START: Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire
FINISH: Scarborough, North Yorkshire
DISTANCE: 15.5 miles
APPROXIMATE TIME: 7 hours
MAPS: OS Explorer 0L27 (North York Moors Eastern area)
October 2016. Autumn had started to spread across the land. Leaves were turning various colours and falling off the trees in large droves. The temperature was starting to fall, summer becoming a distant memory, and winter was just over the horizon. Poetic descriptions aside, I was keen to do one last coastal walk before winter arrived. I was looking to return to the North Yorkshire coast and continue along the Cleveland Way from Robin Hood’s Bay to Scarborough, followed possibly by another walk further down the coast to Filey, with an overnight stay in Scarborough. As Scarborough is a popular coastal resort there was plenty of choice for accommodation and based on great reviews on TripAdvisor I booked myself into the Brontes Guest House, not far away from Scarborough’s North Bay.
So the second weekend of October soon arrived and once again I found myself on a bus rumbling across the North Yorkshire Moors, first stopping off at Whitby and then making the short journey to the beautiful coastal village of Robin Hood’s Bay where I had finished off my last walk on the Yorkshire coast (see Coastwalk #11).
ROBIN HOOD’S BAY
There were a few people milling about as I stepped off the bus. The autumnal weather was still trying to make up its mind what it wanted to do. One minute it was bright sunshine, the next minute it looked like I was going to get blown away by an apocalyptic storm. Not being completely sure if I had packed the right clothing for the ever-changing weather, I followed the road down into the heart of the older part of Robin Hood’s Bay until just before I reached the shore. Just next to the Smugglers Inn I saw a Cleveland Way sign nailed to a shop pointing down a narrow roadway. As I needed to follow the Cleveland Way I thought it would be a tremendous idea to pay heed to this sign and go down the narrow roadway.
I soon came to a flight of steps which marked the first of many climbs that I would come across on that day. I followed these steps high above the village the village until finally about five minutes later (although it seemed like five hours) I reached the top panting like a wild dog. I was hoping this would be the last climb of the day but nope because as I looked across to the other side of the bay I could see the dark brooding promontory of Ravenscar rising aseveral hundred feet bove the increasingly choppy seas and I knew I was going to be in for a tough day. Fortunately I was in a good mood and relishing the challenge, plus the views were great. Behind me I could see the red-roofed houses of Robin Hood’s Bay clinging to the side of the cliff and I was a little sad to leave it behind.
Before I move away from Robin Hood’s Bay I should really talk about how the village got it’s unusual name. The most obvious reason would be that it is named after the famous outlaw, however there is no evidence that he visited here, although according to local legend he kept a couple of boats in the village so if things got too naughty for him in Sherwood Forest he could escape to the continent and safety. Another theory is that Robin Hood went out on a fishing trip along the Yorkshire coast and encountered French pirates. Being the plucky outlaw he was he managed to get the pirates to surrender and returned the goods that had been plundered to the poor people of a village that now takes his name. What is more likely is that the name has grown from local legends related to an ancient forest spirit known as Robin Hood, the name of which was used widely throughout the country. Natural landmarks were named after these local mythical beings and so this could be where Robin Hood’s Bay got it’s name from, although again this is based on legend rather than fact.
Anyway one fact that I did know to be true was that I still had a long way to go, so on taking one last look at Robin Hood’s Bay (and seeing no French pirates about) I continued on my way towards Ravenscar. After a reasonable bit of level walking I soon found my descending steeply down into the wonderfully named Boggle Hole.
Now home to a large Youth Hostel, according to local legend the beautiful Boggle Hole was once the home of little people called boggles who inhabited the numerous caves hereabouts. What is more likely was that Boggle Hole was used by smugglers to unload and hide their contraband. Unfortunately on my visit that day I saw neither boggles or smugglers, or people for that matter as the Youth Hostel was empty due to it being out of season.
