START: Scarborough, North Yorkshire
FINISH: Filey, North Yorkshire
DISTANCE: 9.6 miles (Total – 319.6 miles)
APPROXIMATE TIME: 4 hours
MAPS: OS Explorer 301
ACCOMMODATION: The Almar Guest House, Scarborough
Even though it is only about an hour-and-a-half’s drive from where I live, Scarborough has always been one of those places where I keep meaning to visit but never actually get round to it. Instead I tend to go to the likes of Whitby and Saltburn which are much closer to home. I had been meaning to return to Scarborough ever since I had walked there down the coast from Robin Hood’s Bay in October 2016 (see Coastwalk #14) and so decided to book myself in the resort for an extended weekend the following October. The aim was to walk some more of the Yorkshire coast, hopefully as far as Bridlington in East Yorkshire. I had stayed in Bronte’s Guest House the last time I was in Scarborough, however the owners seemed to have sold up and moved on since I had been there (I hope I wasn’t the cause of them moving!) so instead I booked myself in the fantastic The Almar Guest House, a little further down the road.
The plan for my extended weekend on the Yorkshire coast was to get the X93 bus down to Scarborough on the morning of the first day, check in to my accommodation and then head along the Cleveland Way to Filey. Day two would then involve getting the bus to Filey, heading along the chalk cliff tops to Flamborough North Landing, followed on the third day by returning to Flamborough and walking the few miles around Flamborough Head and into Bridlington.
On my arrival in Scarborough it was very overcast and also a little chilly. For some reason I’d been expecting tropical weather and so had arrived in a t-shirt and jeans with a thin hoodie top. I headed down to the B&B, checked myself in, got some more appropriate clothing and then walked back into the centre whilst making a beeline for the Central Tramway. I had used the funicular railway, which has been carrying passengers up and down from the beach to the town since 1881, the last time I was in Scarborough to get myself back into town without having to use my legs to climb up the hill. Basically I was taking the lazy option. This time though I was heading the other way down to the beach where I was starting today’s walk.
Even though it was a weekday there were a good number of people about walking up and down the seafront. There weren’t too many people on the beach, mainly because the tide was in and they would have drowned otherwise. I headed below the brooding facade of the Grand Hotel (right), the largest hotel in Europe when it was opened in 1867 to accommodate the growing numbers of tourists to this burgeoning Victorian resort.
Following the Cleveland Way, I headed along the seafront, soon coming to the Scarborough Spa. The Spa takes its name from the original Spa House that was built on the site in the 17th century. Spa waters had been discovered at the site by Thomasin Ferrer, the wife of one of Scarborough’s leading citizens at the time. The waters were said to cure ailments and soon thousands flocked to Scarborough to sample the waters. New stylish buildings were built in the 1800’s, replacing the ramshackle wooden structures that had been built to accommodate the growing numbers of tourists. These grand buildings came with a concert hall, a garden and a promenade, along with a cliff railway which still exists to transport people to and from the Spa. A new Grand Hall was opened in 1880 following a fire which destroyed the old one, and this building was the one I passed on the walk. Nowadays the Spa is an entertainment venue rather than a place where people come to sample the healing waters. This practice stopped in the late 1960’s and modern Health and Safety legislation presents tourists from sampling the waters, although the well where the water comes from still exists.
Leaving the Spa behind, I continued to follow the Cleveland Way along a promenade, passing by some beach huts off to my right. The crowds were thinning out now, and I only passed a couple of people on this stretch of the walk. A little further on I crossed a small beach before heading up a set of steps and then along a gravel path which headed up the side of the hill. I was crossing a piece of land which didn’t look like very much but back in the summer of 1993 became the centre of worldwide attention. Why? Well standing on the hill above me twenty-four years previously would have been a large four star hotel (called Holbeck Hall Hotel) which was popular with tourists. Throughout the summer of 1993 cracks had been appearing in the hotel’s walls and also in the hotel’s garden, however it wasn’t until the night of the 3rd June following a night of heavy rain that disaster occurred. A rotational landslide spilled a million tonnes of material into the North Sea leaving the hotel dangling on the cliff edge. Guests staying in the hotel overnight went to bed about 70 metres or more away from the cliff edge but woke up to find themselves only 15 metres away.
Unsurprisingly the hotel was evacuated and over the next couple of days the hotel continued to collapse into the sea bit by bit under the glare of local, then national and finally international media attention. 48 hours after the first landslip the hotel was completely gone. As I climbed up the hill (below) I looked back down to where the landslip occurred and it would be hard to imagine that such an event took place. Since 1993 the area has been completely landscaped over and all traces of the landslip have disappeared. A video about the collapse can be found here.
