I’m sure you’ve seen the adverts for those dreamy sounding writing retreats in rural Cornwall or sunny Provence. Well, I wanted in on that. But unfortunately my budget and diary wouldn’t quite stretch. I wasn’t going to let a couple of minor details like that stand in my way, though. So, I decided to try my own DIY writing retreat in Whitby. In true traveller style, here’s my review in case you fancy trying something similar.
Location (5 stars)
I used to visit Whitby regularly as a child, so from a nostalgic point of view it was great to go back to places which hold so many fond memories. It hasn’t changed much at all in 20 years. That aside, Whitby is a dream location for aspiring writers. Its connections to Bram Stoker’s Dracula and its famous folklore tales and ghost stories are just the start.
If anything, my head was bursting with too many ideas for story settings after a couple of hours in Whitby. The brooding Abbey, overlooking the town below from its proud position on the cliff top, the 199 steps curving their way up the hill to St Mary’s Church with its ancient graveyard, the narrow cobbled streets with higgledy little cottages and specialist shops – the possibilities really are endless. It was a delight to just wander around exploring Whitby’s little ginnels and go hunting for fossils on the beach. I also made a brief trip to the idyllic Robin Hood’s Bay. That could be a separate weekend in itself.
Accommodation (4 stars)
I stayed at the YHA Whitby Abbey House. Sleeping arrangement-wise, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a basic budget hostel (late-night tussels about who’s bagsied which bed included). But everything else – wow. It’s easily the best location in the whole town. It’s based in a Grade 1 listed mansion immediately next to Whitby Abbey. The building itself is impressive and the grounds are absolutely stunning. It’s got its own delightfully well-tended garden to stroll around too. Look right and you’ll see the ruins in all their glory, look left and you’ve got an immense view of the North sea and the town below. The hostel has a gorgeous conservatory overlooking the Abbey, as well as a couple of other cosy lounges. Lots of quiet corners to set up a laptop or get out your notebook. You can’t really beat this for a writing view.
‘Low budgetness’ (5 stars)
My main expense was petrol and my night in the hostel was just £15. I didn’t actually eat in the hostel cafe but they do serve breakfast and lunch and also provide a self catering kitchen. Whitby itself has lots of lovely independent cafes to fall into as well. Depending on how disciplined you are, you could really do this trip on a shoestring.
My downfall was visiting the treasure trove that is Whitby Bookshop. I should have known there was no way I’d be leaving that place empty handed. It’s definitely a must visit for any bibliophile. A great selection of fiction, young adult, local interest, music, travel and much more. Plus there’s some gorgeous stationery and homeware. One of my purchases was ‘Strange Whitby Tales’ by Chris Firth and guest authors, a really interesting delve into some of Whitby’s myths and folklore stories which have been passed down the generations, plus a few new ones. It made perfect bedtime reading and a was great way to spark ideas. I even tried my hand at my first ghost story.
Writing success (3 stars)
Admittedly, I did spend the majority of my time exploring rather than sitting down for long writing stints. This still counts as research though, right? It was a great opportunity to observe people who could evolve into characters, get ideas for story set-ups and take photos which will serve as writing prompts in future.
I was so inspired by what I saw in Whitby that my biggest struggle was probably knowing where to start, as I had so many ideas swimming around my mind. I took my trusty copy of The Five Minute Writer by Margaret Geraghty – these writing exercises are a great place to start. As a result of this trip I have two short stories on the go and a pad full of ideas.
Would I go back?
Absolutely. I’ve learnt so much from my first DIY writing retreat experience, not least that I’m a lot happier in my own company than I thought I’d be. I would wholeheartedly recommend a similar trip to anyone who just wants a break from whatever routine they’re in. For anyone creative, whether that’s art, music, performance or writing, Whitby should be top of your list.
Now that I’ve got the sight-seeing out of my system, I’d definitely go back again and feel happy to sit and get more words down. Another great location to set up is the cafe at Whitby Pavilion. An ideal place to sit and watch the world go by with yet another priceless view. I could literally sit there all day…
I’m already planning my next trip. I’d probably spend the extra money and go for a private room at the hostel and set myself some challenging but achievable goals. Going with a group of writers would be brilliant too and I can’t think of a better base than the YHA hostel.
Now, only time will tell if the ideas from this trip translate into finished pieces I can be proud of.