I stopped for a couple of minutes to take in the scenery and take some photos before continuing up the steep flight of stairs (yes another lot of stairs!). Over the next couple of miles towards Ravenscar I had to climb in and out of another steep sided valley at Stoup Beck, also passing the remains of a large WWII pillbox crumbling into the sea, before I finally got a good long stretch of relatively flat walking. Just before I started the steep climb up to Ravenscar the Cleveland Way passed through the remains of an old alum works.
PEAK ALUM WORKS
Now preserved by the National Trust, the Peak Alum Works were first established c. 1650 and work continued here off and on until 1862 when the invention of synthetic alum led to the collapse of the alum producing industry. Alum was produced to dye wool, and involved a complex chemical operation featuring aluminium sulphate (extracted from locally quarried superheated alum shale), potassium (which was produced by toasting seaweed) and ammonia (which was taken from stale human urine – nice!).
In the heyday of the industry over 200 tonnes of wee were used in the alum industry at Ravenscar(meaning the urine came from over 1000 people!) . As there were not enough local people to provide the pee, urine was shipped by the barrel load from Newcastle and London. In these cities barrels were left on the street corner for people to urinate in which were then collected on a weekly basis and shipped up to the alum works by boat. A lot of people also left jars of urine on their doorsteps for collection. It was said that poor people’s wee was much better than the yellow stuff produced by rich people as their urine wasn’t the product of strong drink. There was also rumours that once the barrels were emptied of their liquid contents they were then re-filled with Yorkshire cheese and butter and shipped back to London where the locals were said to enjoy the distinctive flavour of Yorkshire’s finest…
Anyway, after having a quick scout around the crumbling remains of the alum works, I followed a steep track through some woods which were surrounded by the slag heaps produced by the works, now covered in yellow gorse. The narrow track soon became a cobbled lane, which finally led into the strange yet beautiful village of Ravenscar, a place which has a fascinating history.
RAVENSCAR – THE TOWN THAT NEVER WAS
It was a hell of a climb up to Ravenscar, so rather handily there were a number of picnic benches to sit at outside a small visitor centre. It was here where I stopped to have my lunch. At this point I realised I had only done just over three miles and still had at least another eleven to go. I felt that this was going to be one tough walk and that I was certainly going to feel it by the time I got to Scarborough. It was also clouding over which added a bit of a gloomy feel to proceedings.
Anyway, whilst I sat and munched on my sandwiches I got out my phone and looked up the history of Ravenscar. Sitting at the top of 600 feet cliffs the area was first used by the Romans in the 5th century who built a signalling station and small fort as part of a line of coastal defences (similar sites can be found at Huntcliff Nab near Saltburn and Beacon Hill near Easington Colliery). Once the Romans left, there is little mention of the area in the history books until the 16th century when records show that a large farm known as Peak House was in place on the site of the old Roman fort. This farm gave its name to the small hamlet that existed here called Peak.
In 1774 Captain William Childs built a large hall on the site of the farm called Peak Hall (the present-day Raven Hall). Captain Childs had become the owner of the Peak Alum works in 1763 and so he built a family home near to his commercial interests. On Captain Child’s death in 1829 the Hall passed into the hands of his daughter, Ann Willis. Ann Willis’ husband, Dr Francis Willis was a pioneer in mental health treatment, and the family became quite rich as a result of Dr Willis’ treatment of numerous wealthy lunatics including the Queen of Portugal and King George III, who was rumoured to have stayed at Peak Hall as part of his treatment.
Over the next 100 years the Hall passed through the hands of a number of people until in 1890 the Hall and its lands were sold to the Peak Estate Company who wanted to develop the hamlet of Peak into a holiday resort to rival that of nearby Scarborough. The Hall re-established itself as a hotel in 1895 and in 1897 plans for a new town were drawn up featuring guesthouses, tea rooms and other tourist attractions. Roads and drains were built and 1500 plots of land were offered for sale. It was in this year that the Peak Estate Company decided to rename the area as Ravenscar to make it more attractive to potential investors. Peak Hall also became Raven Hall at this time.
