First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A cold, cloudy day on the coast of North Yorkshire as we went down a twisty street between the closely packed houses of Staithes. The fishing village where in the 1740s young James Cook began to dream of running away to sea is a tumble of red roofed houses and steep little laneways.
A couple of cobles – local fishing boats with pointed prow and stern, Norse style – lay in the low-tide mud of Staithes harbour, a scoop of defensive walls facing the North Sea between dramatically striated cliffs with razor edge profiles.
From the cliffs above, we got a wonderful view over the many-coloured houses of the village and the rugged coast marching away north-west towards the distant giant’s geometry of industrial Teesside.
The massive buildings of Boulby mine, just inland of Staithes and still extracting rock salt and natural fertilisers, stood witness to the mineral riches that have been dug for centuries from these varicoloured cliffs – alum, potash, coal, jet and iron ore.
Below the cliffs, wide rock pavements ran out seaward, the sea roaring softly at their outer extremities. Fulmars and rock pigeons swooped with the thermals. Bands of ironstone and smeary greys of mudstone lined the cliffs, the harder ironstone outcropping in sharp-featured knobbles and crags.
At Port Mulgrave a steep path led downhill from the line of clifftop houses as far as a seat. The landslips of this unstable coast have destroyed the former hair-raising descent by ladder and rope down the lower half of the cliff. On the dark rocky shore below, a famous fossil-hunting spot, three or four cobles lay on the scars beyond a line of home-built fishermen’s huts. The crumbly cliffs stood guard all round, walling off this little world apart where a great ironstone mine once fed the blast furnaces of Teesside.
Past a terrace of former miners’ cottages with outside privy sheds, and out beyond Hinderwell across deep little stream gorges in dense woodland of sycamore and hazel. A nuthatch with a slate-blue back, buff waistcoat and dashing black eye stripe scuttled head nethermost down an oak trunk, searching the bark for insects. We topped out of the woods and crossed sheep pastures corrugated with medieval ridge-and-furrow, heading north towards Staithes where a pale blue sky hung over the invisible sea.
How hard is it? 5½ miles; strenuous in parts, steep woodland valleys
Start: Staithes car park, Staithes TS13 5AD (OS ref NZ 782185)
Getting there: Bus X4 (Middlesbrough-Whitby)
Road – Staithes is signed off A174 (Guisborough-Whitby)
Walk (OS Explorer OL27): Follow ‘Footpath to village.’ At harbour, right up Church Street; follow Cleveland Way/CW for 1¼ miles to Port Mulgrave (Optional detour – by first houses/796177, fingerpost points left down steep path to seat and viewpoint over shore. Return same way). In 200m, right/inland off CW (799175). At churchyard, left to cross A174 at Hinderwell (791169). Ahead down close; ahead up laneway; right along terrace. Follow alleyway, then footpath (fingerpost, yellow arrows/YA) across fields into woodland (785167). Down to cross Dales Beck. Keep same direction up, over and down to cross Borrowby Dale (781166). At foot of steps, right up woodland path to gate (781167). Half right across field; right (YA) past Plum Tree House (780171). On (YAs) across fields. At ‘Borrowby’ fingerpost cross 2 stiles (779175); follow right-hand hedge down to cross Dales Beck (780176). Right (‘Staithes’) up bank, past Seaton Hall to A174 (782180). Left to roundabout; right into Staithes.
Lunch: Cod & Lobster Inn, High Street, Staithes TS13 5BH (01947-840330, codandlobster.co.uk)
Accommodation: Captain Cook Inn, Staithes Lane, Staithes TS13 5AD (01947-840200, captaincookinn.co.uk)
Info: Whitby TIC (01723-383636); yorkshire.com