At the top of the hill I had a quick break just to get my breath back, before heading along through an attractive wooded section of the Cleveland Way along the clifftops. There were stunning views behind me of Scarborough, with the town’s magnificent castle perched on its rocky headland. A little further on the coastal footpath headed around the edge of a golf course. There were further stunning views down the coast, with the sea looking quite tranquil. I was able to get a glimpse of Cayton Bay (below).
At the other side of the golf course, the path descended down a set of steps into a steep wooded ravine. A trackway headed down to the sea, however my route was uphill towards a small car park. Just before the car park the Cleveland Way continued on to my left, skirting along the edge of a large field until reaching a line of houses. I followed the path as it took a sharp right turn alongside the houses until it reached the main road going through the village of Osgodby.
CAYTON BAY & ‘GRISTHORPE MAN’
My stay in Osgodby was short and it wasn’t long before the Cleveland Way had me veering down a set of steep stairs into more woodland. This was a really nice stretch of the walk amongst the trees, resplendent in their autumnal colours. As the wind was starting to pick up, every gust of wind was bringing a fresh volley of golden leaves cascading to the ground. A little later I came out of the wood and got my first good view of the golden sands of Cayton Bay.
The Cleveland Way continued along the clifftops for a short while before climbing up a set of steps to reach the top of Osgbody Hill. Being out of breath when I got to the top I had a quick breather just to make sure I wasn’t going to keel over through lack of oxygen. Thankfully I was able to get my breath back so I continued along the coastal footpath as it decided to mock me by heading downhill once again knowing fine well it would have to rise up later on. I crossed over a road which lead down to the bay. I decided not to go down as I knew I would only have to come back up again, so I continued on a little distance and took a lunch break on a bench overlooking the bay.
There were a few people on the beach, many of whom could have been from the large holiday park nearby. Cayton Bay has been popular with holidaymakers ever since the first rudimentary camp site went up in the early 20th century near the cliff edge. This early camp consisted of tents, caravans and chalets made up of old railway carriages. Later on in the 20th century a much larger holiday camp was built away from the cliff edge, with much better facilities for holidaymakers.
My lunch break over, I continued to follow the path as it climbed upwards at the other side of the bay. The view at the top was fantastic, further highlighting the beautiful scenery along the Yorkshire coast (below). Scarborough could just about be made out in the distance.
Heading around Red Cliff Point I came across another bay, this time at Gristhorpe Sands (below). It was here that I got a little spooked by a wailing noise that seemed to come up from the rocks below the cliffs. I wasn’t sure if it was the wind (which had started to whip up at this point), the seagulls that were swooping low over the rocks, or if it was the cries of a stranded person desperately calling for help. I scanned the rocks below for a couple of minutes but couldn’t really see anything so I decided to head on. I kept looking back as the wailing noise repeated over and over again but still couldn’t see anything. I assumed the noise was just a weird combination of the wind and the seagulls which was resonating off the cliffs.
It was on these cliffs in the 19th century that a major archaeological find was uncovered. On the 10th July 1834 local landowner, William Beswick, set out with some friends to investigate a barrow on the clifftop at Gristhorpe. Just over two metres down they found a massive oak log which had been preserved in the waterlogged conditions. The men returned a day later, this time with a windlass to raise the log. Whilst they were raising the log from its grave it split revealing that not only was it hollow but it also contained a perfectly preserved skeleton, wrapped in an animal skin and accompanied by a range of goods including a bronze dagger blade. William Beswick donated the skeleton and associated finds to the Scarborough Philosophical Society Museum where it has been on display ever since.
One question that wasn’t answered until recently was “who was the Gristhorpe Man?” In 2006 a team of archaeologists at Bradford University examined the body whilst the museum in Scarborough was being renovated. The team concluded that the man was a high-status individual from the Bronze Age, possibly even a tribal chieftain who had died around 4000 years ago.
I’m guessing things have changed a lot since ‘Gristhorpe Man’ ruled these lands. The coastal path climbed a little higher and headed along the edge of a holiday park (definitely not Bronze Age!), with a number of caravans overlooking the sea. I bet the owners paid a good amount of money to get a seaside view as good as the one they had, although they may have been getting a bit nervous on the day as I was there as the wind was getting strong enough to rock the caravans a little.
