Cleveland Way #9 – Robin Hoods Bay to Scarborough

The finish line may be in sight but the question is whether I can stay motived to complete the walk. Overnights like Fern Leigh B&B present a challenge to my mental stamina because they are so very comfortable. Breakfast in the panelled dining room is a massive treat as my host makes her own bread, preserves and yoghurt. It is getting increasingly hard to rouse myself from this comfort, to leave for a half day walk in mixed weather while carrying a rucksack up and down the hills.

I’m starting to come down with a cold which may explain any lethargy. Lucky that today’s walk to Scarborough starts off with an easy roll down the hill to the foot of Robin Hoods Bay. My problems come quickly to the fore this morning. The damp feeling on my back hasn’t been a trick of my imagination as I realise the cheap water bladder bought off eBay prior to the walk is leaking. I suspected as much a couple of days ago but what had started off with dampness has now progressed to a portable waterfall.

Lack of bladder control
Lack of bladder control

Abandoning my water supply is not an option but I only have a half litre bottle in which I could decant the water, which would be too little for five hours on the hills. I take the decision to attach the bladder to the rear of my rucksack with the acceptance that this 2.5l weight will throw out my balance. So long as I walk carefully things should be fine…

Within 90 seconds I slip backwards while walking down some wet stairs, the leveraged weight pulling me off balance. I get up gingerly and take stock – it’s OK, nobody saw me.

I'm about to slip down the wooden stairs...
I’m about to slip down the wooden stairs…

The path follows some steps and then levels off before descending again down to the delightfully named Boggle Hole which appears to be nothing more than a minor inlet where a stream meets the sea. The only construction I can see here is a Youth Hostel which I imagine must be very popular with coastal walkers.

After another brief encounter with an inlet at Stoupe Beck the path heads off up again through the trees, emerging on the cliff edge from which I would apparently be able to make out Scarborough Castle and even Filey Brigg were it not for a slight sea haze that is limiting the horizon and flattening my photos.

Good views in the right conditions
Good views in the right conditions

One feature that does loom large from a distance is Ravenscar, a village set high on a cliff-top that I already know about having seen it featured on BBC’s Coast programme.

Ravenscar, the resort that never was
Ravenscar, the resort that never was

In the late 19th century plans were drawn up to construct a holiday resort to attract visitors away from existing resorts like Scarborough via the new railway line. A road system was constructed and basic amenities provisioned but the scheme was prematurely brought to an end through bankruptcy. A handful of houses were built but you have to wonder how popular the destination would have been high on a hill, exposed to strong winds and with no access to the sea shore.

Curbed ambitions
Curbed ambitions

I had hoped to spend awhile here exploring the remnants of this ghost town but cold nagging rain put paid to my enthusiasm. An original street curb is all that I can make out as the Cleveland Way path returns to the cliff edge. It is cliff walking all the way from here and while I never tire of the rugged beauty of this coastline it does feel increasingly like Autumn is on the way.

A path for all seasons
A path for all seasons

A curious huddle of buildings in a field south of Ravenscar arouses my curiosity and a sign next to a small brick Coastguard lookout shelter by the path explains that they formed part of a radar station during the war. Constructed in late 1940 as part of a chain of coastal stations a radar dish was mounted on top of the barrel shaped building (left) while staff occupied a building further up the hill. These unlikely shells are now listed as Ancient Monuments and afforded protection as such. My photo is rubbish but some photos by Rich Cooper are much more illuminating.

Former radar station near Ravenscar
Former radar station near Ravenscar

The path remains high except for a dip down to Hayburn Wyke which makes an attractive rocky stopping off point. It’s very peaceful here, just the hypnotic sounds of the waves crashing against the shoreline punctuated by bird calls carried on the wind. It’s here that I finally give up on my badly suspended water bladder which has been throwing me off balance, and decant what I can into a hand-held water bottle.

Dramatic cliffs
Dramatic cliffs

Further down the coast there is yet more evidence of the never-ending battle between land and sea. Of course, the sea always wins in the end, but not before generations of sea-birds have exploited the crags and crannies of the rock face for breeding and shelter.

