Cleveland Way Day 5 - Newton under Roseberry to Saltburn-by-the-Sea

The Cleveland Way is a walk of two halves.  If, as in our case, the walk is started from Helmsley, then the first 58 of the trail’s 109 miles are predominantly over moorland, with the second section providing 51 miles of spectacular coastal walking.  Our fifth day on the trail was something of a transition between these two sections.  A slightly shorter day of just over 11 miles, it seemed as though this part of the walk was crossing a no man’s land between moor and coast.  A necessary hinterland which, on paper, seemed to have little of interest along the way.


The King’s Arms at Newton on Roseberry offered an earlier than usual start to breakfast at 7.30 am, and after a good night’s sleep we were up, packed and raring to go.  Neither of us had ever been to Saltburn before, so it seemed like the ideal opportunity to get a head start on the day, get the job done and arrive in good time to explore.


As we retraced our steps along Roseberry Lane we were faced with the choice of a climb back up Roseberry Topping to rejoin the trail on the summit, or an alternative route around the northern flank of the hill, on a path known as Brant Gate.  After a short deliberation we decided on the second option and at the end of the lane we took a left turn to skirt along a gentle climb until we met up with the trail at Roseberry Common.  As we walked I turned back for one last look at the view over a patchwork of fields, with Newton under Roseberry nestling between the foot of the hill and the busy main road.  

Around the edge of Roseberry Topping

Once we’d edged our way around to the eastern side of Roseberry Topping a short section of stoney, twisting path led us back to the point where our previous day’s climb to the summit had begun.  The day was overcast and rather cool – ideal conditions for striding out along the evenly surfaced path ahead.   This section, along the edge of Newton Moor and above the mixed coniferous and deciduous woodland of Hutton Lowcross Woods, is popular with walkers and cyclists alike, and even at this early time of day we had to step aside a couple of times to allow cyclists to whizz past.  


A little further south from our path lay Great Ayton Moor which, somewhat surprisingly given its remoteness, had seen some action during the Second World War.  This high and isolated tract of moorland had been used as a Starfish site.  Up on this high ground fires had been started and doused to create a decoy for the Luftwaffe.  The intention was that the ensuing large, billowing clouds of steam would simulate the nearby industrial town of Middlesbrough, thereby resulting in any bombs landing relatively harmlessly into the heather.  By the end of the war a total of 237 Starfish sites at key areas around the country had protected 81 cities, factories and other potential targets by diverting an estimated 730 bombing raids.   


Grateful to be walking freely under a sky containing nothing more sinister than a hovering kestrel, we continued to set a healthy pace.  Ahead of us the town of Guisborough came into view, its rooftops just visible between the sea and the tree-lined hills to its south.

Path above Hutton Lowcross Woods

As we approached the northern edge of  Gisborough Moor my thoughts returned to the map I had studied over breakfast, and the somewhat puzzling discrepancy in spellings between the names of the town (Guisborough) and its priory and neighbouring moor (Gisborough).  Later, a little online research would reveal that the name “Guisborough” is thought to have derived from an old Norse name Gigr and “burgh”, meaning town.  It’s quite possible that the town may have had even earlier origins though, dating from a period of Roman occupation.  The key evidence for this theory was the discovery in 1864 of an ornately decorated bronze Roman cavalry helmet, which is now on display in the British Museum.   Throughout history the town’s name has variously been spelt Giseburch, Giseburgh, Gysburgh, Gisseburgh, Gyseborow, Gisebourne and, by 1531, it was known as Guisburne.  When, in 1917, local politician Richard Chaloner was elevated to the House of Lords, he took it upon himself to spell his title differently, dropping the letter “u” to become Lord Gisborough.  Thereafter, his lands and property were spelt without a “u” whereas the town retained its spelling.   So there you have it.  Not the most scintillating of stories, I know, but the best explanation I could find.


