Broad bays along the coast where sea-bathing started

The North York Moors National Park borders the sea as far south as Cloughton, and its grass and heather reach out into a craggy headland at Ravenscar. This is a walker’s coast, with magnificent vistas of rugged cliff scenery; but the same cliffs block access to the shore along most of its length. Beyond the broad sandy bays of Scarborough, the cliffs, whose red clay is rich in fossils, end at last in the sandy crescent of Filey Bay.


Lined with flat rocks, and skirted by red cliffs, Robin Hood’s Bay shares its name with the pretty fishing village that nestles in the bay’s north cheek. Known locally as ‘Bay Town’, the village’s connections with the outlaw are dubious, but one legend is that Robin Hood came to Whitby to help the abbot to repel Danish invaders.

Tiny fishermen’s cottages with russet-tiled roofs snuggle along the steep twisting street that leads down to the shore. Little cobbled alleyways and terraces evoke images of smuggling, which flourished in the area in the 18th century. A tunnel through which King’s Beck discharges into the sea was used by smugglers, and there are other tunnels branching from it. It was said that a smuggled bale of silk could pass from one end of the village to the other withoutappear-ing above the ground. Some of the old houses have interconnecting doors disguised as cupboards through which the smugglers could escape from the Revenue men.

Erosion caused several cottages to tumble into the sea before a 40 ft high sea-wall was completed in 1975 to protect the village. The beach is not suitable for bathing, because of its sharp and slippery rocks, but it is popular with fossil-hunters. On the rocks to the north of the village there is a danger of being cut off by the tide.


A little stream called Mill Beck has chiselled a gap in the cliffs of Robin Hood’s Bay, and this valley is one of the few ways down to the shore. The old mill from which the beck takes its name is now a youth hostel. From the car park, which has space for only a dozen cars, there is a quarter-mile walk down a metalled track to a sheltered cove of shingle and rock. At low tide it is easy to walk across the rocks to Stoupe Beck Sands.


The beach where Stoupe Beck meets the sea is the best stretch of sand along the otherwise rocky edge of Robin Hood’s Bay. Motorists can reach it by following a narrow and precipitous road signposted ‘cul de sac’ from the crossroads beside the ruined windmill near Ravenscar. There are breathtaking views over the bay from the road, which ends at a small car park beside Stoupe Bank Farm. A paved track, sometimes slippery, leads through a steep wooded valley down to the beach.


The broad sweep of Robin Hood’s Bay stops short at the rugged headland of Old Peak at Ravenscar. Perched at the summit of the peak, 600 ft above the sea, is a large house, now a hotel, called Raven Hall, built in 1774 on the site of a Roman signal station. The hotel’s gardens, golf course and open-air swimming pool are open to non-residents for a charge.

Around 1900 plans were made to build a resort at Ravenscar. A few houses were built, but the development company went bankrupt and Ravenscar remains a wild and deserted place, with good walks through National Trust land on the cliffs.


A steep track through a delightful wooded glen leads down to the rocky shore, where a waterfall tumbles on to the beach. The scrub woodland beside the stream is a nature reserve, a rich habitat for damp-loving plants and beetles. Cars can be parked near Hayburn Wyke Hotel by arrangement with the proprietor.


A sheltered and secluded bay, with a rocky shore, Cloughton Wyke can be reached along a farm road, but drivers should respect the country code and close the gates. The name comes from the medieval English zoic, meaning ‘dairy farm’. The road ends at a small car park above the cliffs, and a short grassy track leads down to the little bay. In calm weather swimming from the rocks is possible but uncomfortable.


The sea at Crook Ness can be reached from Burniston by Rocks Lane, which passes under a bridge of the disused Whitby -Scarborough railway line. Fork right at the coastguard cottages to a small car park; from there a narrow concrete path runs through a gap in the cliffs to the shore of flat rocks and boulders. There is a good view towards Scarborough’s Castle Cliff.


