The crisp, cold air of winter with the sun hanging low in the clear evening sky. Very few sounds apart from waves lapping gently on the beach, a single fishing boat chugging it’s way along the shore and the distant hum of conversation and laughter coming from a nearby pub. Sometimes, evenings are made for a solitary walk. Taking time for yourself, to lose yourself in your thoughts and soak up your surroundings. That’s exactly what I did one evening, when I saw a potentially beautiful sunset while staying at my mother-in-law’s house. I seized the opportunity to jump in the car and take a 15 minute drive to the sleepy fishing village of Staithes in North Yorkshire.
Halfway between Saltburn-by-the-Sea and Whitby, Staithes is a pretty little fishing village on the North Yorkshire Coast. In an area of rich maritime heritage, this section of coastline is dotted with numerous fishing villages and harbour towns, all vying for the attention of passing travellers. With Saltburn’s long expanse of beach to the North, popular with surfers due to the excellent swells, or Whitby to the South with it’s imposing Abbey perched high on the cliff top, it’s easy to miss some of the smaller villages. So, when you’re heading down the A174 along the North Yorkshire Coast, be sure to take a detour to Staithes to soak up the charm of this beautiful little village. It’s worth it.
Like many of the fishing towns and villages of this stretch of coast, even a simple short walk will involve some steep hills. The starting point of a walk around Staithes begins at the car park at the top of the bank. You’ll find the parking area at a right turn just past the Captain Cook Inn. Parking is free between November and February, but charges apply during the day at other times.
On the subject of Captain Cook, did you know that the 18th century explorer, Captain James Cook, was born in this part of North Yorkshire? At the age of sixteen he spent 18 months living and working in Staithes, where it is thought that he found a love of the sea.
Heading down the hill from the car park, I followed Staithes Lane which merged into High Street. Past the Staithes and Captain Cook Heritage Centre I continued along High Street until it levelled out at the location of the Staithes Gallery. The gallery is housed in a beautiful building in the centre of the village and features the best contemporary artwork inspired by the area . At this point, with sun reflecting brightly off the red tiled rooftops, I took a left turn into a narrow alley. A short walk down the alleyway brought me out onto a pedestrian bridge across the Staithes Beck – a brook that runs into the harbour. This is where you get your first glimpse of the cliff faces that flank the harbour, glowing brightly in the evening sun.
Seagulls screeching overhead, there was no time to stop. I suddenly felt the shadows of evening creeping over me, and I had barely started to explore this gorgeous little place. I crossed the bridge, turned left and headed up the steep Cowbar Bank. The Bank provided excellent views across Staithes Beck back towards High Street, smoke gently rising from the higgledy-piggledy rooftops in the chilly winter air. The sun hanging low above the distant North Yorkshire Moors, creating a golden glow across the countryside, I continued up the hill and took a left turn along a pathway which took me up some steps to the perfect vantage point, at the perfect moment. A raised platform, high above Staithes Beck, with views out to the coast and the entire harbour area, the cliff face and rooftops bathed in a red glow. It was a beautiful sight.
Heading back down Cowbar Bank (it’s almost more difficult walking down steep hills, than up them don’t you think?), I turned to capture a shot upstream as the sun was disappearing below the horizon. The Beck was still, the traditional fishing boats known as ‘coble’ moored in the calm waters, ready for the fishermen to head out again on their next journeys.
To the left of Staithes Beck (facing towards the sea), a narrow pathway follows the edge of the water until it reaches the harbour. I wandered past the RNLI lifeboat station before arriving at the edge of the cliff. Seagulls were perched high on the ancient cliff face, basking in the last moments of sunshine. The cliff face was actually alive with seabirds heading in to roost. From this location, you could see across the water to the main beach and harbour area. Lobster pots were stacked up along the harbour’s edge, ready for another early morning trip out to sea no doubt. The sounds of laughter travelled across the water from the conveniently named Cod and Lobster pub.
I carried on around the edge of the cliff to arrive at the main breakwater, sheltering the small harbour from the power of the North Sea. The water was reasonably calm, apart from the waves created by a solitary fishing boat heading out to sea, chased by a flock of seagulls hungry for their free meals. Walking along the breakwater, with the sky now turning pastel shades of peach and purple, I got to see some awesome views of the surrounding cliffs along the North Yorkshire Coast, and a glimpse of the now redundant Redcar steelworks in the distance.
Before losing the final rays of sunshine sinking down behind the moors, I retraced my steps and back over Staithes Beck, arriving at Staithes Gallery. From here, taking a left turn along High Street, I wandered down the winding cobbled street. Passing quaint tea rooms and restaurants, several gorgeous cottages painted in bright shades, I turned the corner and arrived at the Cod and Lobster. It would have been rude not to stop in, especially as the pub sounded lively and vibrant. On the harbourside and next to a slipway into the water, the pub was cosy with a roaring log fire and a menu consisting of typical pub fare including many seafood dishes, as expected. I purchased an alcohol free larger and took a seat on the outside deck and soaked up the views out to sea.
Beer finished, I took a walk down to the small sandy beach in the sheltered harbour area. The contrast of the lapping waves on the beach versus the more powerful waves out to sea beyond the breakwater was amazing. The geology of the area means that Staithes is a great place for fossil hunting. Ammonites are a fairly common fossil to be found in Staithes, for all those fossil hunters among you. For me, I took a stroll across the sand, avoiding the sea weed and watching the waves lapping and the seabirds bobbing in the water. The silhouette of a polar bear on the breakwater, against the peachy sky caught my attention. It was a really beautiful scene.
Wandering back along High Street, I chose to make a final detour back across to the breakwater to capture the final moments of light across the town. A wonderful view of a sky glowing yellow over the village, smoke rising from the chimney pots and the silhouette of a solitary seagull perched up on the jagged cliff face. I really fell in love with Staithes a little bit that evening and long to return for an overnight stay in one of those cosy little cottages overlooking the harbour.
I’ve spent a lot of time exploring this area, having family living locally. Being a coastal boy myself, it’s always nice to spend time at the seaside. The towns and villages on the Yorkshire Coast are full of charm and character. I am filled with images of pirates and smugglers running around the winding cobbled streets and alleyways whenever I visit.
Take a look at my article on three other local towns – Saltburn-by-the-Sea, Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay here.
For more information about places to stay in the area, click here.
Have you ever visited Staithes or the North Yorkshire Coast?
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