The pleasant evenly surfaced and level route continued for a good long way over the edge of the moorland, allowing us to continue striding along at a strong pace.  Eventually we reached a junction with a gate which for us marked a change in direction and terrain.  Here we took a short break, looking back along the path we had just followed and across to Codhill Heights to the south.  This distant high point of 296m (971ft) was, at the time of our walk, marked with a cairn, built in recent times on the top of a Bronze Age round barrow.  From our vantage point at the gate we could just make out the shape of the cairn against the skyline, although I understand that it may have since been removed by the National Park authority.  I actually quite like cairns, and they do have their uses when marking what would be an otherwise hard to find path, but I suppose sometimes they can be intrusive.  Particularly if built on top of a site of archaeological importance.

Looking across to Codhill Heights

On the other side of the gate the path climbed up along the western edge of Guisborough Woods to reach Highcliff Nab.  This sandstone crag is popular with climbers, being considered suitable for beginners, and also with locals for the view of Guisborough it provides from the edge of the scarp, the town’s rooftops gradually coming into view as we edged around the rocky outcrop.  It seems that this has been a popular spot throughout the ages, with the earliest evidence of visitors dating from the Mesolithic period (9000 - 4300 years ago).  In 1995 archaeologists found a number of flints which appear to have been left behind by hunters who more than likely had a camp here.  Areas of high ground such as this have been of strategic importance throughout history, enabling easy surveillance of the surrounding countryside, and the hunters must have found this a great place from which to scan for prey across the landscape below.

Highcliff Nab

Some rocky steps up the side of the outcrop led us up to the very top from where we were rewarded with a view over Guisborough and beyond to the sea.  From this vantage point the entirety of our route ahead to Saltburn was laid out before us, whilst behind us, looking back to the south west, Roseberry Topping and the Cleveland Hills were just visible over the treetops of Hutton Lowcross Woods. 

View over Guisborough from Highcliff Nab

Leaving Highcliff Nab behind us, we followed a path which eventually merged into a forestry track through the upper reaches of Guisborough Woods.  Ahead lay the longest section of forestry walking on the whole of the Cleveland Way, although due to deforestation work, sections of this path felt more open than we’d have expected.


The walking continued to be easy along the forestry trail and we trekked pleasantly along, enjoying the silence and solitude, continuing to set a rather brisk pace, intent as we were on reaching Saltburn in a reasonable time.  It was a calm and still kind of day, the only sounds being the songs of birds in the nearby trees.  Since setting out that morning we had passed very few people.  Just a couple starting a climb of Roseberry Topping and a few cyclists on the paths above Hutton,  Here, above Guisborough Woods, there was just us and the birds.  It almost seemed a shame to be striding out so quickly, focusing on the destination rather than the walk itself, but our plan was to reach Saltburn with as much of the afternoon free as possible.

Trail above Guisborough Woods

As the trail turned away from the forestry track and continued along a path between the woods and open farmland, we could see a couple of people in the distance on the path ahead of us.  The first to approach us was a man.  As he drew closer, he greeted us with a warning.


“Take care on the path ahead.  It’s incredibly slippy.  I took a bit of a tumble.”


As if to prove his point he turned around, revealing a layer of rapidly drying mud which coated the full length of his back.  I glanced down at his boots which were so heavily caked they may as well have actually been made entirely from mud.  Having assured us that the only injury had been to his pride, he continued on his way, trailing his feet through the long grass at the side of the path in an attempt to work off some of the mud.


A short distance further along we caught up with the second person on the path ahead of us, an elderly lady with a camera, pottering around by the side of the track where a patch of pretty wildflowers grew.  


As we approached she looked up and greeted us with a smile.


“Good morning!  Are you doing the Cleveland Way?”


We stopped to talk to her for a while about walking, cameras, woodlands and flowers, learning that she was a retired teacher with a passion for wildlife photography, the slightly overcast day providing the ideal subdued lighting for her subject.  As we chatted I glanced down at her feet.  She was wearing wellington boots which were thickly coated in a layer of rich, brown mud.  Noticing the direction of my gaze she laughed.


