. Well, I say Whitby, but I was actually away on a family holiday to Scarborough. We’d all decided to go away together as a family as my niece was just eighteen months old at the time. My brother and my sister-and-law thought it would be nice for us all to get to spend some proper time together away as a family, so along with my Mum and Dad, we set off to Scarborough for a week. The ‘painful knee’ story was the culmination of a 46 mile round-trip bike ride which I’d taken to Whitby that day. I’d set off by myself and followed the Cinder Track which runs between Scarborough and Whitby, and takes in the gorgeous Robin Hood’s Bay along the way. Unfortunately my knee had given out just a short way from reaching Whitby and I didn’t want to give it chance to seize up, so I decided that the best thing would be to keep my knee moving and to head back as soon as possible. I chained my bike up and set off on a short limp around the town in search of some fish and chips since I’d heard that Whitby really is THE place to have them. My stay lasted all of 30 minutes before climbing back onto my bike, stuffed full of food, and then heading off again to complete the 23 mile return journey with a knee that had me wincing in pain the entire journey back.
Flash forward one year and I can now honestly say that I’ve had the opportunity to see a completely new side to Whitby, and this was one hell of a weekend for me. On a personal level I could be dramatic and say that it was almost life-changing, but perhaps, more accurately, it was life-focussing for my newest chapter.
At the time that I was driving up to Whitby, this website was still in its very infancy. In fact, when I first started to write this article the website didn’t even exist, other than as a rough plan on several sheets of paper. This is the first article I’m writing as part of the initial content that I’m putting together for the site. The website was in such a state of infancy at this time that it didn’t even have a name, and I didn’t even know whether there would be any mileage in it at all. What happened to me in Whitby on this weekend confirmed that not only could my idea actually work, but that there would actually be people interested in what I was doing.
This second trip to Whitby was going to be a two night stopover with what was a double-whammy event. The main reason for the trip was that a group of my friends have an annual pilgrimage to this North Yorkshire seaside town (this was the first time I’d been able to join them), and the bolt-on bonus of the weekend was that it was also my friend Rob’s stag weekend. The final turnout for the weekend would reach near enough thirty guys. In other words, this was going to be a very male weekend which would be fuelled by fish and chips, real ales, and banter, and exhausted out of the other end with burps, farts, and the occasional swear word. With this knowledge I felt really manly even before I got in the car to set off.
The drive up from the Midlands was an absolute pleasure. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was in my element listening to chill-out CD’s. The windows were down and I could feel the gentle breeze blow through the car while the afternoon sun warmed the side of my face. At one point I took a stop off at a small service station on the A64 to buy some water, have a toilet break, and then upload a new Facebook status that simply said:
“Happiness is… A full tank of petrol and an open road”
As I started nearing closer to Whitby I was suddenly taken by surprise as the magnificent Hole of Horcum appeared to my left, situated alongside the A169. I’d never even heard of the place before, let alone see it, but this amphitheatre measuring some three quarters of a mile across and 400 foot deep, was impressive. Legend has it that the hole was created when Wade the Giant (who I’m sure must be very well known in some parts) scooped up a handful of earth and threw it at his wife during an argument. Okay so maybe the hole isn’t quite the Grand Canyon, and the legend isn’t quite on a par with Robin Hood or Bigfoot, but the Hole of Horcum is a magnificent sight and is well worth a stop off. Plus there was an ice-cream van at the top, and everybody likes ice-cream.
I arrived in Whitby around 3.30pm and parked up at the long stay Marina Front car park on Langbourne Road.
Note – at the time of the visit, parking here was £6.50 for 24 hours and the sat nav postcode is YO21 1YN
It was then just a short stroll over to Baxtergate where half of the group (the remainder of the group were camping) were staying at The George Hotel, a place that was well known for being pretty lively. It’s certainly not a place for families looking for a quiet weekend break as there is a club located in the basement and the music goes on all the way through until 2am. Mind you, the hotel makes no secret of this and it didn’t bother me one bit considering the nature of the weekend. I was more than happy with my stay here and had booked a double-room with en-suite bathroom.
