Christmas dinner for the vicar

It’s no secret that vicars are busy on Christmas Day, and as Cass is single and has four churches to look after she’s busier than most – and she has no-one to roast a turkey for her in the gap between services. Unlike the Vicar of Dibley she hasn’t had invitations to Christmas dinner with several different parishioners, and as she’s neither (as you may have noticed) an enthusiastic nor a competent cook, what does she have for her Christmas dinner?

Macaroni cheese for one!


Cinnamon toast

Afternoon tea time, and there’s only one thing to have with a nice cup of Yorkshire tea:

‘There’s a pot of tea on the go when you’re ready and I’ll make some cinnamon toast if you like. My mother always used to make it at this time of year; she refused to have a mince pie until Christmas Eve!’

cinnamon toast


Time for lunch

It’s the next stop on my culinary journey through the world of Cass in The Little Church by the Sea and it’s time for lunch.  But I should warn you, Cass isn’t much of a cook – or very tidy!

[Anna] worked right through lunchtime and wouldn’t come and share the soup that Cass had offered her, so Cass took a bowl up to her, for her to eat while she worked. Thinking of June’s neatness Cass made a cursory effort to tidy up the kitchen after her lunch. Cass’s clutter was starting to creep out of the cupboards and onto the worktops – but it was better to have the teabags to hand, and the chocolate biscuits couldn’t be stuck away in the cupboards when she needed them so often, could they?

Mince pies for morning coffee

It’s coffee time! And here is Cass’s extra special recipe for mince pies to be enjoyed with a morning coffee:

  1. Buy ready made pastry.
  2. Buy a jar of mincemeat.
  3. I also need my baking tray … where is it?
  4. And a cutter … I can’t find one, I’ll have to use a mug instead …
  5. Cut out pastry circles and put them in the baking tray. Oh no, I should have greased it first … never mind …
  6. Add a generous blob of mincemeat in the centre.
  7. Put a lid on. Oh, these don’t fit quite properly, never mind …
  8. Put them in the oven. Temperature? No idea! Hot-ish, I think.
  9. Go and finish writing a sermon. Don’t forget the mince pies!
  10. Oh no? What’s that burning smell?
  11. Run up the hill and buy a packet of mince pies from the village shop.


Cats and Croissants

In honour of publication day I’m eating my way through my novel! And, like Cass, I’m starting with croissants for breakfast and a hungry cat!

Anna sat opposite her at the table, feeding flaky scraps of croissant which had fallen from Cass’s plate to Twiggy who had deserted her owner’s lap in favour of Anna’s.

‘I didn’t know cats liked croissants!’ Anna said.

‘Neither did I,’ Cass said, watching her pet. 

And in a strange case of life imitating art, I found a certain naughty little black cat on the breakfast table this morning helping herself – sadly I didn’t let her stay there long enough to take her picture, but here she is helping with the ironing instead …image1 (52)

A Not-so-little Church

Anyone who has been to North Yorkshire will instantly recognise the iconic church of St. Mary at Whitby, perched high on the cliff-top like a lighthouse guiding ships safely home to the harbour beneath it. The location of Cass’s clifftop church in The Little Church by the Sea was inspired by this view of St. Mary’s guarding the huddled cottages around the harbour. To reach the church there are the famous 199 steps climbing up the cliff, and it’s easy to imagine that Bram Stoker, author of Draula (which was inspired by a visit to Whitby) might still be lurking around a forgotten corner …

brenda whitby 3

The 199 steps – photo by Brenda Taylorson

St. Mary’s is a much grander and larger church than Cass’s, however in some ways it is similar. The dark wood pews which crowd throughout the church are like those in Cass’s imaginary church – these pews are marked with the names of local villages (some of them a good long walk away from Whitby; people must have been prepared to travel a long way on Sunday morning). I remember proudly sitting in one of these box pews as a young girl when attending a service in the church with my parents – and yes, as far as I can remember, the seats were every bit as uncomfortable as they look!

