Cleveland Way Day 6 – Saltburn-by-the-Sea to Runswick Bay

Waking to the screeching cry of seagulls was the only reminder I needed that today would begin the coastal section of our Cleveland Way walk.  We’d deliberately left the curtains of our room’s floor to ceiling windows drawn back and now the bright morning sunlight flooded in.  It was still too early for breakfast, so I made a coffee and settled back to study the map for the day’s route.  A reasonably easy day lay ahead with just 11½  miles to Runswick Bay, allowing plenty of time for a break in the charming little fishing village of Staithes.  The way ahead couldn’t be more straightforward.  We simply had to follow the coast. 


After breakfast we stepped out onto the hotel’s terrace and took in a deep breath of sea air.  The sea was sparkling and already the day was heating up.  With a forecast for soaring temperatures over the next few days, I was glad that from now on we’d be walking along the coast where, with luck, an onshore breeze might help to keep us cool.  We’d especially enjoyed our stay at The Spa and promised to return one day for a slightly longer visit, allowing for a further exploration of the area.  


Our day was to begin with a climb up on to the Huntcliff but first we had a short section of road to follow to take us to the steps leading up to the clifftop.  Along the way we passed an odd little building which looked rather incongruous, nestling at the foot of the cliff.  I walked over to take a closer look, my curiosity piqued by the sign above the door which read “Mortuary 1881”.  


Prior to the construction of this building, any local victim of a sudden death, either by drowning or otherwise, had been taken to the nearby Ship Inn until the coroner had decided whether to release the body to a funeral director or to undertake further investigation.  Regular occurrences of bodies being washed up on the shore resulted in the need for a purpose built mortuary, much to the relief of the inn’s regulars I should imagine.  The mortuary was built in 1881 and provided the dead with a temporary resting place until its closure in the late 1960s.  Since then it has been used for such diverse purposes as a wood store, photographic studio and, most recently, a mini museum.  At the time of our visit it appeared to have fallen into disuse and was securely boarded up.  As far as I’m aware it remains unused to this day, protected by Grade II Listed Building status.

Saltburn Mortuary


We’d soon located the steps behind the Ship Inn which would take us to the top of Huntcliff.  As we trudged our way upwards it occurred to me that so far every one of our days on the Cleveland Way had started with a fairly steep climb.  Clambering uphill immediately after a hearty breakfast was certainly far from ideal and I slogged my way upwards with the aid of my trekking poles, stopping at the top to catch my breath and look back upon a glorious view.  The expanse of golden sands stretched all the way as far as Redcar and beyond to the industrial landscape of Teesside.

View of Saltburn

As expected, there was a gentle but refreshing sea breeze up on the cliff and the path wound its way gently through long grasses and wild flowers.  A short distance further along I turned for another look back and was rewarded with a view all the way back to a distant Roseberry Topping.  It was one of those moments to savour, to enjoy the view and to take stock.  Just a few short weeks before embarking on this walk my mother had died, following a sudden illness.  A couple of days before she died I’d learned that I’d been promoted to a full time management position and, although she was very close to death when I received this news, I was able to tell her about it.  As I stood on the Huntcliff, gazing across the land and sea, I relived that moment and the soft, barely discernible squeeze of her hand on mine which was all that I needed to know that she’d heard my news and was pleased.  Gazing out to sea, I felt at peace.  I had done everything I could, when I returned from the walk a steep learning curve awaited me, but in this precise moment I was free.


View all the way back to Roseberry Topping


The path along the Huntcliff remained fairly close to the edge.  A little too close for comfort at times.  But the walking was easy, the sea air refreshing and we strode along at a healthy pace.  After a mile or so a railway line appeared to our right.  The Whitby, Redcar and Middlesbrough Union Railway was operational between 1871 and 1958 and the section we were now walking beside was reopened in the 1970s to serve the nearby Skinningrove steel rolling mills and the potash mine at Boulby.  Following the path between the railway line and cliff’s edge we arrived at the sculpture popularly known as “the charm bracelet”.  The original name for this artwork installation was “Circle” but it was easy to see how it had earned its nickname.  Created in 1990 by Richard Farrington, the piece was commissioned as part of an arts project called ‘Milestones’.   Its construction was undertaken at the British Steel Special Sections Rolling Mill at nearby Skinningrove, and the artist used forgotten off-cuts or obsolete materials which he found lying around the works. The inner section of the circle was made from an old lift-shaft mast, while the outer part was made from “fish plate” – a material used to reinforce the hulls of trawlers in the local fishing trade.  In 1996 the sculpture was vandalised and pushed off the cliff into the sea.  Some of the charms were washed up on the beach and gathered up by locals so that the sculpture could be rebuilt.  Thankfully it has remained intact ever since.  