Note – I paid £140 for two nights through Booking.com for a double room with private en-suite bathroom. Larger rooms are available for groups but bathrooms are communal. The postcode for The George Hotel is YO21 1BN and can be found at the end of Baxtergate and on the corner of Victoria Square and Brunswick Street.
Immediately upon my solo arrival I text my friend Dale to let him know that I’d arrived. I also took the opportunity to close the message with some friendly but mildly abusive banter, because that’s what men do.
Just a matter of moments later we were all in the bar of The George in our shorts and T-shirts, and what was supposed to be a short session followed by changing into our evening wear and heading back out, turned into an evening of staying in our shorts and T-shirts until 2.00am when I finally staggered back to my room. But hey, I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. Let’s wind things back to 4.00pm where we’re still in The George and I’m sipping on a pint of Atlantic. The real ale mission had begun.
Leaving The George we made our way over the Whitby swing bridge and round to The Fleece where we found ourselves a pool table AND a juke box. We all chose a few tracks each and I lined up some Muse and Machine Head before commencing with a game of Killer on the pool table, and a pot of money sat waiting for the winner. Now we were in full-on man mode! I came second, which counts for nothing, as I got absolutely zero money for my efforts. But I shook the hand of the winner, congratulated him and smiled. The best man had won.
We left The Fleece and crossed over Church Street. The early evening sun was gorgeous, casting a tranquil orange glow that provided an almost penetrating warmth. Spirits are always high this early into a session. There’s plenty of room left in your belly for more beer, but you’re also feeling the initial euphoric affects of the alcohol that leave you feeling happy and content. I’m away from home, and I’m with friends. It was a great crowd to be with.
Almost immediately after entering The Endeavour I got chatting to a middle-aged guy named Graham who was propping up the corner of the bar. Graham was visiting from York but I was never quite able to work out whether he was in Whitby alone or whether he’d brought his wife with him. He spoke quite cryptically. After concluding a brief conversation about whiskies, Graham asked me what I did for a living. Now it’s at this point that I must show my gratitude to Graham as after explaining what my profession was, he then became the first person who I confided in with respect to my plans for Lossul.com. I’d been nervous about telling anybody who was neutral to me about this as I was more than aware that I was opening myself up to some potential criticism. Despite being very aware that this is something I was going to have to get used to, I wasn’t quite ready to face it this early on. But Graham’s reaction was nothing but positive and encouraging. He loved the concept, and then revealed that had it not been for his deep paranoia of the ‘inter-web’ and therefore his refusal to take himself online, he would have checked out the website and followed my work. Oh well. Maybe he’d been abducted and probed by aliens in years gone by, in which case I really can’t blame him for his general state of paranoia.
Our tour of the Whitby pubs continued with The Black Horse. Now it’s at The Black Horse where things started to get a little weird. First of all I got chatting to a bald-headed fella whose eyes were incredibly wide. I only draw emphasis to this fact as it turned out he’d done just about every drug known to mankind. It was an interesting conversation, if completely detached to my own existence. But that’s what can make meeting new people so interesting and so I listened intently to his stories. Fifteen minutes later a second wide-eyed fella sat down next to him, staring at me, and now I just felt awkward. So we shook hands, said goodbye, and as I stood up and turned to leave, I bumped into a pirate. Honestly. And he was the real deal. He was tall, a little weathered, and he had a big hat, sword, beard, and he looked a little bit scary. So naturally I told him that he looked absolutely awesome, and then I grabbed my friend Rob and insisted that the pirate let us have our photo taken with him. He obliged. And the photo is legendary! I’m smiling, Rob is smiling, but the pirate isn’t smiling. He just looked really scary and like he’d just made a dozen men walk the plank to their watery graves, took all their gold coins, and then made his way to The Black Horse to celebrate with a tankard of ale and some spicy peanuts.
