Sarratt destroyed, washed into sea…. Whitby battered by storms….
That’s the kind of one-liner that, when it is blazoned across your mind on waking, is guaranteed to get you up, downstairs and on the computer searching the news within minutes.
Thankfully, the only Sarratt I could find in the UK is so far inland that if it is going to be washed into the sea, I think we’ll know about it. And Whitby is used to sea-storms; December saw the worst storm surge on record, my trawling told me. Indeed, the elements have been taking the cliffs there for a very long time.
I used to love Whitby as a child. I have fond memories of the cliff tops and fossil hunting in local coves, learning how to spot the stones that contained ammonites or trawling the shingle line for jet and gemstones. I saw my first wild lizard on the cliff path there, counted the 199 steps leading to the Abbey where I learned about Caedmon and St Hilda, and read Bram Stoker in St Mary’s churchyard, a place where the graves are falling as the cliff recedes. I remember too the little café beside the beach who would let you have a tea tray on the sands, and sipping frothy Horlicks, bundled up in a jumper as a summer’s day drew to a close. Northern beaches can be chilly… but that doesn’t stop children enjoying them. Somewhere I have a wonderful photo of my two little brothers, diving into the waves with their thick, woolly jumpers sodden and stretched to their knees.
It is one of those places where I always felt at home, in spite of the heaving crowds of tourists… as if you are there in your own little bubble of familiar tranquillity, no doubt fostered by memories of family times and childhood dreams, looking in the windows of the jet shops at the fabulously carved trinkets, learning the stones with my grandfather or watching the glassmakers. I always wanted to live in one of the tiny terraced houses of the Old Town, and was delighted to find, searching census records one day, that one of my ancestors did so… and a house still stands at that address.
Although I haven’t been back for many years, it is now on the agenda of places we need to visit as part of our research. It was a ‘nearly’ when we were in North Yorkshire last summer, but we decided that off-season would be quieter.
No doubt the dream was caused by the fact Whitby had been mentioned yesterday briefly in an email exchange about our books, following another trail through the north of England, led, this time, by a white raven. It seemed appropriate somehow that we stumbled across the trail we are following as we finish the editing for Stuart’s new book, Crucible of the Sun, a beautiful retelling of the stories of the Mabinogion. Branwen… a root for Wen’s name… means ‘white, blessed raven’ and she is a daughter of Llŷr, the father of the sea god. By one of those odd tenuous coincidences, one of Whitby’s earliest names meant ‘white settlement’. It was already a holy place and features much in the spiritual history of the land, the bare bones of the Abbey above the sea stands as a monument to another time far older than the building.
Even more intriguing from our particular perspective is the carved stone recently uncovered dating back anywhere up to nine thousand years ago… and which bears a curious resemblance to another we have found in a Sheffield wood, as well as to the one found on Fylingdales moor, where we played in the heather last summer. Archaeologists are racing against the eroding cliffs to learn more of the history of the ancient place before the sea reclaims it and we, I think, will not be long in visiting either.
So, while Sarratt may be safe, a dream led me on a complex search again this morning which has left me with even more food for thought than the dream itself… and a really good excuse to visit one of my favourite places!