Happiness comes in waves. I’d love to say I read that in a book but admittedly, it was in a clothes shop. Yes, it’s a little ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ I know, but it felt so apt for the place I was in at that exact moment. Waves combing over the sand, leaving a furrowed brow, which seconds later is soothed by the bubbly shampoo water you see beneath your feet at the bottom of the shower. Washing over what just happened and moving on.
We arrived in Robin Hood’s Bay on a Friday night and the sound of the waves was the first thing that hit me when I got out the car. Finally, I had left behind the incessant throbbing and pulsing headache of Leeds City Centre. It wasn’t until a visit to Runswick Bay on the following Monday that I stood in front of the ferocious sea and realised, each time those creamy waves toppled over and spilt all over the shore, it was like a huge exhale. The waves going in and out were a reminder to breathe. I wonder why we sometimes have to venture all the way to the edge, to re-discover what was already inside us.
On Saturday morning we were woken up by gales of wind, demanding our attention, ratting through the Airbnb we were staying in, in The Bolts – a little lane which the smugglers of Robin Hood’s Bay literally bolted down. We, on the other hand, bolted straight from our warm bed to the kitchen, where we stoked the smouldering fire inside of us with black coffee and scrambled egg on toast. We walked along the coast that day, all the way from the bay to a village called Hawsker. Skating through muddy buttercream, looking on at the cliff faces like chunks of crumbling cheese, getting a salty massage from the sea. At the other end was a well-deserved pint of Old Peculiar, each sip creating shifting shorelines of froth on the side of the glass.
That evening we journeyed to Port Mulgrave to visit Restaurant Number 20 and at this point, I have a confession to make. The entire three-day trip to the coast was solely planned around visiting this restaurant. And this trip made me realise, that when it comes to restaurants, I apparently have a type. Let me explain: one of the things I seem to be obsessively drawn to, is how difficult it is to secure a booking. Restaurant Number 20 is only open a handful of days a week and it’s not open all evening. Making this reservation took two people, across several weeks, to repeatedly remember they had forgotten to call the restaurant. Only when I made an alarm on my phone that said, ‘stop what you’re doing and call this restaurant right now’, did I finally make it through. I was convinced it would be too late and they’d be fully booked but it turned out we had nabbed the last spot. Thrill-seekers, take note.
The second thing? I need to walk inside and immediately want to live there and question why my own flat doesn’t look like this. We entered as though we were running late for a drinks party. Half hurried and welcomed in, taking our coats, settling us down on a lovely table right next to a roaring log burner. Opposite us were apricot-orange bookshelves, brimming with all the classic cookbooks, a feast for the eyes. The room was soft-edged and being taken to our table, lit up by a single candle, was like being guided through the night to our own little planet. As if to say, ‘this and everything surrounding it, will be your entire universe for the next few hours – nothing else matters, right now’. The open kitchen looked like a blue-tiled, unraised pulpit, ready for tonight’s service.
Then, the veil is lifted. Another thing I love about restaurants like this. Sometimes all you need is a good tomato put in front of you, to realise how life-affirming the simple things can be. After some focaccia, we shared starters, cutting into one half of bruschetta with winter tomatoes and fior di latte mozzarella and then seared Iberico pork presa with thyme and roast pepper, before our plates orbited our little candle like flying saucers so we could each finish the rest. This is a restaurant where fish is the hero, so mains were monkfish fillet with pink fir apple potato, spinach, grilled fennel and salsa verde, as well as Artic charr fillet with grilled polenta, purple sprouting broccoli, monks beard with anchovy and rosemary sauce. Everything on our plates was delicate yet confident. A bit like the sea.
And finally – if I have already decided what I’m having for dessert during my first glance at the menu, this is also a sign that I’m sitting in my new favourite restaurant. I saw the words ‘burnt cheesecake, rhubarb’ and I was already having visions. But because we were high on life and drinking a lot of wine, we decided to squeeze in a cheese course of Young Buck blue, quince jelly and slices of fresh apple, right before. This was also one of my attempts to try and make our visit to Restaurant Number 20 last longer. I had settled down for the night. I didn’t want to leave. This is why I find desserts so bittersweet sometimes. They’re my favourite part of the meal but they also signal the end. Those waves of emotion. Reaching the shoreline before being dragged back out. The burnt cheesecake was tangy like a lemon and the tendrils of rhubarb were bright pink and jammy.
On Sunday, we rushed to Whitby, speeding through sideways sheets of rain to get to Fortune’s Kippers – a famous smokehouse founded in 1872 by William Fortune and still run by the family five generations later. Making it fifteen minutes before closing time, we were left feeling very sorry for ourselves when they had already shut up shop once they’d sold out. A return date to Whitby is already on the cards.
It was time to earn our (second) fish and chips of the trip by marching up the 199 steps to St Mary’s Church and the magnificent Whitby Abbey, which we explored in the pouring rain. We had pencilled in The Magpie, however, made a spontaneous last minute diversion after the owners of Restaurant Number 20 revealed that Hadley’s was their favourite spot. The Yorkshire Tea meal deal got us fish, chips, mushy peas, buttered bread and a pot of tea. We peeled off our drenched raincoats just like we unzipped our fillets of haddock, out of their golden, crispy wetsuits of batter, letting out a steamy sigh of relief. The fish itself was incredible and I quickly realised the bread and butter would be my vessel for a chip butty.
We layered up to face the elements once more, across the Jurassic coast of Whitby beach, followed by another flight back up the 199 steps to enjoy pints of Abbey Blonde and Whitby Whaler at Whitby Brewery. Our final evening back in Robin Hood’s Bay was spent sinking more pints of their Saltwick Nab at a cosy, candle-lit bar called Smugglers.
By the final day, my body was so acclimatized to rainwater I was ready to become at one with the sea. We headed up further North along the coast to Runswick Bay where during a beach walk, we were completely mesmerised by all the colourful pebbles than lined the shore. Glistening gems of pale blue, dark emerald green, terracotta red and velvety mauve. I was in awe of how these sweetie-like treats were products of the natural world, created by land and sea. How was this possible?
Lunch was a pit stop as we started to make our way home. Takeaway fish tacos from The Fish Cottage which again, if you’re a thrill-seeker, try eating these in the car. I had no choice but to take a deconstructed approach, with knife and fork, to save the material that lined the car seats. The tacos were filthy and fresh all at the same time, washed down with hot tea and accompanied with a few stolen chips from my boyfriend. Fueled up and ready for the journey home.
Once back at home, all unpacked, showered and in pyjamas, I was already scrolling through the gallery on my phone and reminiscing our trip. But something had changed. I kept swiping through the close-up pictures I’d taken of those sea jewels and all of a sudden, they were just pictures of rocks. The magic was gone. Even popping to the shops to get some jacket potatoes for dinner, I missed the sound of the sea. It felt too quiet and still, the unseasoned air. A matter of hours ago, my mood had peaked at the sight of some shiny stones. I couldn’t seem to recreate that in Leeds City Centre. I thought back to that mantra I came across in the shop, ‘Happiness comes in waves’. Happiness comes and goes and the trick is knowing what brings it back. It will be fluid, just like you are. At one with the sea.