The sound of the waves, the fresh air and the views out onto the seemingly endless horizon – it’s all wonderful. The great thing about living in the UK is that being a relatively small island, you are never really that far from the coast. Growing up in a coastal area I never really appreciated it, but now any opportunity to get out for a walk on the coast feels like a special treat.
We are not short of dramatic coastal scenery in the UK. From the cliffs of Dover to the golden beaches of Cornwall, the rugged coastline of Pembrokeshire in Wales to the craggy wilderness of the Scottish Highlands, whichever direction you head will ultimately reward you with some amazing scenery.
We recently spent some time visiting family in the North East of England – Cleveland and North Yorkshire to be precise. An area rich with industrial heritage – mining, steel production and textiles to name a few things, but there is also a beautiful and dramatic landscape. The North York Moors National Park covers an area of 554 square miles, while the rolling hills and valleys of the Yorkshire Dales bring the tourists flocking in to sample the picturesque villages and hiking trails.
One of those hiking trails is the Cleveland Way National Trail, a 109 mile trail which takes in views of beautiful heather moorlands, before reaching the coast and taking a dramatic route along some of the highest coastal cliffs in the country.
This is the point where I hold my hand up and admit that I haven’t walked the Cleveland Way, but I have sampled some of the coastal sections which is what I’m going to take closer look at here. From seaside towns to quaint fishing villages, I hope my photos will encourage you to get in the car (or take a train) and head to this beautiful area. We are going to take a look at the seaside town of Whitby, the quaint fishing village of Robin Hood’s Bay and the seaside town & surfers playground of Saltburn-by-the-Sea.
Let’s start off with Whitby then shall we. As one of the top seaside resorts on North East England’s coast, Whitby is famed for its fish and chips, blue flag beaches, a big old ruined Abbey at the top of the hill, and a load of goths (we’ll get into this a little bit later). Basically, it has a little bit of something for everyone, goths in particular.
We parked up along the North Promenade cliff top and headed towards the town. We’d arrived in the morning when the coastal mist that had been hanging over the town was lifting. One of the first sights that greeted me was a very tall man in a long black trenchcoat and a large top hat. Okaaaay. The second sight was that of the 20 foot Whale Bone Arch which acts as something of a gateway and vista point of the town down below, with the Abbey standing proud on the opposite side of the town.
The pathway from the Whale Bone Arch heads down into the main centre of the town and harbour. This is probably a good time to mention that Whitby is a town of ups and downs. With cliffs to the West and East flanking the harbour area and town centre, if your going to want to explore properly then be prepared for some steep pathways and steps. Lots of steps.
Walking along the harbour side roads, the ‘typical seaside resort’ element of the town becomes evident. Cafes, fish and chip shops, shops selling beach accessories and amusement arcades are in abundance. But that’s okay, because coupled with the fact that the harbour area is just gorgeous, it balances out.
Crossing the bridge at the harbour will take you across to the east side of the town, with a collection of narrow cobbled streets, boutique shops, further cafes and more pubs as you would rightly expect. There are some really quaint and quirky buildings, so it’s a lovely place to wander. We, however, had one thing in mind. The Abbey. Which was at the top of the East cliff.
Church Street leading into Church Lane will bring you to a set of steps – The 199 Steps. These steps are something of a tourist attraction in themselves in Whitby, and tourists are keen to make the climb to the top which leads to the churchyard and Church of Saint Mary.
Tiring as it was, I lost count of the number of steps along the way, so I am going to believe the fact there are 199 Steps (were you aware of this yet?). Once we arrived at the top and I finally caught my breath, I was very glad to see that the views back across the town were phenomenal and definitely worth the climb.
Wandering up through the church yard, I caught sight of many people wearing heavy dark clothes (in the bright warm sunshine), wandering through and studying the gravestones. A pale lady walked past me wearing white lace gloves, carrying a lace parasol to protect her delicate skin from the rays of the spring sunshine beating down.
Right. Okay. What is all this about? I questioned my partner – a relative local to these parts.
“What’s the story with all the goths then?”
“Dracula, innit. Whitby is the Goth capital of Britain.”