Leaving the swaying caravans behind, the Cleveland Way continued further along the clifftops. I could start to see Filey off to my right as I headed along Newbiggin Cliff and then North Cliff (above). As I was walking I noticed a fighter jet swooping low over the town before heading out to sea. The roar of the plane’s jets shattered the peace and quiet and made me jump a little. It wasn’t too long before I reached the start of Filey Brigg.
The ‘Brigg’ is a long thin strip of land which pokes out into the North Sea about a mile to the north of the town it is named after. The Cleveland Way finishes at the landward side of the Brigg (called Carr Naze, the seaward end is called the Brigg) and is marked by a stone sculpture (below) and a sign pointing towards Helmsley, which lies at the other end of the Cleveland Way some 109 miles away.
The coastal path continued away from Filey Brigg towards the town, however I wanted to take a bit of time to follow the well-worn path that led to the seaward tip of the Brigg. There was a fantastic view across Filey Bay and I could clearly see the chalk cliffs of Flamborough Head which I would walk along on the following day. A little way along the Brigg I came to an interpretation panel which talked about the history of a Roman signalling station which existed here in the late 4th century AD just before the Romans abandoned Britain in 410AD. The signalling station on Filey Brigg was the southernmost of five on the Yorkshire coast which were put in place as a defense against sea-borne invaders who frequently raided the coast at this point in history. When the small garrison of Roman soldiers stationed here spotted an enemy ship, they would light the beacon at the top of the station’s tower which would alert the other signalling stations further up the coast so that evasive action could be taken.
Archaeological digs in 1857 uncovered a large amount of stonework, some of which was removed from the site and placed in Crescent Gardens in Filey. Further excavations took place in 1927 and again in 1993-94 which uncovered more finds including Roman coins and the remains of a 3ft high bronze statue of the Roman god Mercury. Unfortunately, a recent landslide has caused two-thirds of the remains of the station to slip over the edge into the North Sea.
I continued along the Brigg soon coming to a fence which blocked the way to the tip of the peninsula. I peeked out towards the rocky formations of Spittal Rocks which poked out into the sea (above). According to local legend the rocks are the bones of a great dragon which terrorized the area, but was then outsmarted by the townsfolk of Filey who drowned it when it dived into the sea to wash a cake from between its teeth!
I could see someone walking along the rocks (they mustn’t have been aware of the dragon!) so assumed they must be some way to get down there. I headed back the way I had come and came to a set of steps cut into the side of the Brigg which looked as if they went down to the beach. I decided to head down hoping I would be able to walk below the Brigg along the beach so I could get to Filey that way. Fortunately I could. At the bottom was the remains of a concrete pathway (left) which led alongside the bottom of the Brig towards Filey. Parts of the pathway had either eroded into the sea or had been covered by rockfall. I followed the pathway underneath the looming sandstone cliffs of the Brigg. The concrete path came to an abrupt halt at the eastern end of Filey beach. From there it was a short walk along the sands to a slipway which led up onto Filey’s promenade.
Filey had been a quiet fishing village until the 19th century when the first tourists arrived seeking peace and quiet which the growing holiday resort of nearby Scarborough couldn’t provide. In 1835 a solicitor, John Wilkes Unett, purchased several acres of land in Filey and built The Crescent, a row of fine terraced houses which became one of the most fashionable streets in Northern England. Within a few years, the railway had arrived along with a luxurious hotel on The Crescent. Tourists came in their droves for the next several decades, especially when a Butlins holiday camp was opened near the town in 1945, complete with its own railway station. Sadly, the camp closed in 1984, unable to compete with the British public’s changing holiday tastes..
Filey is still going strong, however, thanks to the one key resource that first brought tourists to the town in the 19th century – its peace and quiet. Whilst I was in Filey it seemed to me to be much more relaxed than the hustle and bustle of Scarborough. I know I was visiting on a weekday in October and so I wouldn’t have seen what Filey is like at the height of the tourist season, but I can still imagine it to be a pleasant place even when the crowds are here.
I finished my day’s walk off about halfway along the promenade. Taking one last look at the beach I headed up into the town looking for somewhere to have my tea. Fortunately I found a handy chip shop just at the top of the hill and I wolfed down some fish and chips before continuing on to the bus stop to catch the bus back to Scarborough. All in all it had been a pleasant walk along the clifftops. It was a nice end to the Cleveland Way which I had been following all the way from Saltburn in Teesside. I had also got a glimpse of the chalk cliffs of Flamborough and I was really looking forward to the next day’s walk which would take me from Filey along the cliffs to Flamborough North Landing. It promised to be an excellent walk!
Cayton Bay & ‘Gristhorpe Man’