The Charm Bracelet (with red faced apologies for slanting horizon!)

Another curious structure came into view a short distance further along the trail, over on the other side of the railway track.  While it had the appearance of a concrete-clad wartime ruin, this structure is actually the remains of the Guibal Fan House, an artefact from the former Huntcliff Ironstone Mine.  The fan once contained within this building had a diameter of 9.2 metres and revolved at 49 rpm to move 113,449 cubic feet of air pressure per minute, providing ventilation to the mine from 1872 until its closure in 1906.  Somewhat surprisingly the building is now a scheduled ancient monument, a classification I can’t help but find odd for something ruined in relatively recent times.  I suppose it’s all in the terminology.  “Scheduled”, fair enough.  “Ancient” though?  Not quite yet.  But I can fully appreciate the need to protect these reminders of our past from problems such as the vandalism the fan house displayed on its graffitied walls.  Thinking about the attack on the nearby Charm Bracelet, one can’t help but feel dismayed that there are people within our society who will make the effort to walk some distance off the beaten track simply to wreak destruction.  This sad fact is truly baffling.


Fan House


Ahead of us down the coast we got our first sight of Skinningrove Jetty.  Protruding over the golden sands, from this vantage point it looked rather like a train heading into the sea.  Another remnant from the days of ironstone mining, the jetty was built in 1882 to enable foundry iron to be transported by sea from the nearby iron works to Grangemouth in Scotland.  The jetty has survived severe storms, being struck by ships on several occasions and even attempts to blow it up in the Second World War to prevent invasion.


Approaching Skinningrove

The path gradually descended until we were walking through grassy dunes and then along the beach, passing through a gap in the jetty to follow a path beside bouldered sea defences.  A bridge led us over the stream which runs through the centre of Skinningrove and we briefly considered turning off the trail to visit the village.  It felt as if it was too soon in the day to stop though, especially as we wanted to arrive in Staithes at a reasonable time for lunch, and so we crossed the bridge and climbed the steps which took us back onto the cliff.  The steps seemed to continue for quite some time and, as the heat of the day had increased, we made frequent stops to wipe sweat from our brows and take sips of water .  When the path levelled out a little I turned back to look down on Skinningrove, the scene better viewed from this angle, with bright sunshine illuminating the beach and jetty.





We continued to climb, more gradually now, with the path at times seeming to get perilously close to the edge.  Higher still and the view became more expansive, stretching along the coast all the way to the Headland at Hartlepool.


View up the coast


Ahead we could see the gradient continuing to increase to a distant high point.  We were approaching Boulby Cliff which, at 203m (or a rather ominous 666 feet) is the highest cliff on the east coast of England.  With the aid of a handy smart phone app we took regular altitude readings, which helped us to gauge, as near as possible, when we had reached the highest point.  A warning sign in the long grass by the cliff’s edge told us we were getting close.


Warning sign


Onwards and upwards we strode, the altimeter readings slowly moving closer to that foreboding number 666, when suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of what looked like writing carved into cliff face.  I nervously shuffled as near to the edge as I dare and peered over for a closer look.  There were definitely letters carved into the sandstone and I hastily snapped a photo, allowing me to step back, zoom in and make out the words.  It was a poem.  And a moving one at that.



In spring I saw you

Your eyes shone like dew

In summer we shared

A love we had so true

In autumn they told us

There is nothing we can do

It became winter when you left



I later discovered that Ted and Pauline were a Teesside couple, partners for 16 years when Pauline was diagnosed with a terminal illness.  She had died two years after receiving her prognosis.  After her death Ted was bereft and felt the need to create a memorial of some kind.  A park bench, however, just wasn’t going to do the job for Ted.  Instead, on 25th August 2015 (his 69th birthday), he climbed up to what had been one of their favourite places, settled on to a ledge and began the monumental task of carving his poem “Seasons” into the cliff face.  Starting at the bottom and working upwards, it took Ted 64 days to complete his love poem, finishing in time for what would have been Pauline’s birthday, on 6th November.