“?” *puzzled face*
I probably should have done some research about this beforehand, but is turns out that Whitby is indeed the Goth Capital of the UK. Twice a year the Whitby Goth Weekend is held in the town and we had only bloody planned our trip at the start of one of those weekends. Everything slotted into place now and it all made sense!
‘What’s the story with Dracula then?”
Well, my readers, it turns out that Bram Stoker visited Whitby in 1890 and the town became the inspiration for the character and is the seaside town where Dracula arrived to the UK on a boat from Transylvania to wreak havoc. I should really start reading more.
Now that’s out of the way, behind the church lies the magnificent ruin of Whitby Abbey, perched high on the cliff overlooking the town.
Quick history bit before we get to the photos. The first monastery here was founded in the year 657, but the Benedictine Abbey that we see the ruins of today was founded in the 13th century. The grandeur of the building is still evident today despite extensive damage to the building over the years during wars and from weather erosion. It still dominates the skyline.
The site is now looked after by the English Heritage and admission is currently £7.90 for adults. There is a visitor centre, museum, exhibition space and a cafe next door (not English Heritage owned).
Once we were done at the Abbey, we took the steps back down into town, wandered back across the bridge and took in our final sights of the day at the West Pier. There are two piers which form a protective barrier from the sea into the River Esk harbour, both of which have old lighthouses. The curve of the piers offer some great opportunities to grab some cool photos.
You can’t leave Whitby without having fish and chips. It’s a seaside tradition that can’t be missed. The town is famed for it’s fish and chips restaurants. People will line up and queue on the steps of the Magpie Cafe to get their hands on this seaside speciality. We chose not to due to the long wait and opted for Trenchers Restaurant instead. I can confirm the fish and chips were really, really good! I would imagine that Whitby could get very busy during the summer, but visiting slightly out of season was a lovely day out.
With such a charming name, I had big expectations for Robin Hood’s Bay, a quiet little fishing village about 7 miles down the coast from Whitby. For me, it conjures up images of sailors, smugglers and sea shanties and I wasn’t disappointed.
So, we didn’t walk there along the Cleveland Way, but instead we took the car. The thing you learn quite quickly when driving along this stretch of coast, is that the main roads run high along the cliff tops away from the coastline, and then drop down into all of small towns and villages. Inevitably, you can guess what this means for the unsuspecting visitor. Hills. Steep hills.
The village is separated into two parts – the Upper Bay and Lower Bay. The main parking areas are within the Upper Bay area, which involves a lovely meander down the hill to the Lower Bay. Rather than walking down the main road, we chose to take a section of the coastal pathway, to show willing, and it was lovely. There were lovely views across the bay, past fishing boats and stacks of lobster cages before we arrived onto the beach and had to wade through piles of seaweed and rock pools to get to the centre of the village. Bad planning. Thankfully the tide had been out a while, so our feet remained dry!
There is a large expanse of beach for such a small village, with plenty of sandy areas as well as lots of rock pools – great for the kids to explore, and the adults too – I’m always on the look out for crabs on the beach but we only found one dead one!
Once we arrived at the centre of the beach, the view up the causeway, with the ‘Smugglers Tunnel’ off to the left was the perfect image of the village that I had imagined in my head. Cobbles on the ground, fishing boats and beautiful old buildings sitting high above the beach. A perfect scene. I was intrigued watching an artist painting the scene in front of him – he did a great job too.
Heading up from the beach, the Lower Bay section of the village is truly beautiful. A rabbit warren of narrow twisting streets, holidays cottages, shops, pubs and cafes.
There is a National Trust property at the mouth of the causeway – The Old Coastguard Station, which has a lovely nautical exhibition and some interactive things for the kids to do, as well as a little shop. It’s definitely worth stopping in.
Walking around the hilly streets, we found narrow alleyways to explore, more steps (of course) leading up to small flowerpot filled courtyards, with whitewashed houses and cottages in every direction. There were beautiful little cafes nestled under stairways, and a charming little alleyway called Jim Bell’s Stile leading up to the church with a lovely grassy courtyard with views out to the sea.