“You’ll need to watch your step a bit further along,” she warned.  “It’s nearly always a mud-bath, all year round.  If you take it slow and stick to the edges though, you ought to be able to avoid the worst of it”.


Thanking her for the advice, we headed off again, with some trepidation.  Our hotel in Saltburn had looked rather nice on its website.  Not your usual walker’s haunt, where muddy boots weren’t only expected, they were positively welcomed.  This hotel had a spa, highly rated restaurant and entertainment suite.  I doubted it would have a boot drying room.   Fortunately, there were four miles to cover between the mud and the hotel, hopefully giving us plenty of opportunity to clean off the worst of it.


The path remained fairly dry and grew narrower, the surrounding woodland changing to mostly deciduous as we drew closer to the busy A171 at the strangely named Fancy Bank. I was beginning to wonder whether the two people we’d encountered had been on a different path to us as, so far, there had been no signs of the notorious mud.  In fact, the going had been easy – a pleasant woodland walk with plenty of signposts to keep us on route.  Then, as the path drew parallel with the busy main road, I stopped in my tracks.  It was only a short section of narrow path, no more than 50 yards in length.  Leading quite steeply downhill to join the road, it was entirely made up of thick, wet mud, water pooling and glistening within the many footprints dimpling its surface. 


“Has to be done”, Tom said, taking the lead and cautiously edging his way along the side, where a thin covering of vegetation protruded from under the wire fence bordering the path.


I followed in his footsteps, hanging on to fence posts where possible and, when the path narrowed, walking with a foot on each side, so as to straddle the worst of it.  Ahead I could see the concrete surface of a short section of slip road leading down to the main road.  Just a few feet of mud remained but this short final section was wider and, if possible, even muddier.


“Just go for it,” Tom called out.  “Smartly across.”  And with that he crossed the final obstacle in three fast, long strides, heading for the long grass at the edge of the verge.


I hesitated.  If I tackled this too quickly I was quite likely to slip and fall.  And so I opted to take it slowly, squelching my way straight down the middle, emerging with mud almost up to the top of my boots and splattering up the back of my legs.  I quickly joined Tom by the patch of long grass and wiped my feet this way and that until the thickest of the mud had been worked off.  Fishing a pack of wet wipes out of my rucksack, I was also able to remove most of the mud spatters from my legs.  


Suitably tidied up, we set off again to walk alongside the busy A171 for a short distance until we reached the rather appropriately named village of Slapewath, which I promptly renamed “Slapepath”, given that, in our local dialect, “slape” means slippery.  In fact, “slape” is actually Norse in origin and does indeed mean “slippery”, while “Wath” is Norse for a ford, so the name for this small village originates from a Slippery Ford.  During the 19th and early 20thcenturies, several ironstone mines operated in the vicinity of Slapewath and the former Cleveland railway ran through here, transporting minerals and iron ore between Teesside and East Cleveland.  The section of this former railway line between Slapewath and Guisborough is now a public footpath.  


Once level with the road into Slapewath, we waited for a break in the traffic and dashed across the road in the direction of the Fox and Hounds pub.  When we’d started out that morning we’d discussed skipping lunch and just ploughing on for Saltburn but now, after the fun and games with the mud, neither of us needed much persuading that it was the perfect time for a beer.


Leaving our boots in the porch, we entered the pub which was rather busy, a coach load of day trippers having arrived shortly before us.  Once we’d been served with a pint of beer each we found a seat in a corner and looked over the menu, still undecided as to whether we were going to eat anything.  One glance at the menu though and the decision was instantly made.  Chicken Parmo.  A massive favourite for both of us, this Teesside delicacy consists of a breaded chicken breast, coated in bechamel sauce and topped with melted cheese.  The recipe is said to have been created by a wounded Greek-American navy chef who was brought to a hospital in Middlesbrough for treatment.  Once recovered he stayed on in the town and opened a restaurant called The American Grill where, in 1958, he created and served the very first Parmo.