The Little Angel was our final stop of the night and the most telling place of all for me this weekend. Almost immediately after walking through the door I bumped into yet more pirates, but these ones were more smiley and of the female variety. If the pirate that I’d met in The Black Horse was the scary pirate, then without doubt the two that I was now speaking to were his friendlier counter-parts who didn’t believe in any plank walking antics or general pirate-like grumpiness. And as I glanced through into the snug, I spotted yet more pirates. What was going on here? I must have had a very confused expression on my face because before I even got to ask, Arlene and Polly (who I later got to know by their pirate names of Red Back Ally and Purple Polly) explained to me that they were all part of the Whitby International Pirate Society.
“The Whitby International Pirate Society?”
“Yes, the Whitby International Pirate Society. Or WHips for short.”
Now my face must have lit up at this point. Here I was, away with my friends in Whitby, full of real ales and spicy peanuts, and having met a man who was terrified of the ‘inter-web’, a wide-eyed drug connoisseur and his wide-eyed sidekick, and now here I was amongst The Whitby International Pirate Society. The randomness of it all was just too amazing. Arlene was absolutely wonderful and told me all about their organisation. The WHips began properly in 2004 and since then have gone on to raise over £10,000 for various charities, but with most emphasis being on the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI).
I moved into the snug area and once again bumped into the scary looking pirate, who this time was actually looking much friendlier and who I now got to know as Captain Barposer. My final stop was with Moyshte Moyshel and Picklock Puritan, and the latter of which donned some incredible silver-ware on his fingers that can only really be described as being very claw-like. Moyshel and Picklock both opened up about their own personal motivations as to what brought them to the WHips and why both of them had moved to Whitby from other areas of the UK. I couldn’t help but admire this tightly-knit group of people who believed so strongly in what they were doing that they’d been willing to make big sacrifices in order to commit to it.
I said ‘godspeed’ to me new hearties and moved back into the main room. I’d decided to move off the ale and onto the gin, and as I leant against the bar ready to get myself a Bombay Sapphire I caught sight of a very attractive young woman with vibrant red hair ordering a drink. I shuffled my way around to her, muttered something complimentary about her hair, and then we were on our way outside to enjoy our drinks. There was a live band in the corner playing crowd-pleasing cover songs, and as the lovely Sophie and I navigated our way towards the beer garden, I spotted my mate Dale with a huge smile on his face bouncing around the dance-floor to the sound of Bob Marley.
I looked up and waved to Dale, who then caught sight of the lovely Sophie and gave me a big thumbs-up before accidentally colliding into some poor unsuspecting soul on the dance-floor. Outside, Sophie and I were joined by her friends Jo and Carlos. I felt these newcomers were cramping my style, but it turned out that Sophie had a boyfriend and so I was immediately shunned into the friend-zone anyway. But Sophie and Jo were really good fun and the banter was so good that I almost immediately forgot about the boyfriend disappointment. And Carlos, a chef from Costa Rica, was an incredibly sociable and smiley fella who I liked straight away. I spent almost an hour chatting with these three and when it was time to leave I was sad to have to say goodnight.
Making my way back inside I met back up with my friends and was quizzed straight away.
“What happened with the red head?”
The past hour had been an absolute pleasure making three new friends, and I simply responded with a smile.
“Come on guys. Let’s head back”.
The night was almost at an end. Many drinks had been consumed. Tiredness was setting in. It was late, but it was still warm, and without doubt I was feeling incredibly mellow. I was happy, and I was ready for bed. But then we opened the entrance door to our hotel and The George was in full party mode.
“One more drink?”
The rest of the night is just a haze.
The following morning I woke up with my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth and my cheek firmly embedded in a puddle of my own drool. I ran a quick inventory. My arms and legs were still attached, I still had my hair, my eyebrows, and looking over to the mirror I was relieved to see that nothing had been drawn on my face. There were no unexpected room guests passed out next to me, and I still had my phone, wallet, and my self-respect. It’s just a shame that I felt like death warmed up.
An hour later we were all stood outside The George ready to set off for the long walk to Robin Hood’s Bay. I’d eaten breakfast (extremely slowly, I might add) and my body hadn’t rejected it so I was of the opinion that I would be able to survive the day ahead. The route of choice was The Cinder Track which meant walking in the same footsteps of that very painful day the year before. But this year I am glad to report that there were no knee injuries, although I did tread in a very large pile of dog poo which I was not in the least bit happy about. As I wiped my foot vigorously on the long grass beside the footpath, I was encouraged by Mark.