Ted has since retained his anonymity, stating that despite carving his poem in a very public place, his life and relationship remains a private matter.  I was especially touched to read that in answer to enquiries about this heroic display of love and grief he had written the following short verse:


I could not build Pauline a Taj Mahal

So soaring cliffs are now her monument

A shrine over the surging blue seas below

The wild high coast has become her temple

There for the whole wide world to know


Ted’s poem

Of course, at the time of our walk I knew nothing of the circumstances surrounding the poem, other than that it was obviously an extravagant and overt display of affection and grief.  I pondered on this for a time as we traversed the cliff’s highpoint.  Was it romanticism or vandalism?  Grief is a peculiar emotion.  It affects everyone differently, in ways that are impossible to predict.  For my part, having now mourned the loss of both parents, I had preferred to keep any emotion strictly to myself, dealing with whatever was necessary at the time and then looking forwards not back.  That’s not to say that I erased all memories of my parents from my mind.  Far from it.  Instead I adopted the sentiment expressed on the gravestone of my great-great-great grandfather:  To live in the hearts of those we love is not to die.  I had discovered his grave many years ago and those words, etched at the foot of his stone, have resonated with me ever since.  


As the bracken lined path slowly began to descend from Boulby my period of introspection was swiftly interrupted by the view.  If I was not mistaken, ahead lie the village of Staithes and a quick check with my map confirmed this.  The path from Saltburn to this point had provided more points of interest than we had anticipated and, having dawdled somewhat, it was now past the time we had planned to have lunch.  It was all downhill from here until Staithes though and so we upped our pace, the prospect of beer and sandwiches now dominating my thoughts.


Approaching Staithes


At Boulby the trail merged on to a quiet country lane for a short distance before returning to a grassy path which diverted us inland slightly, well away from the eroding coastline, crossing between arable fields.  All the way along this stretch of coast we could see signs of landslips and then, as we rejoined the country lane heading towards Staithes, there came the starkest evidence yet of the fragility of this crumbling coast.  We had reached the end of the road – quite literally.  Beyond lay nothing but a drop of several hundred feet to the rocks below.  A rough track turned away from the road and guided us safely on our way until we’d arrived at the outskirts of Staithes.


The end of the road


We continued to follow the road as it headed steeply downhill and then suddenly there it was.  One of the most well-known views of one of the most picturesque fishing villages in the UK.  Staithes.  Spotting some convenient stone steps, I climbed up to get a better view along Staithes Beck to the sea.




Below me I could see the bridge over the beck which would lead us into the heart of the village and, most importantly, lunch.  We hurried off in that direction, pausing in the centre of the bridge to take another photo.  Everywhere you look in Staithes there seems to be a jigsaw quality photo opportunity and it could have been tempting to skip lunch and spend the time gathering images instead.  We were already a little behind schedule though and so we stuck to our original plan and went in search of a pub.


Staithes Beck 


The cobbled High Street was bustling with people as we emerged from the alley at the other side of the bridge.  Once one of the largest fishing ports on the North East coast, Staithes is now a popular visitor destination and it’s easy to see why.  With its cobbled streets, 18th century cottages and the central beck harbouring an array of colourful little boats, it’s something of a magnet for artists and tourists alike.  


We wasted no time in finding the nearest pub, lured in by a board on the pavement offering crab sandwiches and chips.  Once seated in the pub’s beer garden, which was actually little more than an alley, it was a relief as always to remove my rucksack and sink a cold pint of beer.  This, as always, not only quenched my thirst but also provided a nice mellow feeling and sharpened my appetite so that I tucked into my sandwich and chips as if I hadn’t eaten for a week.  It has to be said though, it was truly delicious.  After a second pint of beer I began to wonder whether we could cancel our night’s accommodation in Runswick Bay and find an alternative in Staithes.  Tom, however, was sensibly having none of this.


“You can’t do that,” he said.  “It’s just not what we do.”


He was right, of course, and so all too soon I was hoisting my pack back onto my shoulders and heading the rest of the way downhill to the sea.  By way of a compromise, Tom bought ice creams and we sat for a while on a wall, enjoying the view over the pier and out to sea.


Staithes harbour


To rejoin the clifftop path we headed out of Staithes via a steep, cobbled lane.  When the lane came to an abrupt end a Cleveland Way fingerpost directed us up a stepped path which continued uphill until we arrived in what appeared to be the middle of a farmyard.  Ahead of us a further direction sign pointed the way, a short distance beyond which the clifftop path was visible.  