The sea always wins in the end
The sea always wins in the end

I’m not far north of Scarborough when I draw near to a flock of bird-watchers (what is the collective term for bird-watchers? flock, gaggle, brood, nerd?). They are pointing an array of optical devices towards a spot in the gorse overlooking the sea – there must be something dramatic or exotic to see! Taking care not to make any sudden moves or create a noise I whisper in reverence to a woolly hatted bearded twitcher (common garden variety), asking what they have in their sights. “Oh, nothing special today – mostly gulls and plovers”. Oh, right then.

Northern approaches to Scarborough - click to expand
Northern approaches to Scarborough – click to expand

Underwhelmed by this news I listen to a podcast for the next few easy miles until Scarborough castle materialises and before long the entire North Bay opens up over a headland. It has been years since I visited Scarborough and so, despite being close to the end of the Cleveland Way, I have booked an extra night here to allow some exploration and rest.

My pleasant B&B is easy to locate on the cliff above this bay and I turn myself around before heading out again to make the most of the days remaining light. There are so many Hotels and B&Bs here which makes for competitive rates but also for struggling businesses according to my landlady.

View from the Castle Road - click to expand
View from the Castle Road – click to expand

The high coastal road leading towards the castle is lined with imposing B&Bs that hark back to a time when “architecture” wasn’t some optional extra on new-builds. They exude a faded grandeur, some optimistically clinging onto the label of Hotel like some English Sunset Boulevard. And what names – The Malborough, Balmoral, Belmont – yet with plastic signs, flaking paint and I imagine wall-to-wall faded carpet imbued with the lingering essence of full English Breakfast. Yet these businesses persist and there is a genuine warmth about them that I’m so fond of.

Beyond the castle the path winds down to the old harbour. In these times of hardship for traditional industries I have been heartened to come across seemingly successful fishing businesses operating from harbours like Staithes, Runswick Bay, Whitby and Robin Hoods Bay so it’s pleasing to see plenty of signs of life also here in Scarborough.

Still farming the seas
Still farming the seas

The harbour is crowded with vessels of all types and purpose, from crab and fishing boats to sailing boats and sea cruise vessels. A school party is rumbustiously boarding an ageing tour boat, the strains of Celine Dion’s Titanic theme tune drifting out of the PA in an attempt at humour the kids will probably be too young to get.

Salty old sea dog
Salty old sea dog

There’s a lot here to see and enjoy, a view that that plenty of benched chip-consuming onlookers agree with. I particularly like the swimmer statue facing south across the bay. It has not just grace but humour, unlike the over-hyped Damien Hirst statue I saw in Ilfracombe recently that reminded me of Terminator.

Ready for a dip
Ready for a dip

Considering the long embedded status of Scarborough as a tourist resort it is refreshing to find that the sea-front has not been allowed to be gobbled up by amusement arcades. Of course there are a few but this is not some Blackpool of the North East. There has to be a balance between tack and taste, new and old in order to keep a place like this alive without destroying its heritage. I note a side-road from a different age and wonder which direction it will pushed in. For me it is an asset to be retained.

Old harbour warehouses
Old harbour warehouses

There’s just about time for a stroll down the South Bay before evening plans take precedence. How wonderful to sea traditional donkey rides on the beach! Despite the gusty weather a few little people are lifted onto the mules by their parents and they totally love it! If only I were less than 13 years old and no more than 7 stone…

Your games console is no match for this
Your games console is no match for this

My tour of the south bay ends shy of the famous Spa which I will visit tomorrow on my day off. Just time to catch the moment before heading off for sustenance.

Birds eye view of the old harbour
Birds eye view of the old harbour

One of the huge benefits of the Cleveland Way as opposed to some other long distance walks is that at the end of a most days walking you get to spend time in inspiring places like Scarborough. I intend to explore more thoroughly on my day off.

In a fair and just world there would be a fabulous pub just yards away from my digs. Just yards away from my digs I come across a fabulous pub. The North Riding Brew Pub is an old hotel that has been re-purposed as a brewery/pub. They keep it so simple and traditional here with no frills, just divine ales. The world is a fair and just place for me tonight.


Here’s today’s walk in point form…

In a nutshell
A blowy walk over high cliffs interspersed with points of historical interest

High point
A tough call, but Scarborough old harbour takes some beating

Low point
Battling with my failed water bladder

Looking ahead
A day of leisure in Scarborough and then the final days walk to Filey!