The scheme wasn’t very successful. Only a handful of the 1500 plots of land were ever built upon and the proposed town never came to fruition. Potential investors were put off by Ravenscar’s exposed location at the top of 600 high cliffs which often meant that the village was covered in mist and rain rather than being bathed in glorious sunshine. Also poor access to the shore hundreds of feet below the village and a lack of a sandy beach deterred visitors from coming to Ravenscar. As a result, by 1911 the Ravenscar Estate Company was declared bankrupt and the land was sold off piece by piece and the dream of a popular resort died.
Just as I finished my lunch the sun came out so I set off once again and worked my way through Ravenscar. I followed Station Road for a couple of hundred yards (which used to lead to the village’s railway station, now closed with the old trackbed being converted into a popular cycle track) before signs for the Cleveland Way pointed me down a crumbling track towards the clifftops. This crumbling track was actually the remains of a road built as part of the new town and if history had turned out a bit differently I would have been walking along a street lined with Victorian villas. Just before the track reached the clifftops there was another track leading off to my right which was once a street known rather grandly as Marine Esplanade. The street is now largely overgrown and as the Cleveland Way follows the clifftops it runs parallel to Marine Esplanade. Only two houses were built on this street and as I walked passed them it was strange to see them standing in solitary fashion overlooking the sea.
Walking a little further along the clifftops I came across a derelict brick building (left). A handy interpretation panel explained that this was a former look-out post built as part of a World War II radar station. In the field next to the look-out post was a number of derelict concrete buildings which housed the radar system and the crew who operated the radar. The site was constructed in 1941 as part of a coastal defence system during the Second World War, however once the War had finished the buildings were left to rack and ruin (apart from the look-out which was used by the Coastguard until 1972), some of which were demolished following the station’s decommissioning. In the early 2000s the buildings had become a bit of an eyesore and the remaining buildings were earmarked for demolition. Fortunately a campaign by the National Trust led to the site being given Scheduled Monument Status by English Heritage in 2002. The National Trust have carried out some renovation and clearance work so it is possible to access some of the radar station’s buildings safely. I had a quick look around the look-out post where I got a great view up and down the coast and you could see why this made such a great site for spotting enemy airplanes making their way across the North Sea. I half-expected to see the Luftwaffe racing their way across the sea ready to cause havoc inland, however it was 2016 not 1941 so fortunately there were no angry Germans flying about to spoil my walk.
Past the former radar station, the Cleveland Way continues on for another few miles along a glorious stretch of clifftops. As the path began to descend there were increasingly stunning views towards Scarborough and rather handily there was a bench put in place so that I could take a breather and take in the scenery (you can see the view I got in the featured photo at the top of this blog). From this bench I could make out Filey Brigg in the distance and on the horizon was the dark smudge which marked Flamborough Head, some 40 miles plus away. After five minutes I was on my way once again, and the Cleveland Way continued to descend even further until it reached the beautiful Hayburn Wyke.
Nestled in a secluded cove and steep wooded valley, Hayburn Wyke is one of the many jewels on the Yorkshire coast. The unusual name reflects the history of the area’s many inhabitants over the centuries. Hayburn is an Anglo-Saxon name meaning ‘hunting enclosure in a stream’ and Wyke is a Norse word for ‘sea inlet or creek’.
As Hayburn Wyke is secluded, there wasn’t many people about so I seemingly had the whole place to myself for a little while. The shade from the trees was also most welcome as the sun had been gradually warming up since I’d left Ravenscar and so I was able to to cool down before beginning the inevitable steep climb back out of the valley.
My legs were well and truly getting tired at this point, the steep ups and downs of the coastal path sometimes got a bit too much. However, I couldn’t grumble too much as the clifftop scenery more than made up for it. I soon came to a viewpoint called Rodger Trod (which sounds a bit like a character from a 1960s sitcom), where once again a conveniently placed bench made sitting down to view the gorgeous scenery rather too easy, especially considering how tired my legs were. From my viewpoint I could make out Scarborough Castle in the distance sitting on a promontory poking out into the sea. As I could now see my final destination it gave me that motivation to make the final push to the journey’s end.