The earlier sea breeze had long since blown itself out and with it had gone the relief the cooler air provided after a strenuous climb.  In fact, the temperature had increased considerably throughout the course of the day and a quick check of our thermometer revealed an energy-sapping temperature of 30 degrees.  Thankfully, just over two miles of walking remained to Runswick Bay.  Even if we dawdled, we’d be there in less than an hour.  With this in mind we struck out at quite a healthy pace, reasoning that the sooner we could ditch our bags the better. 


Rounding a bend in the path to approach the next bay we could see further signs of coastal erosion.  It looked as if a large portion of the cliff had recently slipped, depositing a sizeable mound of boulder clay onto the beach below.  Along this stretch of coast the Lower Jurassic bedrock is overlain with glacial till deposited during the last ice age.  This makes this section of coast popular with fossil hunters, providing a high yield of ammonites, occasional dinosaur remains and sometimes pieces of jet.


Signs of erosion

Just 1½ miles after Staithes we arrived at Port Mulgrave, a former ironstone exporting port.  Originally called Rosedale, the name was changed to avoid confusion with other iron mining works at Rosedale in the centre of the North York Moors.  The name Port Mulgrave was chosen in recognition of the landowner, the Earl of Mulgrave.  In 1857 a harbour was opened to export ironstone to Jarrow on Tyneside and remained a busy port until 1920 when the nearby railway link rendered it redundant.  


A factor of coastal walking is that it inevitably entails a series of ups and downs as bays and inlets are traversed and, after passing Port Mulgrave another, thankfully shorter, descent and ascent awaited us at Rosedale Wyke.  Once back on the clifftop our efforts were rewarded with a view down to the remains of the harbour and the shanty town of ramshackle fishermen’s huts clustered around the base of the cliff.


Port Mulgrave


It wasn’t long after leaving Port Mulgrave before the trail turned inland, the path arriving at Runswick Bay in the car park of the hotel where we were to stay the night.  Having checked in and gratefully offloaded our bags, we enjoyed a cool beer in the sunshine.  It was a little after 4 p.m. and, surprisingly given the heat, we still felt fresh.   Our reservation for dinner was three hours away and, as appealing as it was to while away the time drinking beer in the sunshine, we realised that this was not a wise option.  And so, with our energy levels refreshed, we took a walk down the hill to the bay which gives the village its name.


Runswick Bay is another pretty little fishing village, built into the side of the cliff at the northern edge of the bay.  The entire village had to be rebuilt after it was almost totally destroyed due to a landslide in 1682.  Miraculously, no one appears to have been hurt, local legend recording that all of the villagers were attending a wake at the one house in the village to survive.  We spent a pleasant half-hour sitting on a bench admiring the scene and people-watching before winding our way back up the hill to our hotel.


Runswick Bay 


After dinner we stepped outside to the beer garden to enjoy a drink in the cooling evening air.  A young couple occupied a nearby table and we struck up a conversation with them, learning that they had travelled from Croydon to walk just the coastal section of the Cleveland Way, from Saltburn to Filey.


“I can’t get enough time off work to do the whole thing,” the man told us.  “We’ll come back next year to finish the job.”


We continued chatting for a while when suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a familiar figure approaching.


We had last seen Emily, the young student on a gap year solo hike, on our fourth day on the trail on the moors above Greenhow Bank.  She had left us behind, setting a cracking pace, particularly when considering her oversized backpack which left me in awe every time I saw it.  With a wave I beckoned her over.


“I’m surprised to see you here,” I told her.  “At the pace you walk, I’d have thought you’d have nearly finished by now.”


Emily laughed.   “I’ve got friends in Saltburn,” she explained.  “I stayed with them.  Had a great time.  I very nearly stayed on and called it a day.”


The sun had set by the time we left the beer garden, having spent a pleasant evening in the company of Emily and the couple from Croydon, whose names we didn’t learn.  It had been a convivial evening and, having learned that Emily was low on funds, we’d happily kept her in fruity cider for the course of the evening.


Ordinarily, such a late end to the day wouldn’t have been on our agenda, but the next day’s walk was to be the shortest yet.  With just seven miles to Whitby, we could enjoy a later than usual start and still arrive with time to spare to relax in one of our favourite places.  And, seeing as it would be my birthday, a day of treats lay in store.

Map of Day 6’s route


Coming soon…A short walk to Whitby for birthday shopping, an encounter with pirates and a stay in a haunted pub.


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