The battlements of a medieval castle jut grim and grey above the crag which divides Scarborough’s twin bays. The town rises steeply behind the sands, and elegant white terraces of hotels line the clifftops. The hillsides are landscaped with parks and public gardens. The port, at the foot of Castle Cliff, has an inner harbour for cargo and fishing vessels and an outer harbour for private pleasure craft; both are tidal.

Both North Bay and South Bay have safe swimming areas, and South Bay’s foreshore vibrates with amusements as far as The Spa. Here the stately buildings set a more sedate tone, which continues along the manicured walks of South Cliff Gardens. South Bay is dominated by the gargantuan Grand Hotel, with 365 bedrooms, 52 chimneys, 12 floors and 4 turrets representing the days, weeks, months and seasons of the year. The Grand, which was the biggest brick building in Europe when it was put up in 1867, is now a Butlin’s Holiday Centre.

The Romans built a signal station on the castle headland, and the foundations are still visible. But it was the Vikings who gave Scarborough its name, which means ‘stronghold of Skarthi’. In 1620 a local resident named Elizabeth Farrer discovered springs of discoloured and sour-tasting water bubbling from a rock. Healing properties were claimed for the waters, and the town developed as a spa. In 1660 Dr Wittie of Scarborough became an advocate of seabathing. It soon became fashionable for men and women to leap naked into the sea, and thus Scarborough was born as a seaside resort, probably the first in Britain.

Among the unusual entertainments that Scarborough provides for summer visitors are the naval battles at Peasholm Park, when manned scale-models of ships re-enact naval skirmishes on a lake in the park. The resort is noted for its theatres, and has an art gallery and museums of natural history, local history and archaeology.


A path from the holiday camp at the top of the cliffs descends to the sandy beach. There are sandbanks on which the unwary can be trapped by the rising tide, and bathing is safest at high water. It is dangerous to cross the rocks at the southern extremity of the bay, and it is impossible to reach Filey along the beach at any state of the tide.


In 1969 the Cleveland Way became the second long-distance footpath to be opened in England and Wales. Starting on the cliffs to the north of Filey, the path, which is clearly marked with an acorn symbol, weaves around the coast northwards as far as Saltburn-by-the-Sea where it turns inland and crosses the Cleveland Hills to Helmsley, a total distance of 93 miles. In the coastal section the path breaks at Scarborough and Whitby, but elsewhere it follows the cliffs, occasionally dipping down to shore-level. From the path walkers have spectacular views of a coastline that is largely denied to motorists.

Strong boots and protective clothing are vital for anyone attempting the path. The east coast is notorious for sudden changes in weather, and along the cliffs land-slips can be a hazard after rain. Good points to join the Cleveland Way are Church Cliff, Filey; Scalby Mills, Scarborough; Cloughton Wyke; Hayburn Wyke; Ravenscar; Boggle Hole; and Robin Hood’s Bay.


The handsome Victorian terraces of Filey are set back from the sea, with a steep tree-lined incline down to the promenade. A 6 mile sweep of sand, framed by red-clay cliffs and sheltered to the north by the natural stone breakwater of Filey Brigg, earns Filey its reputation as a family resort.

At the north end of the promenade brightly painted cobles are hauled up a ramp by tractors; there are good catches of crabs and lobsters off the coast in summer, cod and haddock in winter, and fishing trips with the coble fishermen can be arranged.

Filey Brigg is a finger of rocks that points a mile out to sea. At low tide in calm weather it is safe to explore the rock pools, and there is excellent fishing for codling and mackerel from the rocks. A nature trail along the Brigg starts at the foot of the cliff below Filey Country Park. Avoid the Brigg in rough weather; heavy seas can crash over the rocks, making them as perilous for walkers and anglers as they have been down the centuries for ships.

Filey’s parish church of St Oswald has good Norman pillars and doorways and an unusual 13th-century effigy of a ‘boy bishop’. The Folk Museum in Queen Street, housed in a farmhouse dating from 1696, is open daily except Saturdays in summer.