Cleveland Way Day 7 - Runswick Bay to Whitby

They say time flies when you’re having fun and, whoever “they” might be, they’re not wrong. It was hard to believe, when I awoke from a heavy night’s sleep, that we had been following the Cleveland Way for one whole week.  It also didn’t immediately dawn on me that this was my birthday.  Perhaps I’d dreamt it?  A quick check on social media confirmed that I hadn’t.  I may not have had any cards or presents to open, but Facebook did provide me with a long string of birthday wishes to read and acknowledge before breakfast.  Ordinarily, a late start to the day might have disrupted our schedule, but as a short day’s walking lay ahead, it mattered not that our hotel didn’t start serving breakfast until 9 a.m., or that we didn’t venture downstairs until 9.30.  


It turned out that the only other overnight guests had been the couple from Croydon, who we’d met the previous evening and who were just finishing their breakfasts as we arrived.  After exchanging our “good mornings”, the guy pulled a face and was about to say something, then stopped when a waitress approached.  Once our order had been taken and she’d retreated to the kitchen, I looked in his direction, hoping for an explanation.


“You’ll see,” was all he offered, as they made to leave.  “Enjoy your day.”


And with that they were gone, leaving us to experience what was quite possibly one of the worst breakfasts I’ve ever had.  The coffee tasted strongly of chicory, it was hard to believe that the eggs weren’t the joke rubber variety, and my one slice of toast was burned on one side but, bizarrely, completely untoasted on the other.  I ate what I could then helped myself to another small packet of cereal.


The young waitress greeted us as we checked out a little later.


“Everything alright?” she enquired.


“Yes, lovely thank you,” I surprised myself by saying.  It was my birthday, and I wasn’t about to start the day with a grumble.


With just under nine miles (14km) to walk to Whitby, we could afford to take things slowly, starting with a leisurely amble down the hill to a very peaceful Runswick Bay.  (Incidentally, the ‘w’ in Runswick is silent, as seems to be the case with most places ending in ‘wick’, Keswick being a lovely example.)

Runswick Bay

 From the slipway at the foot of the hill, the route of the Cleveland Way runs along the beach for a short distance, ascending back to the top of the cliff after just under a kilometre of pleasant beach walking.  


Just before we tackled the climb, we passed the eerily named Hob Holes, a series of caves in the clay cliffs, which were formed by 19th century jet mining.  According to local legend, these caves were once home to a hobgoblin blessed with the power to heal children of whooping cough.  Local parents would apparently leave their afflicted children in the caves overnight, having first pleaded with the invisible hobgoblin to work his magic.  I should imagine any children subjected to such an ordeal came out of the cave not only still afflicted by their cough, but also with some form of psychological scarring into the bargain.  

Hob Holes


A little beyond the Hob Holes our route turned into a ravine.  A bit of a scramble over rocks ensued before a series of steep steps, which led us on a long climb around the edge of the ravine, eventually turning towards the edge of the cliff.  The climb seemed particularly long and strenuous, and the day was really beginning to heat up, so it was with a huge sense of relief that we were greeted on the clifftop by a refreshing sea breeze.  I’m not ashamed to admit it - I was gasping for air when we eventually reached the cliff’s edge, and I took a short break, capturing a pleasing view over Runswick Bay in the process.


Looking down on Runswick Bay


Suitably rested, we set off again, striding out along the now level grassy path.  Before long we were looking down upon the cliffs of Kettleness, where the abandoned alum works were clearly visible on the promontory below.  A mineral used in the dyeing and tanning process, alum was quarried extensively at Kettleness between 1727 and 1861.  In fact, the quarrying was so intense that in December 1829 it caused a huge landslide, which resulted in the collapse of the original village.  These days all that remains of Kettleness is a small hamlet, located a little further inland, where we found a conveniently placed bench.  Even though we’d not walked far, and had been moving quite slowly, we’d still made good progress and were feeling nicely relaxed.  And that bench with that view was just a little too hard to resist.


