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1st September 2019

Whitby’s myths and legends

Not only is this corner of the UK coastline haunted by ghosts and vampires, but it’s also known for quite a few fascinating fables, as well as familiar tales of folklore.

Whitby is home to a multitude of seafaring legends and rich in ancient stories, from the demise of Humpty Dumpty and the giant duo of the North York Moors, to the mysterious mermaids who once washed up on Staithes beach.

For centuries, fishermen and sailors across the country have swapped stories to forewarn and entertain their listeners, creating some of North Yorkshire’s most mystifying myths and legends.

Here are 4 of our favourite tales preserved throughout the centuries …

Whitby Abbey’s Submerged Bells

Whitby fell victim to Henry VIII’s destroying of England’s finest Abbey’s, which is why it now stands in ruins.

However, there are two objects said to have managed to survive Henry’s reign of destruction: a pair of now submerged bells, which he wanted to transport to London.

He ordered his men to cut down the bells and set sail on a calm mid-summer’s day, but as soon they set off, a storm rolled in and sank the ship, taking the bells with it. Today, on a clear night, you may still hear a distant chime beneath the waves.

The Wade’s Stone(s)

A six-foot-tall stone stands in a field near East Barnaby, with little to distinguish it from the many other standing stones that crop up all over the moors, except for its name: Wade’s Stone.

About 20 yards away is another standing stone, which also bears the same name and together, the pair are said to mark the head and foot of the grave of Wade the Giant.

Wade lived on the North Yorkshire Moors many years ago, in a castle near Lythe, accompanied by his giant wife, Bell. One built the Old Mulgrave Castle and the other Pickering Castle and to help bring in the cows for milking, Wade built a road over the moors.

By the time it was finished, the trail stretched all the way from Malton out to the sea, crossing some of the highest and wildest parts of the surrounding countryside.

Known as Wade’s Causeway, you can still see it today on Wheeldale Moor beneath the heather.

Humpty Dumpty’s Grave

Standing out in St Mary’s Churchyard is an odd gravestone, and not that of Count Dracula!

Both oval and faced to the floor, it has caused much questioning over the years. However, like many other tombstones nearby, the sandstone has faded through time, taking its inscriptions with it.

While the true secrets are buried deep below the surface, speculation has caused some locals to believe that this could be the grave of Humpty Dumpty, although not the anthropological egg we are expected to credit as children. Rather, a war cannon that once sat atop a defensive wall.

No-one knows where the nursery rhyme originated, yet, it does describe a great weapon falling and breaking upon impact, so there’s no reason for it not to have occurred in Whitby.

Staithes Sirens

The Sirens of Staithes

When Staithes was not yet a fishing village and populated by a very small number of people, two mermaids washed up on the beach after a storm. Beautiful as they were, they also horrified the townsfolk, who captured them and tied them in nets to put on show.

Rocks were thrown by fearful passers-by, however, over time, villagers began to warm to the creatures, who were friendly and did not appear to mean harm.

Eventually, they were offered gifts and one of the mermaids convinced a stranger to free them from their binds, thus making an escape and never to be seen again.


Find out more about the supernatural splendour of the North Yorkshire coast at

You can also book a stay at our collection of holiday homes located in and around the town’s of Whitby, Scarborough and Staithes and uncover Whitby’s myths and legends for yourself.

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