“Just keep on walking. The first pub is just up ahead.”
And it was at this point that we found The Windmill. I had an obligatory photo taken alongside The Windmill sign, and then gave way to my fragile state and became the only person in the group to wimp out from the early drinking and have a Coca Cola instead. I promised that I’d catch up with everybody once we got to Robin Hood’s Bay.
There were some new arrivals for the second day and the group was getting close to thirty strong. And in walked my friend Jim, usually with shaven head, but today wearing a silvery wig which shone in the sunshine like a disco ball in a spotlight. I had a feeling it would be a messy day.
The wind started to really pick up, making the six or seven miles feel like a very long way, especially with a hangover. And by the time we reached Robin Hood’s Bay, I still didn’t feel like drinking, but I kept good on my promise and started on my first pint as we stood outside in the beer garden of the Victoria Hotel. Situated at the very top of the hill, the Victoria Hotel boasts a wonderful view over Robin Hood’s Bay and looking around me it was a wonderful feeling to see so many people who had made the effort to come away for the weekend. It’s moments like this when you really need to try to cut off from those wandering thoughts of home, or work, or what you’re doing next week, or whether you’d remembered to pack enough underpants. All that matters is enjoying the moment and living for right now. And right now was a very good moment.
We began a steady wander down the steep but quaint road into the heart of Robin Hood’s Bay. Stopping off half way down New Road, a number of us managed to squeeze into The Laurel Inn while the remainder stayed sat outside on a wall in the sunshine. Another pint later I was in desperate need of some food and so on the recommendation of my friends I made my way to Mariondale Fish and Chip shop. Mariondale is located on Albion Road, just off the main street near the very bottom of the hill, and I can quite confidently report that the fish and chips were incredible. However, after a large fish, chips, mushy peas and battered sausage, my mind was now more on having an afternoon nap than it was on beer. And so the next beer turned out to be the final beer of the afternoon, and this was tackled in The Bay Hotel. The Bay Hotel is situated in a commanding position in the dock of Robin Hood’s Bay and has a history which dates back as far as 1828. It’s well-known for marking the end point of the 192 mile coast-to-coast walk which starts in St. Bees, Cumbria, and so I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the dozens of people sat outside had just completed this challenge. Having walked six or seven miles on a hangover was a challenge enough for me, and so after this final beer of the afternoon session I climbed into a taxi and set off back to The George. After ascending the three flights of stairs to my room, I got undressed, climbed into bed, set my alarm for an hour later, and then drifted off to sleep almost immediately.
An hour passed in what felt like thirty seconds, and when my alarm kicked in I awoke with a start. I sat up slowly and was feeling completely disorientated and then slumped back into my pillows. I decided to close my eyes ‘just for a moment’ and then half an hour later my phone started ringing. It was Dale.
“Come on Elliot. You’re late.”
I dragged my sorry-self out of bed, took a shower, got changed, and then left The George and caught up with the rest of the group in The Angel Hotel. The appearance of the Angel was a little out of character when compared to the old ‘character’ pubs we’d been in so far, but the selection of beers turned out to be fantastic and catered for all kinds of different tastes. These days I’m more a real ale and craft ale drinker, and in the Angel Hotel I was truly spoilt. In the end I opted for one of my staple favourites; Blue Moon. The second night was about to get started.
The first night had ended in such an incredible way that I was convinced that there was no way in this world that the second night could top it. But believe me it did, but in a different kind of way. The second night, in many ways, was like reaping the rewards for all the effort I’d made on the previous night. We then returned to The Endeavour and I found myself crouched down in the bar area making a fuss of a gorgeous little dog who was napping in front of the open fire. But as I stood up to approach the bar, I heard a voice say:
“Yes Elliot, what will it be?”
I was really taken aback by this and as I looked up I had to double-take. Was it? It can’t be?
“Oh hey, is…erm…is that you Arlene?”
