The one where I visit the ‘real’ Castle Street at Christmas

A theme that comes through in reviews of my Whitsborough Bay books, particularly my Christmas ones, is how much readers would love to visit Castle Street and I sometimes get asked if it’s real.

Castle Street is not real. Sorry. But it is definitely inspired by real places and I see it as a blend of three, which I’ll come to in a moment.

Whitsborough Bay is a fictional North Yorkshire seaside town but it’s predominantly inspired by my hometown of Scarborough. It has the same geographical set-up as Scarborough: North Bay and South Bay separated by a headland with a castle on it, and the town up the cliff from South Bay. The large image below is a view of South Bay and the castle on the cliff from an area called South Cliff.

In my books, I’ve even called these areas North Bay and South Bay. I originally called them North Beach and South Beach to be different but decided ‘beach’ didn’t make sense when the town was called Whitsborough BAY so I stuck with bays.

There are many much-loved locations and landmarks in Scarborough that appear in my Whitsborough Bay stories but with different names:

  • The Sea Life Centre in North Bay becomes the Sea Rescue Sanctuary (bottom left above)
  • Peasholm Park, also in North Bay, is Hearnshaw Park in my books
  • The colourful beach huts in Whitsborough Bay’s North Bay (top right above) are a direct match to those in Scarborough but the shops and cafés nearby take on different identities
  • In Scarborough’s South Bay, there’s a lighthouse and harbour and I have the same in Whitsborough Bay but the lighthouse is red and white striped in my books instead of white (bottom right above), and the approach to it is different

The main difference geographically between Scarborough and Whitsborough Bay is that Whitsborough Bay has a river which runs through the Old Town and along the South Bay side of the castle. It is crossed by a swing bridge. This is very much inspired by Whitby up the coast from Scarborough; a place I’ve adored since childhood.

Back to Castle Street, it is fictional but, as I said before, it is inspired by a blend of three places:

  • Bar Street in Scarborough (which is a narrow street housing independent shops and cafés)
  • The cobbled streets of Whitby’s south side
  • The cobbled streets of Robin Hood’s Bay (which is between Scarborough and Whitby but closer to Whitby)

I imagine Castle Street to be wider than any of these streets (more the width of Huntriss Row if anyone is familiar with Scarborough) and with old-fashioned grey cobbles, more like these ones in this photo of Whitby at the bottom of the famous 199 steps up to St Mary’s Church and Whitby Abbey.

I love Bar Street at Christmas. It has waves of simple white lights running down the street from one end to the other and I describe these in my Christmas books but have them connecting between the buildings instead.

Last week, hubby, munchkin and I took our sprocker spaniel, Ella, for a wander round the lights just as the shops were closing (so we could capture the lights in the shops but visit when there weren’t many folk about).

The large picture below is looking down Bar Street with our backs to the town. The shops are Steampuss Cat Lounge (which I visited with the munchkin a few months back) and a bridal shop which is partial inspiration for The Wedding Emporium which I mention in a few books. In Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes, Bethany gets her wedding dress and the bridesmaid dresses for her Christmas wedding from there.

I’d been eager to get a photo of the giant illuminated teddy bear on the main precinct when I spotted him in town last month but the lights didn’t show very well during the day. So much better at night. I love him!

On Boxing Day evening, we took Ella down to the harbour where many of the boats were lit up, as was the viewing wheel along the seafront. Very pretty. But very cold!

I think I might need to make more of the harbour in future books as it really is beautiful with all the lights on the masts and sails. My pretty poor phone photography doesn’t even come close to doing it justice. On the top row, the lit-up building on the top left pic which is bigger on top right (at the far left of the pic) is The Grand Hotel. Owned by Britannia Group it has changed a lot over the years but it was once one of the largest and most impressive hotels in Europe. You can see it in daylight in the top set of images, bottom middle.

In my stories, The Grand is The Ramparts Hotel (Alison works there in The Secret to Happiness and Callie has a meal there near the end of Making Wishes at Bay View) and I position it as Whitsborough’s only 5-star hotel and very luxurious.

In the top middle photo, you can just about make out Scarborough’s Lighthouse. If you look above the boat lit by red lights, there’s a bright light. Move along to the boat behind it and there’s another light and just to the right of that is a triangle shape of light. That’s the lighthouse. Hubby took a better pic of it, though, looking back over the Old Town. What looks to be a strip of lights above the Old Town in his photo is the castle walls illuminated.

Hope you enjoyed your trip to Whitsborough Bay’s Castle Street and harbour at Christmas. If you’d like to read about it, Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes and Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café are both still only 99p but act quickly as Starry Skies will probably have a price increase in the not too distant future. They’re best read in that order as Starry Skies is set after Carly’s Cupcakes and the two businesses are next door and run by friends Carly and Tara so we find out what happens to Carly after her story finishes when Tara picks up the reins.