Daily Stats
Stage  9 – Robin Hoods Bay to Scarborough
Distance  14.4 miles Speed  2.7 mph
Lowest  154ft Highest  791ft
Ascent  764ft Descent  1017ft

…and the route taken…

Cleveland Way #8 – Whitby to Robin Hoods Bay

The sound I least want to hear when I surface in the morning before a walk is that of rain drops. Oh well. They were forecast for later on in the day and my plan was to leave early and complete a good section of the walk before the weather turned, but now there is no longer any hurry.

Front door view of the morning mizzle
Front door view of the morning mizzle

So far most of my breakfast experiences have been quiet ones with few if any other guests in the room. Not so today with 12 other guests, all non-walkers. One couple are visitors from Australia and the landlord engages them in banter which starts with a playful (but by now probably thinly worn) ribbing of the Aussie cricket team before heading off into a diatribe against whatever he read in the Daily Mail recently.

I almost choke on my toast when being forced to listen to “All these foreigners are benefit scroungers and due to them we have the highest population in Europe“. This from a man who was formerly in the building trade so probably benefited from foreign tradesmen prepared to the jobs some British people don’t want to do at lower wages. This from a self confessed property baron who doubtless rents out houses at an inflated rate knowing that the tax payer will pick up his tab via the housing benefits that some of his tenants will be forced to claim. One advantage of having to sit through a loud public bout of bigotry is that heading out into the rain becomes an attractive option.

A damp Whitby harbour
A damp Whitby harbour

If rain “suits” a place then Whitby is that place. The walk down to the harbour provides a visual feast in all weather. A party of school kids bearing clip-boards are supposed to be questioning people on the streets for some project but most of them are too shy to stop anyone until the teacher almost physically shoves them towards passers-by. I pick up some brazil nuts for the journey and set about tackling the famous 199 steps that lead up to the infamous Whitby Abbey, immortalised by Bram Stoker as a setting for Dracula. The steps have always bothered me, not because of the number but because they are spaced just a bit too close together to walk them one at a time but a bit too far to make two a comfortable proposition.

Those steps
Those steps

At the top a strong gusty wind is blowing the rain all over the place. Tourists are sheltering in the porch of gothic St Marys church apart from one delightful older couple serenely gazing out over the town below licking ice cream, oblivious to the squall. I salute them!

View from the Abbey
View from the Abbey

Amongst the sheltering mortals I bask in a misplaced sense of superiority as I march nonchalantly out of the Church with my rucksack into a storm that holds no fears for me. Fortunately I am out of sight of their admiring gaze when the wind catches my rucksack and slams me embarrassingly into a stone wall. This rucksack makes quite an effective sail, unfortunately. Another pit-stop to remove the flapping waterproof cover which I fear will be rendered ineffective in the north sea.

Whitby lighthouse and holiday lets
Whitby lighthouse and holiday lets

This will be my shortest walk of the trail and it’s one I’m familiar with. The wind is whipping the sea into a frothy soup on the rocks below. None of the cliff dwelling birds are venturing out in these conditions but a few fellow walkers cross my path. Whitby Lighthouse was built in 1858 and isn’t in operation today although I believe it is still active via an automated system. Some of the buildings are leased out as holiday rentals. This would make a fabulous place to stay, just so long as the fog horn on the roof is no longer in use.

Some sections of path are running out of time
Some sections of path are running out of time

The exposed cliff path winds along some slippery muddy sections, through a caravan site and then by farm land. It’s here that I realise that my glasses are no longer in the pocket I put them in. I check all of my other pockets, plus my face which is normally where they turn up, but to no avail. I don’t need them all of the time but the realisation that there’s an England match on TV tonight sends a chill down my spine. The chances of finding them seem slim but they must have fallen out when I took my camera out of the same pocket to take a photo.

Fossilised car at the caravan site
Will far-distant descendants be chipping fossilised cars out of the Whitby cliffs?