“It is indeed”
“But you look so different when, erm…you’re not dressed up as a pirate”
This was incredible. Only day two and already I was being welcomed by my first name in a pub I’d only been to twice, and as fate would have it I’m now being served by a pirate I’d met the night before. I never thought I’d end up writing a sentence like that!
Arlene and I had a catch-up discussing the events of the previous night and my aspirations for Lossul.com. We said our goodbyes and then moved on once more.
Before venturing back over the Whitby swing bridge we took a stop off at The Dolphin, which is situated right next to the bridge on the edge of the River Esk. It was in The Dolphin that I met Elishia and Janine, two charismatic young women from Middlesbrough with very strong and engaging personalities. Elisihia and Janine had quite clearly been used to people responding negatively to the mention of their city and before I’d even had chance to say anything they were already acting as ambassadors for the promotion of the good people of Middlesbrough. I think it’s always a shame when people can so easily stereotype somebody just because of where they’re from, but having grown up in a town like that myself I am used to how that feels. The irony is that sometimes it’s the people who point the fingers that end up being far worse than the people they’re pointing the fingers at. But that’s just ignorance for you. And reputations can stick, even when they’re not deserved.
I’d really hit things off with Elishia in particular, but it was only once the conversation really got flowing that I found out that both she and Janine were in a group of fifteen or so women, which also included Elishia’s mother. I suddenly found myself feeling that I should be on my very best behaviour, because if I didn’t, then I may not have made it out alive. Large groups of women can be a very scary environment to be in at times, but I threw myself into this one like a sacrificial lamb to the slaughter. And I came out alive and didn’t even have a single scratch or bite mark on me, which in some ways was a little disappointing.
For the final stop of the night we returned to The Little Angel and once again the party atmosphere was really on form. A live band was playing again and the familiar layout of the bar and the snug meant for a welcoming vibe. But as I stood chatting to my mate Dave, I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard a familiar voice say:
“Hey Elliot, how’s it going man?”
And there was the smiley chef Carlos, from Costa Rica, who I’d met the previous night. This really did feel amazing. Only two days here in Whitby and already I’m feeling like a local and am bumping into people that I’d met the previous day. Whitby had gone from feeling like a place that I was simply visiting to a place where I felt comfortable and truly welcome. And when you’re on the road, that feeling is priceless. I’ve never been someone to judge a destination solely by what it has to offer, but rather the feeling that I get from that place and how I connect with it while I’m there. That’s always been more important to me. I’d much rather spend a day doing nothing more than people watching than a day dashing around here, there, and everywhere, seeing this, that, and everything, if it means that I’m happier and more fulfilled within myself. To follow the heart is far more reliable if you’re looking for the most fulfilling journey on a more personal and spiritual level.
Whitby had been such a huge success. When I’d first set off from home on the Friday morning I’d received some disappointing news which had left me feeling quite downbeat. In all honesty I wasn’t really feeling in the mood to go, but I pulled myself together and made a pact to myself to put the disappointment behind me and to move forward. This website was also on my mind as I drove away from my house and I promised myself that I would get the ball-rolling this weekend, because if I could do it at a time when I wasn’t feeling at my best, then I’d be able to do it at any time. So when I first arrived in Whitby, I arrived as a man on a mission and with a real sense of purpose.
As I packed up my car on the Sunday morning and pulled away from the marina front, the sun was blazing and a gentle breeze passed through the windows. Over the soothing chill-out music flowing quietly from the car speakers, I could hear the sounds of seagulls and the boats in the harbour. With sunglasses on, I slowly made my way through the town and up the hill out of Whitby, and as I rolled steadily along I realised that I had a smile spread across my face that I couldn’t get rid of. I felt happy. Very happy.
Lossul.com was getting under way and Whitby had given me so much hope. But I’d had to make it happen myself, because the reality is that the things you truly want in life will never just be handed to you. And I realised that when you put yourself out there then you can make anything happen. It’s so easy sometimes to feel closed-in and like life offers limited opportunities, but depending upon how you approach situations it really does open the world up as being a place of abundance and full of people who want to be friends and who want to help you realise your dreams. All you have to do is take a chance, make the effort, create your own opportunities, and believe in what it is you’re doing.
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