Oh dear; oh dear. Something has gone terribly wrong here. English Heritageʼs audio guides and site signage is usually so good, but it must have been an off day when they came to Whitby Abbey.
It starts in the courtyard in front of Abbey House which has been stripped back to what English Heritage claim is the original surface of very large stones. To my untrained eye it just looks unfinished; the foundations for a much smother surface.
The we come to the ruins of the 17th century wing of the main house. Once a picturesque ruin, this has now had a modern glass and steel Visitor Centre inserted into it, making it look like a second-rate shopping mall with a preserved frontage.
Things donʼt get much better once you get into the Abbey proper. Like the Roman Baths in Bath, the audio tour isnʼt a tour as such, you just wander around tapping in numbers as you find them. I could only find about a dozen. Assuming some of the display boards were missing, started guessing; with some success.
Nearly all the audio commentary related to the previous Anglo-Saxon abbey, and only at one or two points did the the actual remains that were visible on the ground get mentioned. The rest were just the fictional recollections of historical characters.
Interesting as the story of St Hilda and the Synod of Whitby is, I wanted to know more about the remains I could see, and not the ones that someone else was imagining.
There werenʼt even the little metal signs labelling the various parts of the building that the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works installed in most of their properties, so the visitor is left to guess what it is they are looking at.
My advice: forget the audio tour, buy the excellent guidebook, try to ignore the visitor centre and donʼt miss the walk along the cliffs to Saltwick Nab.
Also, donʼt ignore Abbey House. Wander round past the cafe and take a look at the medieval wing overlooking the town. After all itʼs part of the old abbey.
For Opening Times, Admission Prices, etc. please go to English Heritageʼs official site, detailed below.