We’d been seated for just a few minutes, gazing out to sea, enjoying a drink of cool water from our insulated bottles, when a familiar voice cut into the silence.


“What about that breakfast?”, called out the guy from Croydon.  “And the coffee!  Wow!”


It was more of a statement than a question, we realised, as he and his partner marched past us, setting quite a pace.  We remained seated for a short time longer, allowing them to get ahead of us, before following in their footsteps, through Kettleness and back to the cliff edge.



As the path turned a corner just beyond Kettleness, on a distant promontory we got our first glimpse of Whitby, clearly identifiable by the hazy outline of its landmark abbey.  I looked out with an eager sense of anticipation at the prospect of an afternoon spent shopping for my birthday gift, followed by a relaxing meal at the inn where we would be spending the night.  It seemed, to me, like the perfect way to spend a birthday; out in the sunshine, breathing in the clear sea air and working up an appetite for the treats which lay in store later in the day.  But first, we had the small matter of four miles to cover before we reached Whitby.  Thinking about those treats led me to increase my pace, helped along by the easy terrain along this section of path.  Navigation couldn’t have been more straightforward; a clearly defined path mostly hugged the edge of the cliff, with the occasional directional sign to reassuringly confirm the route.  Someone had even taken it upon themselves to make a helpful sign, telling us that we had notched up 75 miles since leaving Helmsley, with a further 37 miles to walk to Filey.  While studying the sign a couple of discrepancies struck me.  Firstly, the official distance of the Cleveland Way is 109 miles, not 112 as the sign’s distances implied.  And then, on closer inspection, and to my great amusement, I noticed the omission of the letter ‘L’ from Helmsley, which had later been added as a subscript between the E and the M.  Adorable!

Helmsley to Filey sign

The next mile seemed to pass by in minutes and presently we reached a wooded area which concealed a long section of steep wooden and cobbled steps downhill to the route of the old Whitby to Loftus railway line, emerging by the now blocked-up entrance to the Sandsend Tunnel.  From this point until we reached Sandsend, the Cleveland Way would follow the cinder track of the old railway line.  


The Whitby to Loftus Line opened in 1883 and was just over 16 miles in length.  It closed to passengers in 1958 but the northern section was reopened in the 1970s for a time, to serve the Boulby Potash Mine.  This short section remains in use today for the transportation of freight only.  

It was surprisingly busy along this pleasant section of cinder path, due to its proximity to the popular village of Sandsend and the accessibility afforded by its even surface.  As we tramped along, we had fine views of Sandsend Ness, another former alum quarry which has left a distinctive mark on this stretch of coast.


The former Whitby to Loftus Line

As we rounded a bend in the track, we suddenly found ourselves looking down upon the village of Sandsend and the stretch of golden sands, leading to a distant Whitby, with the abbey now clearly visible.  A kind of hazy cloud layer had developed, and the day had become rather muggy and humid.  It felt like a good time to take a break and enjoy a spot of lunch, but looking down on a busy seafront car park, it seemed that Sandsend was going to be somewhat crowded.


Above  Sandsend


Descending from the clifftop track, we emerged into the packed car park, beyond which we followed the main road, passing a row of imposing seafront properties before arriving at the inlet of East Row Beck.  Here we found a beachfront café, serving sandwiches, cakes and ice cream.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t too busy.  We found an empty table on the terrace and ordered our lunch.  By the side of the café the inlet had been dammed, turning it into a kind of lido in which children were splashing around with bodyboards and inflatables.  The cloud cover lifted a little, the sun beat down and the temperature soared.  Sitting in the shade, enjoying tea and cake, I began to wonder if a bus might arrive to carry us for the remaining two miles into Whitby.


Sandsend café


We spent the best part of an hour, relaxing in the sunshine at Sandsend.  No bus arrived and, of course, I was glad about this.  It might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but I knew with absolute certainty that once the day was done, I would regret having cheated, albeit only for a couple of miles.  And so we hoisted on our backpacks and continued for the final two miles into Whitby, along a very straightforward, easy and, dare I say it, quite boring section of walk, for the most part along the side of a busy road.  It was a relief to eventually leave the roadside as we approached the West Cliff area of Whitby.  Walking along a neatly lawned clifftop, we looked down on a narrow strip of beach, crowded with holidaymakers enjoying the now gloriously hot sunny day.  Beyond the beach, the West Pier stretched into the calm turquoise sea, a pleasing contrast to days when angry waves pound against its sturdy walls.