We didn’t have to wait long for our calorific treat which, washed down with a couple of pints of beer, hit the spot nicely.  All memories of our muddy encounter now cheerfully erased, we left feeling nicely fortified for the final four and a half miles to Saltburn.


Immediately out of Slapewath a steep path led us uphill to walk along the edge of a former alum quarry.  Now a nature reserve, quarrying took place here for around 200 years from 1604 onwards, producing alum for use by the tanning industry. 


At the top of the hill we turned to follow a field boundary, setting a brisk pace of just under four miles per hour.  If we could maintain this speed, we reasoned, then we should arrive at Saltburn in just over an hour, giving us plenty of time to take a look around.  The path across farmland led us to

Airy Hill Farm, which at 690ft (200m) was the highest point on this section of the day’s walk.  A track called Airy Hill Lane then led us all the way down to Skelton Green, a typical former ironstone mining village, where we crossed the road to join a fenced-in path across pastureland.  


As the track ended we were rewarded with an aerial view over the rooftops of the little town of Skelton and beyond to Saltburn and the distant sea.  A colourful information board provided an interesting history of Skelton which, in spite of our mileage target, I stopped to study for a while before we made our way downhill towards the town.  


Above Skelton

Emerging from the trail directly onto Skelton’s busy High Street was something of a shock to the system.  Here were more people than we’d seen all week.  And shops.  Even after just a few days off the beaten track, shops seemed like something of a luxury and I dawdled along, peering in the various shop windows until suddenly something caught my eye.  There, in the middle of the window display of an electrical store, was a pair of hair straighteners, on special offer for just £17.  I stared at them longingly for a while, as I did so catching sight of my reflection and recoiling at the state of my unruly, humidity frizzed hair.  We’d treated ourselves to a superior room at tonight’s hotel along with a table for dinner in their restaurant.  I really needed to tidy myself up and these would help considerably.  But then my shoulders were really very sore.  Could I justify adding more weight to my bag?  Instantly understanding my dilemma, Tom appeared at my side.  


“Buy those,” he said, “and I’ll carry them for you in my rucksack.”


He’d barely finished speaking before I was in the shop and handing over my cash. 


Emerging from the electrical store with a massive smile on my face, I immediately spotted a little Cleveland Way sign, directing us down a side street and onwards to pass through a housing estate.  Eventually we left this built-up area to cross an open field which led us to another area of housing.  It felt strange to be walking through a densely populated residential area after the past few days of isolated moorland and it was therefore something of a relief to leave this behind as we walked into Thorny Close Wood.  Passing under a road and crossing a field, we then entered Crow Wood.  From this point on the rest of our walk, all the way to Saltburn, was through woodland which became more park-like as Crow Wood eventually merged into Saltburn Woods. 


It had been threatening to rain all day, and we had felt a few spots of light rain as we’d left Skelton, but now, with just over a mile to our destination, the heavens opened and a heavy downpour began.  Sheltered by the thick canopy of leaves overhead, we delayed reaching for our waterproofs and continued to follow the woodland path as it wound its way along the ravine above Skelton Beck, drawing ever nearer to the sea.  Amazingly, only a few raindrops permeated their way through the thick leafy canopy and, by the time we had climbed out of the woodland and left the park to turn onto Saltburn Road, it had stopped raining completely. 


As we followed the road downhill towards the sea our hotel suddenly came into view.  Nestled on the top of Saltburn Bank, with commanding views over the sea, the Spa Hotel offers a full range of spa treatments from facials and manicures to massages.  We had briefly considered booking ourselves in for a relaxing massage but had decided instead to spend a little free time getting to know Saltburn.  Much to my relief, the hotel receptionist didn’t seem the in slightest bit fazed as we approached her desk, carrying our still slightly muddy boots, and with a smile she immediately produced a couple of newspapers.   Once checked in we were directed to a fairly luxurious room, with wonderful views over the sea in one direction and across to the moorland hills in the other.  After we’d both quickly showered and I’d happily returned my hair to a relatively frizz-free condition, we enjoyed a beer on the hotel’s terrace before setting off to explore.  