As the miles rolled away Scarborough Castle became clearer in view. I passed groups of walkers finishing off their guided walks which also highlighted just how popular the Cleveland Way is.
SCARBOROUGH – NORTH BAY
After a couple of more short breaks I was soon stood on top of Long Nab overlooking Scarborough’s scenic North Bay. I was starting to get a bit peckish so I started looking on the map app on my phone for good places to eat. After ten minutes of perusing I was still none the wiser so decided to keep going and hope I would find somewhere good to eat. Descending down from Long Nab I crossed Scalby Beck and immediately came across a pub – The Old Scalby Mill. Great I thought, a nice looking pub with a nice looking menu – I’ve hit the jackpot. Then I realised how sweaty and dishevelled I looked and thought I might lower the tone of the place if I went in so I decided to look elsewhere.
I continued along the bay passing by the Sea Life Centre which was kicking people out, (they hadn’t done anything wrong it was just closing time). As I walked further along I suddenly heard a train whistle. I looked to my right and saw a replica miniature train rambling its way along an embankment. This was the narrow gauge North Bay Railway which has been ferrying tourists between Peasholm Park and Scalby since 1931. As the train chugged along carrying the last passengers of the day, I continued my way along the promenade. I was becoming almost ravenous with hunger and luckily I came across a café selling fish and chips. I wolfed down the lot in record time. I was hoping to continue around the Bay, past the Castle and in to Scarborough’s South Bay to finish off the day’s walk there, however I was too tired and so I decided to call it a day and head to the B&B where I hopefully could get enough rest to start the journey to Filey the following day.
The B&B was absolutely lovely – I also got it for a steal at £30 for the night. Whilst the bed was really comfortable I just couldn’t get to sleep mainly because I can never nod off properly on the first night in a strange place. On waking up the following morning I was aching all over so I decided not to walk to Filey. Instead I would finish off the rest of the walk to the South Bay and have a look round Scarborough. The last time I had been here was in 1993 and so I was guessing things had changed quite a bit since then.
The breakfast provided by the B&B was delicious and the owners themselves were delicious…I mean very nice. We spent a couple of hours chatting about Scarborough, how things had changed over the years, how they got into running Brontes Guest House, and also about some of the strange guests that had stayed over (I hope I wasn’t one of them). I really was sorry to leave the place behind as it was a very nice establishment, however I did promise the owners I would return one day, especially as it was conveniently placed to do the next bit of the coast to Filey and then Bridlington via Flamborough Head.
On leaving the B&B I headed down the road to the North Bay once again and resumed my walk along the promenade. It was a lovely sunny day and there were plenty of people who had joined me on my late morning stroll round to the South Bay. On the way I passed Scarborough Castle perched on top of its headland. The headland which the castle sits on has been occupied since at least the late Bronze Age. Archaeological digs in the 1920s found evidence of a late Bronze Age/early Iron Age hill fort dating back to the 9th century BC. Amongst numerous finds found by archaeologists there was a Bronze Age sword which may have been used as a ritual offering.
Over 1300 years later the Romans came along and seeing the advantages the headland had as a position for a lookout, constructed a signal station during the 4th century AD as part of a system of defences along the North-East coast (like the one at Ravenscar). The Anglo-Saxons also found the site useful and built a chapel on the headland around 1000AD, which was then destroyed by Harold Hardrada during the invasion of Scarborough in 1066AD. Harold was also said to have burnt down the small village which existed here at this time, however there is no archaeological evidence of this. Following his destructive sojourn to Scarborough, Harold then went on to be defeated by King Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.
During the 12th century a brand new stone castle was built replacing an earlier wooden fort. The new castle had considerable royal patronage with King Henry II (1154-1189) being responsible for the castle’s building and King Henry III (1216-1272) carrying out further improvements to the castle. King John (1199-1216) and King Edward I (1272-1307) also held Royal courts at the castle and often visited here during their reigns.