Whitby West Cliff


To join the steps which would take us down to the seafront area, we had to pass beneath the whalebone arch.  I paused for a quick photo, which was made rather awkward due to the large number of people milling around the area.  Eventually, and after a bit of a wait for the area to clear, Tom managed a quick snap.


The original whale’s jaw bone arch was erected in 1853, in recognition of the town’s whaling fleet which sailed out of Whitby to Greenland, hunting whales for their highly lucrative oil.  The arch I was standing beneath is the third to stand on this spot, having been replaced in 1963 and then again in 2003.   


The whalebone Arch


Once we had snatched our quick souvenir photo, we stepped away from the arch to allow others to do the same and spent some time admiring the view over to the old town, where the famous 199 steps lead up to St Mary’s Church and the Abbey.  Down in the harbour, the mock pirate ship was sailing out on one of the many pleasure cruises it delights its passengers with each day.

View over Whitby harbour


From the whalebone arch we made our way down the steps and to the harbour-side.  The instant we set foot on the pedestrianised road we were hit by the stark contrast with the peace and solitude we’d enjoyed so far on the trail.  Quite simply, the area was heaving with people, bustling shoulder to shoulder past amusement arcades and fast food outlets.  The sounds and the smells were a riot to our senses.  The aroma of fish and chips and seafood mingled with burgers and donuts was almost overpowering, while our eardrums were assaulted with loud music, excited voices and the beeps and chimes of a hundred slot machines.  As we made our way through the crowds, I was jostled this way and that, frequently apologising after catching someone with my bulky rucksack.  


The swing bridge which separates the west from the east side of Whitby was about to close to pedestrians as we made our way across, so we hurried to the other side where we were met by an almost impenetrable wall of people waiting to cross.  To avoid a crush we dashed into the adjoining pub and ordered a couple of drinks.  I took a photo from the window as we sat enjoying our beers.  I intended enjoying our time in Whitby, but at the same time I found myself longing for the tranquility of the trail.


Swing bridge crowd


Once the bridge had swung back to allow safe crossing, the crowd quickly dissipated.  We finished our drinks and continued the short distance to our accommodation, the White Horse and Griffin, an atmospheric, 18th century coaching inn in the old town area of Whitby.   Once we’d checked in and deposited our bags in our room, we returned to the busy street for a hunt around the shops in search of my birthday gift.  Tom had already suggested the ideal gift, which I was excited to track down.  It didn’t take long before I found exactly what I wanted.  A beautiful Whitby jet pendant, set with a polished sliver of ammonite.  It was the perfect gift and a wonderful souvenir of our time on the trail.


My birthday gift


We spent the rest of the afternoon happily meandering around Whitby old town, browsing around the shops, visiting one or two of the pubs and sampling some of the sweet treats on offer, such as fudge and the impressive Captain Cook’s Cannonball (a large white chocolate covered truffle).  Whitby is a popular haunt for the Goth and Steam Punk subcultures, which apparently includes pirates.  We encountered several as we wandered around.  And the more beers we enjoyed the more we entered into the spirit, exchanging “Aaaars” and “Avasts”, all reciprocated with good humour.



Eventually, we returned to the White Horse and Griffin where we enjoyed a superb meal before retiring to our charming room on the uppermost floor.  This was decorated in a distinctive 18th century décor, reminiscent of the style of room perhaps occupied by the famous local explorer, Captain James Cook.  


The White Horse & Griffin


It had been a wonderful, relaxing day.  The very best kind of birthday, I thought, as I drifted contentedly towards sleep.


Map of Day 7’s route


Coming soon…. Another short, leisurely day along the coast to Robin Hood’s Bay.


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