Located on the west coast, outside the Lake District National Park, Whitehaven is a town and port in Cumbria.
Whitehaven was England’s third largest port behind London and Bristol in the18th century, with coal and iron exports bringing wealth to the area. Merchants and sea captains took advantage of the relationships forged with the new Americas and dipped their fingers into slavery, as some of the finer merchants’ houses in the town bear witness to.
The herring industry brought another wave of trade in the 1960s and now the shellfish catch keeps this port on the map with mostly scallops and nephrops (a genus of lobsters).
The daily passage is to the Isle of Man now rather than the West Indies, but there is still a tang of rum in the air and ample memories of the coal industry that once employed so many here. This is also the start (or finish) of the famous coast to coast walk or ride. See www.sustrans.co.uk to find out more.
Whitehaven makes a very welcome stop en route to Scotland (50 miles) and Northern Ireland and is a prime weekend break for Manx sailors stocking up.
Protected from the sou’westerlies by the landmass of St Bees, the marina at Whitehaven is a calm haven, and today the sun shines on the Solway Firth and we can see snow on the hills of Gallaway. Old pal Mark Bowden (Marina Projects) shows me round.
Touch of Zest
Whitehaven has some surprising food choices as this is home to BBC One Show’s chef Ricky Andalcio, who runs Zest Restaurant and the more casual Zest Harbourside, which is open daily, as is the renowned fish and chip shop Crosby’s.
Zest’s claim to fame is that Tony Blair dined here in 2001, but do not let that put you off. The casual Zest Harbourfront is open daily and the burgers make a great lunch. The more refined Zest Restaurant up the road is open Wednesday – Sunday and is a good choice for a more special night out.
Crosby’s Fish & Chips had a fine reputation but has recently changed hands. The word is that quality is still good but any updates will be gratefully received.
There is a good choice of bars, cafes and restaurants spreading back from the harbour. First off, coffee. Choose between Anna’s on the quay, or head up to Westminster Café, which is a friendly place where we are plied with mince pies, rum butter and hot chocolate, with, yes, rum… a story is emerging here.
We pass the Rum Museum on our way past the Market Deli and an interesting bit of wall art to celebrate the connection between Gulliver’s Travels’ Jonathon Swift and Whitehaven painted by Keswick artist Paul Wilmott. Café West is another favourite, on King Street, that helps get people with learning issues back to work through training and encouragement. The bread is good.
There are a couple of large trawlers in the harbour and I see a scattering of ruddy purple shells on the quayside heralding the start of the scallop season. We found them in The Waterfront (10 per cent discount to berth holders) and had a good lunch before the cocktail team arrived at 1.40. My scallops with melt in the mouth pork belly were fresh, plump and excellent value at £9.95.
The cod and chips came with the usual mushy peas and good chunky tartare, but also a small Caesar salad – a nice touch. Mark had the crab linguine which had a superb sauce, lightly spiced to give a nice chili frisson. The Mussel Bay Marlborough was lovely and light and available here by the glass.
The best pub on the quay is The Vagabond, with a good range of ales and a wood fired pizza oven. This is a cosy lock down on a windy night and good value.
The hike: along the coast path to St Bees (www.colourfulcoast.org.uk) or 2.6 miles to Sandwith, with lunch in the Dog and Partridge, then on to St Bees to enjoy ice cream at Hartleys sea front café. Details can be found in the marina office.
The drive: Lakes Distillery, CA13 9SJ. I liked the whisky best. There is a bistro here, and you could go large and have the tour and afternoon tea or American pancakes with whisky sultanas and caramelised apples. Or drive out to the Inn at Ravenglass.
Penny’s Blog: hopshikesandbites.blogspot.co.uk