Over the next few centuries the castle saw plenty of action in wars due to its strategic importance and also that of Scarborough itself. During the inaccurately named Hundred Years War (1337-1453) the town and castle was attacked several times by enemy forces. The Scots and French also had a go numerous times during the early 16th century but weren’t successful at capturing the castle. During the early part of the English Civil War (1642-1651) the castle and town started of as Parliamentarian but then quickly changed sides to support the Royalists. In February 1645 Sir John Meldrum took the town and port from the Royalists, cutting off any means of retreat for the Parliamentarian forces in the castle led by Sir Hugh Cholmley. Sir Hugh refused to surrender and so a five-month siege began. By July of that year the garrison in the castle were defeated, only half of the original 500-strong garrison had survived the siege. The castle underwent another siege later on in the war and changed hands seven times between 1642 and 1648 proving that people will do anything to have a good time while in Scarborough!
The castle was used by the military on and off until the First World War when the castle and the town were shelled by the German navy on the 16th December 1914. Over 500 shells were fired at the town and the castle resulting in the death of 19 people and extensive damage to the castle’s barracks which had to be demolished. The towns of Whitby and Hartlepool were also attacked on the same day resulting in huge loss of life. The attack was used by the British government as part of a propaganda campaign to recruit new soldiers (right).
In the 21st century the castle is a much more quieter place, being plagued by tourists rather than angry soldiers and naval shells. I continued my way along the promenade past the castle and soon found myself in the beautiful South Bay.
SCARBOROUGH – SOUTH BAY
The South Bay was much more busier than its northern counterpart, mainly because it is much closer to Scarborough’s town centre and features a lot of its tourist attractions and accommodation. I worked my way through the crowds and was able to get on to South Bay’s glorious beach. I have a vivid memory of playing on these sands as a wee child when I last visited Scarborough in 1993.
I only had a short stay on the beach before I made my way across the road to the cliff railway. The Central Tramway, which opened in 1881 is actually one of five cliff railways that have existed in Scarborough since Victorian times. There are currently two open – the Central Tramway and the South Cliff Lift (located a little further along the coast at Scarborough Spa) which opened in 1873 and was Britain’s first funicular railway. Another cliff railway, the St Nicholas Cliff Lift (located on the southern side of the Grand Hotel) is still in place, however it has been shut since 2007 as Scarborough Council couldn’t afford the £445,000 needed to bring the railway up to modern health and safety standards.
Paying my 90p fare I boarded the “tram” along with a number of other trippers and made the short journey to the top where I had a look around Scarborough town centre before catching the X93 back to Middlesbrough. It was nice to visit Scarborough, and you can see why it is popular with tourists – with the town being a popular holiday destination since the 17th century when the medieval port became a spa town. A Mrs Farrer discovered a iron-laden spring at the bottom of the cliffs and soon people from over the county came to drink from the spa’s waters believing that it would cure them from all sorts of ailments. A century later, sea bathing became a fashionable activity, with people believing that it would be good for their health and so many wealthy people came to Scarborough bringing new hotels, public gardens and theatres to the already thriving town. During the 20th century Scarborough became popular with the working classes and it remains popular with people from all walks of life.
On the journey home I reflected on the weekend’s walking. It had been a long and tiring journey down from Robin Hood’s Bay but it was certainly worth it for the gorgeous scenery. Also it had been my visit to Scarborough for 23 years and I was certainly hoping I wouldn’t have to wait another 23 years until my next trip there. Next up in 2017 I was aiming to finish off the remainder of the Northumberland coast from Bamburgh (where I had finished off last time) to Berwick-upon-Tweed near the Scottish border. From there I needed to make a decision whether to continue into Scotland or come back to Scarborough and continue southwards to Bridlington and beyond. You’ll see what decision I made in my next post. Happy reading!
Robin Hood’s Bay
Peak Alum Works