Being in a higher location in the village provided a good view across all of the buildings and rooftops, most of which were uniformed terracotta tiles – they really reminded of some Italian villages I have visited.
After wandering around pretty much every street and alleyway of the village we wandered back towards the beach, where a small crowd had gathered to be greeted by three local men singing a collection of sea shanties outside The Bay Inn. So charming, and exactly what I had hoped for. We threw some cash into the collection for the local lifeboat organisation and decided it was time for a bite to eat, before making our way up the hill and out of town.
We found a great lunch spot. I say found, it was actually right in front of us – Tea, Toast & Post, a charming licensed and dog friendly cafe in the heart of the village and located in the the old Post Office building. It was bustling with tourists and lots of walkers taking a break from their hikes.
Having filled our bellies with a lovely lunch, it was time to wander back up the hill to the car park and move on to our next location.
I’d love to visit Robin Hood’s Bay again, maybe to stay over in one of the lovely little holiday cottages and spend some time in the pubs on a chilly winter’s evening with a roaring fire and the locals singing shanties – this is how I imagine it would be anyway.
We spend a lot of time at Saltburn-by-the-Sea, it where my in-laws live so we often make the journey up there. It’s a bustling little town full of independent shops and cafes, and also another busy seaside town. It has a fairly heavy focus on surfing, with surf shops and surf schools. There are impressive waves, which create some amazing and dramatic scenery.
Located about 20 miles north of Whitby, you could walk along the Cleveland Way and be there in about 6.5 hours, alternatively you can drive or take the train. There is plenty of parking, either in the town centre, along the cliff top, or alternatively down the hill near the beach. There is a lovely pier and a funicular cliff lift.
The beach is vast and sandy when the tide is out, it’s great for running, walking, building sandcastles and horse riding.
To the east end of the beach, tucked behind a lovely beachfront pub called The Ship Inn, are a set of steps that lead up to the cliff tops – this is a section of the Cleveland Way that I have walked a few times. This spot provides a stunning view back across to the town, the pier and the industrial but interesting backdrop of the redundant Redcar Steelworks.
We had some great weather on our most recent trip and had dinner with family booked in the The Ship on our second evening, so I asked to be dropped off at the beach an hour early to catch the golden hour from the cliff top. There are always those moments as a photographer that you think ‘I wish I had my camera to capture this moment’, and then it has passed. Well, this time I was prepared. I had watched the sunset from the house the night before, and thought if the weather was clear I would get out and capture it the following night, and I am so glad I did.
The views of the sunset over the town were stunning, I patiently wandered along the pathway trying to find the best spot as the sun dropped behind the buildings, clock watching to make sure I wouldn’t be late for dinner.
The views out to sea were also beautiful, the orange and pink hues of the skies to the north as the sun was setting was lovely.
Once the sun had vanished from the horizon, it was time to head back down to the beach and catch some of the final light from down there. The tide was in, the surfers were out catching the last few waves of the day and the setting was just glorious.
The atmosphere was magical. The colour of the skies during the sunset blew me away. To stand at the coast taking in the sea air, listening to the waves crashing onto the beach is what I think life is all about sometimes. We get too bogged down in the trials and tribulations of our day to day lives, and sometimes, when we can escape and look out onto the horizon, while watching and listening to the power of nature – that’s what it’s all about. The other stuff seems irrelevant in those moments…
Crikey, that was a bit deep.
Anyway, once darkness had fallen I met up with the family and we had a lovely dinner and a few pints at the bustling Ship Inn. It was all very nice.
So there we are. Three lovely spots on the North East coast of England that I can recommend to visit, if you happen to be planning a trip to the area. Going back to my opening paragraphs where I speak about the industrial heritage of the North East, this area has a lost a huge amount of it’s industry over the past few years. The steelworks in Redcar and many other large businesses have closed – businesses where generations of families have worked over the years – the heart and soul of the area gone. But the beauty of the area and the people still survives. I’m a big fan of industrial landscapes – I think the juxtaposition between the beauty of nature and of man made industrial structures is really interesting, but it would be really nice to steam rising from these works again, don’t you think?