You can find all my books for Kindle here although they’re also available as eBooks for Kobo and Apple and a gazillion other formats depending on your reading or listening preferences.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I visited Steampuss Cat Lounge

I love cats but was never allowed pets as a child. When I was at senior school, I lived several miles from school but my best friend lived a short walk away so I’d go to her house at lunchtime. One summer’s day, we found a litter of 4 kittens abandoned in a cardboard box in a cut-through by a main road. Who does that?! I dread to think what would have happened to the poor little things if they’d got out and ventured onto the road. My friend and I carried two each to her house. In a gesture of extreme gratitude for rescuing them, one of them peed down my white school shirt! Yummy! I wanted to keep one but wasn’t surprised when I was told a resonating no. Fortunately my friend’s mum found them all new homes.

It was many years later before I owned my first pets when, fourteen years ago, my husband and I adopted two RSPCA rescue kittens: Felix and Pixie. Sadly they’ve both crossed the rainbow bridge. We lost Pixie six years ago and Felix left us in January this year.

No longer having my own cats to fuss over, I was really keen to visit Steampuss Cat Lounge which had opened in Scarborough in 2019. Then Covid hit and that wasn’t an option.

Last Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of The Secret to Happiness – my first release through Boldwood Books – and it was also the last day before my daughter, Ashleigh, returned to school so I booked us in to visit the cats as a special treat. What a lovely hour! In fact, some might say purrrr-fect!

The cafe is on Scarborough’s Bar Street which provides partial inspiration for Castle Street which appears in many of my books. There’s a ground floor room which, when we were there, had two tables and a lower ground room also with two tables. Booking is advisable to avoid disappointment as spaces are limited. This can be done via their website or Facebook page.

There are twelve cats who go home with the owners each day rather than living in the cafe but they’re not all there every day. We were told that there were eight cats there during our visit and we saw seven of them. There’s an area on the lower ground floor for staff and cats only so a cat may occasionally go in there for a complete break.

Ashleigh and I were thrilled to be allocated a ground floor table by the bay window because it’s in the window where the cats tend to congregate. There’s a large scratching post/sleeping tower in the middle and vintage suitcases either side which the cats were curled up in.

Most of the cats are named after characters in films/books and there’s a lovely booklet on the table including pictures and giving detail about each cat from breed to age to who its best friends are. Awww! It’s perfect for trying to identify the cats although a few of them have similar markings so we’re not convinced we were accurate with our guesses!

The menu includes hot and cold drinks and cakes but there’s a large choice within that and vegan/gluten-free choices too so it caters for all dietary needs. Ashleigh and I both had the most delicious milkshake we’ve ever tasted. Mine was caramel and vanilla and hers was white chocolate and vanilla. To eat, she chose chocolate cake and I had a Victoria sponge with passion fruit topping although her chocolate cake was enormous and she let me have the last bit. Nom nom!

Delicious as it was, a visit to Steampuss was not about the food for us. It was all about the experience of being there among the adorable cats. You’re allowed to stroke them when they’re asleep (which several were) but are asked not to try to wake them up and definitely not to lift them. Full guidance on getting the most out of your visit and treating the cats with care and respect is on the website.

When we first went in, the largest cat – Hagrid – was in the middle of the floor, staring at us. It was as if he was telling us it was his domain and checking us out. Loved that! Once he was satisfied we were friends rather than foes, he settled into one of the beds on the scratching post.

There were six cats including Hagrid spread out in the window area but then another appeared. Lots of shelves were built into the walls in a way that made an accessible climb for the cats so that one decided to hang out on one of the higher shelves.

Ashleigh absolutely loved the experience. She’s 13 and I think children young and old and adults (as long as they like cats) will adore a visit. Actually, scrub that, even if they’re not cat-people, it’s such a lovely experience. Do it!

The cats are so soft and happy and lovely. A friend of Ashleigh’s has visited and it sounds like they were more active during her visit. Having been a cat owner myself, I would imagine that there are times of the day when they might be prowling more than sleeping, either of which will be amazing.

It costs £5 for an adult and £4 for a child to have an hour in the Steampuss Cat Lounge and then, of course, you do pay for your food and drinks on top of that. There are also various gifts available.

We’ll definitely be back in person but I hope to be back in my imagination too because, of course, the cogs are now whirring and I have a story forming. I would love to add a cat cafe to Castle Street. I think it would be perfect in Whitsborough Bay and not in competition to Tara’s The Chocolate Pot because it’s a very different experience to what Tara offers.

Because I was celebrating my book publication anniversary, I just happened to have a paperback with me for a photo shoot!

I highly recommend a visit to Steampuss Cat Lounge. You can find their website and all the details about the cats here. They’re also on Facebook here. The Twitter and Instagram accounts are @Steampuss with Twitter not active since last year but Instagram full of regular picture updates for a gorgeous fix of beautiful cats.

Have you ever been to a cat cafe? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Big hugs

Jessica xx