First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Robin Hood’s Bay is one of those coastal villages so intrinsically beautiful and full of character that it draws you back again and again. Mazy laneways tangle on either side of the precipitous main street. Cobbled or flagged, twisting and turning, plunging from one level to another by worn stone stairs, wriggling between tiny gardens, climbing and falling, framing views of sea and cliff under cooked archways – Fisherhead, Sunny Place and Bakehouse Steps, they seduced me into lingering long after I should have been away.
The tide had slipped in to cover the great scars or eroded rock layers that floor the bay in extravagant arcs. I turned my back on the red pantiled roofs of Robin Hood’s Bay at last and set out along the cliffs with a good stiff north-westerly breeze in my face. I hadn’t walked this stretch of the North Yorkshire coast in years, but I well remembered the jagged out-thrust of the headlands with their horizontal bands of mineral-bearing rock, and the black boulders that carpeted the tiny bays.
The map names held magic – Craze Naze and Clock Case Nab, Pursglove Stye Batts and Maw Wyke Hole. Angular names for angular places, where men wriggled into the most awkward of holes to win the fossilised wood which, properly shaped and polished, transformed itself into Whitby jet. A hard job for hard times – but as they told over-romantic visitors lamenting the mining scars, ‘You can’t eat scenery!’
The sun came through the mackerel sky and shone a silver shaft as thick as a searchlight beam on the sea where lobster pot buoys and flags were bobbing. A jaunty gang of jackdaws went chakkering off inland. Fulmars rode the thermals along the cliffs with upturned tails and slender wings stiffened at right angles to their bodies. I marvelled yet again at these seabirds’ precision of flight, every movement economical and as graceful as a dancer’s.
I passed the stubby white lighthouse on Whitestone Point and skirted Saltwick Bay with its fast-eroding sea stacks and gull-dotted rock pavements. The black skeleton of Whitby Abbey stood ahead on its cliff, forever haunted by the ghastly shade of Count Dracula – one of many scenes in his horror novel Dracula that Bram Stoker set in Whitby, to the delight of today’s nation of Goths who hang whey-faced around the town.
A wildly steep cobbled alley precipitated me from the abbey down to Whitby harbour. The town where Captain Cook learned his sea trade was under attack by jovial pretend pirates today, one of Whitby’s frequent festivals of fun. I dodged Bluebeard and Blackbeard and Short John Silver, and went off to find a fish pie with a nice sea view.
Start: Upper car park, Station Road, Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire YO22 4RE (OS ref NZ 949055)
Getting there: Bus 93, Whitby-Scarborough
Road: Robin Hood’s Bay (B1447) is signed from A171 Whitby-Scarborough road at Hawsker.
Walk (7 miles, easy/moderate, OS Explorer OL27. NB: online map, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): Right along B1447 towards village; on right bend, left along Mount Pleasant North (951055, ‘Cleveland Way’). From here, follow well-waymarked Cleveland Way to Whitby. Return by Bus 93, or taxi from Whitby railway station (£10-£15).
Conditions: Unguarded cliff edges; some steep flights of steps
Lunch: Duke of York, Whitby (01947-600324, dukeofyork.co.uk) – at bottom of 199 steps from St Mary’s Church
Accommodation: Victoria Hotel, Station Street, Robin Hood’s Bay YO22 4RL (01947-880205, victoriarhb.com) – a long-established hotel, characterful, helpful and friendly.