Until the mid nineteenth century, Saltburn was a humble fishing village,  consisting of little more than an inn and a row of fishermen’s cottages.  Then, in 1858, local industrialist Henry Pease experienced what he described as a “prophetic vision” of a town rising up from the clifftop with the ravine, along which we had entered the town, being transformed into a beautiful garden.  The Saltburn Improvement Company he founded went on to develop a series of streets in a gridiron pattern.  The company decreed that all new buildings in the town had to be built from white firebricks purchased, of course, from the Pease Brickworks company.  This included the imposing Zetland Hotel, which in 1989 was converted into apartments.  A pier was also built with a tramway transporting visitors up and down the steep cliff and this was the first place we planned to visit as we headed off in the direction of the beach.


The Saltburn Cliff Tramway opened in 1884, replacing an earlier vertical hoist to transport visitors up and down the steep cliff.  It is now the oldest water balanced funicular still in operation in Britain, linking the town with what is the only remaining pleasure pier on the coast of north east of England.  

Saltburn Tramway

Taking a ride down the cliff on the tramway was high on my agenda and I wasn’t disappointed.  Its interior was a delight, with highly polished wooden panels and beautiful stained glass windows.

Tram window

It was later in the day than we’d planned to be here and so, with a table booked for an evening meal at the hotel, our exploration of Saltburn was limited to a ride on the tramway and a walk along the pier.  This in itself was enough for me.  It was such a delightful place that, had we dashed around, we wouldn’t have done it justice.  This way we could promise ourselves a return visit, possibly involving another stay at The Spa, which really was very nice indeed.  


Work on the construction of the 1,500 feet Saltburn Pier began in 1867 and, when it opened in 1869 it proved to be popular, seeing 50,000 visitors within its first six months of opening.  Today, it seemed, we were its only visitors as we sauntered along, admiring the handiwork of the local yarn-bombers who had decorated the railings with their colourful work.

Yarn-bombing on the pier

The view from the end of the pier was striking, looking back towards the town with its high Victorian buildings and the yellow-bricked Spa Hotel nestling halfway down the cliff to the left.

Saltburn Pier

We didn’t linger for long on the pier and, having enjoyed a short stroll through Saltburn’s surprisingly quiet streets, we returned to our hotel.


Originally a concert venue, the Spa was built in 1884 as the town’s Assembly Rooms, a concert hall which could accommodate up to 600 people.  In 1935 it was renamed the Spa Pavilion and went on to play host to such famous north-eastern names as Sting and Chris Rhea.  Although converted to a hotel in 1994, at the time of our visit, entertainment was still being provided.  As we ordered our pre-dinner drinks from the bar we were asked if we’d like to attend that evening’s event, part of the hotel’s “Live by the Sea” series of concerts which on this particular night featured Romeo Stodart from the band Magic Numbers.  Although we’d heard of the band we weren’t familiar with their work.  Even so, on any other night we’d have been happy to have given it a go, but on this occasion tiredness and the need for an early start deterred us.  Sadly, as we glanced into the concert room on the return to our room later that evening, the event didn’t appear to have been well attended.  And even though I had wondered if a music concert might create enough noise to keep us awake, as I drifted off to sleep in our comfortable room, the only sound to reach me was the distant cry of seagulls.

Map of day 5’s route

Coming soon….On Day Six the coastal section of the walk begins as we head south to Runswick Bay along a fascinating stretch of coastline.




Popular posts from this blog

Egton Bridge & Glaisdale Rigg (North York Moors)

Cleveland Way Day 9 – Robin Hood’s Bay to Scarborough

The Dales Way - Day One - Ilkley to Addingham