The other aspect of the church which inspired me was the graffiti. The pews of St. Mary’s, especially in the gallery (which isn’t open to the public for health and safety reasons) and the pews furthest away from the pulpit are covered with antique graffiti. Initials and names and dates – the earliest we saw appeared to read 1611 – and ships, which range from simple little children’s drawings to quite intricate depictions of sailing boats with rigging. It’s amazing to think that a bored parishioner over four hundred years ago left a mark which can still be seen today, though the identity of the person who carved it is long ago lost to history.  However you won’t find the names of Henry Thorburn or Polly Allinson carved amongst the graffiti – they are entirely fictional characters.


A St. Mary’s through the mist. My photo.

The other aspect of St. Mary’s which inspired me, lingering from long ago childhood visits to the church, was the fog. So often when we went to Whitby the climb up the 199 steps was through the mist, to the sound of the Hawsker Bull foghorn which was stationed just along the clifftop from the church … and the fog made its way into my novel too!


Thanks to Brenda Taylorson for the photos of the church across the harbour and the 199 steps.

Superstition, the supernatural and the sea.

It’s Halloween, the time of year when thoughts turn to stories of the supernatural, and given that The Little Church by the Sea has at its heart a ghost story,  it seemed like a good day to consider the ghosts, myths and legends that surround the Yorkshire coast.

Some stories are heard in many places. Robin Hoods Bay and Runswick Bay both have “hobs”, mischievous spirits that live in caves (the one at Runswick Bay isn’t entirely mischievous, but is said to cure children of whooping cough if asked nicely). Then there are the barguests,  terrifying ghostly dogs, who haunt the moors and the cliffs of North Yorkshire, heralding death.

black wolf

The life of a fisherman was hazardous at the best of times, and any number of local superstitions grew up around the sea – boats would not be launched if the fishermen met a woman or a pig on the slipway, so unlucky was that considered to be. Whistling on board ship was considered to be an ill omen, but tying a stone with a hole in it to a boat would ensure good fortune (further inland, such stones were said to protect against witches). Seagulls were said to be the souls of drowned sailors, and if one flew into the window of a house, it was bad news for the family inside that house, as it was a portent of death …

One cottage in Runswick Bay is said to be haunted by the ghost of a young girl, who was locked into a cupboard for a punishment, and sadly died. The sound of her ball tapping on the inside of the cupboard is still to be heard there.

Robin Hood’s Bay is haunted by a headless farmer, who fell drunkenly onto the railway track one night, only to be killed by an oncoming steam train. Though his mangled body was buried, his head had disappeared and no trace of it was ever found – but some say that the ghost of the headless farmer is still searching …

Whitby has many ghost stories. Most famously, the bells of the Abbey are said to have been stolen and then lost at sea – and if you listen carefully, the bells can be heard ringing under the waves. St. Hilda herself is also said to be seen in ghostly form at one of the high windows of the Abbey ruins. Brown Bushell, turncoat during the English Civil War, was beheaded for treason but his ghost is still said to haunt his ancestral home at Whitby, Bagdale Hall. The story that haunts me the most is one of a beautiful young girl who was very fond of her appearance, and used a particular hair oil to make her hair shine. unfortunately the hair oil was extremely flammable, and one day the inevitable happened, her hair caught fire and she was horribly burnt. But the young girl’s ghost still haunts Whitby – sometimes to terrify passers by, and sometimes to warn others of an impending fire and save them from sharing her terrible fate.

morning ghosts

There is no real story of a “Maiden’s ghost” searching for her drowned lover, lost in a storm at sea, I made that up entirely … but if you walk through the twisting yards of Robin Hood’s Bay or Runswick at night, it’s easy to imagine that there could be …


Images used:

Featured image, of Robin Hood’s Bay, is my own photo.

Morning ghosts by Andris, licensed under creative commons: link to original image:

Rare New Jersey Black Wolf by Nosha, licensed under creative commons: link to original image:

Bering Sea in mist foggy scenics, Wikimedia commons 


Bob Woodhouse, author of many local history books about the North East of England, provided me with several tales of superstitions, and I also used “The Haunted Coast” and “13 Ghost stories from Whitby” by Michael Wray, Chris Firth and Anne Marshall published by Caedmon Story Tellers. ISBNs 0953640531 and 0953640507. (These books have some lovely illustrations too).