With a resigned air of inevitability I retrace my steps a quarter of a mile to the static caravan site where I last stopped to take a photo. I know exactly where I stood but the chances of finding my glasses are … 100%. There they are – what a stroke of luck! Tired of glasses I went for a contact lens fitting a few years ago but 45 minutes spent fruitlessly trying to fish them out of my eyes was enough to persuade my optician that they weren’t for me.

The picture that almost cost my glasses
The picture that almost cost my glasses

Back along the path and arable land gives way to pasture fields. On this trip I have developed a great deal of respect for cows. Whatever the weather there they are munching away without a moo of complaint. Even on Fridays subaquatic test of survival I staggered past cows floating in fields next to my path/river that exuded this air of calmness at odds with their ordeal. A lesson for the non-bovine amongst us…

Enjoying the bracing walk
Enjoying the bracing walk

Before I know it Robin Hoods Bay is upon me and it is only 1pm. What a grand building I am staying in tonight! This 19th century lodge was hewn out of stone for a sea-captain. A decorative tiled entrance porch leads through an original stained glassed door into a formal hallway with high ceiling, wood panelled walls and a grandfather clock. A heavy wooden staircase leads up to my room, known as the “Vicars Study” – though my unholy presence will doubtless cancel things out.

I do like my landlady – she is a lot of fun! We talk for quite some time and she shares various tales with me. My favourite concerns an influx of American tourists who turned up in numbers after the area was promoted by The Smithsonian as being good walking country. It seems that many of these visitors arrived lugging six suitcases and suspiciously brand-new unworn walking boots. These city types were expecting relatively level paved walking trails and when faced with miles of undulating muddy path took to catching taxis between their overnight stops, sometimes even leaving their once-used boots behind. All a far cry from the savvy and capable North Americans I have met so far this week.

The charm of Robin Hoods Bay
The charm of Robin Hoods Bay

Following the usual routine of shower, clean clothes and a cup of tea I head down the notoriously steep hill that leads to the bay. It’s hard to describe Robin Hoods Bay if you aren’t familiar with it but it is charming and charismatic in equal measure. The main road is lined with old stone buildings while quaint alleyways wind away past shoe-horned cottages, mostly available as holiday rentals.

Ultimate destination for C2C walkers
Ultimate destination for C2C walkers

The Bay Hotel overlooking the sea at the bottom of the hill bears a plaque marking the end of the Coast-to-Coast walk. This place is legendary amongst C2C walkers who will pose for photos with a pint at the end of their travails. Unfortunately the atmospheric lower bar is shut this afternoon while the upper bay is packed full of people, many of whom don’t appeared to have walked further than from the car park at the top of the hill.

Snug at the Laurel Inn
Snug at the Laurel Inn

What I really crave for is a seat and a cup of tea so it’s only with partial success that I find myself half way up the hill at the Laurel Inn nursing a beer. This pub, like so many stone buildings in Robin Hoods Bay looks like it has been carved out of the rocky hillside. There could be no more snug hideaway on a grizzly day, thick walls keeping out the elements, timber beamed ceiling, an open fire and sturdy ales. Refreshed by the “cup of tea” my early evening appointment is with the much vaunted Wayfarer Bistro which just about lives up to its hype. Halibut with crab, smoked haddock and samphire sauce is just great. My only complaint – a playlist of James Blunt, Coldplay and Phil Collins. Drone strikes have been ordered for less.

Back at the ranch I have time to reflect on my progress. Perhaps I was spoilt by the first 4 days that were so warm and dry. Friday’s wake-up call has left me wary of rain forecasts but there are just 2 remaining days of this adventure, whatever the heavens send. Enough reflection – I settle in for the evening and consume copious amounts of earl grey while watching an England performance that makes me wish I hadn’t found my glasses.


Here’s today’s walk in point form…

In a nutshell
A bracing but easy walk that perfectly typified the North Yorkshire coastline from start to finish.

High point
A gusty wind blowing salty rain into your face while the sea boils far below – can’t beat it!

Low point
The temporary loss of my visual apparatus

Looking ahead
The walk to Scarborough should be full of interest. I’m looking forward to seeing Ravenscar – the resort that never was.

Daily Stats
Stage  8 – Whitby to Robin Hoods Bay
Distance  7.5 miles Speed  3.2 mph
Lowest  295ft Highest  476ft
Ascent  138ft Descent  217ft

…and the route taken…