Cleveland Way Day 8 - Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay


Had I known, when booking our room at the White Horse and Griffin, that this inn is reputed to be one of the most haunted buildings in Whitby, I may have had second thoughts.  To be honest, I’m not exactly sure whether I believe in ghosts or not.  Having worked in a large stately home, where I was often the only person in the entire building after dark, I’ve experienced one or two incidents which, at the time, were a little hard to explain.  If pushed, I’d say that there may be a kind of force that enables buildings to record and store memories.  And I would agree that some things can be difficult to explain.  Like, for example, the noises which kept me awake throughout the night and sounded like someone in the room above ours was randomly moving furniture around.  Except, I realised when the first glimmer of morning light began to filter through our window, we were on the top floor.  All that was above us was the roof.  


As the day brightened quickly and outside the screeching and squawking of seabirds reached a crescendo, I rationalised that the roof over our heads must be a favoured roosting place.  What we’d heard, I decided, was the shuffling and jostling for position of a large flock of herring gulls.  That must have been it.  Nothing at all to do with the inn’s most notorious ghost, a previous landlady called Mrs Bowler, who by all accounts can make her presence known if she takes a dislike to someone.  In the 1980s, anyone who managed to last a full night’s stay here was rewarded with £50.  There’d been no mention of this in the booking conditions, so I assumed that this particular special offer had expired.  And, in any case, we’d had a lovely room and we enjoyed a seriously good breakfast.


A late check out time and another short day’s walk (just seven miles) gave us time to have a further browse around Whitby before checking out.  The streets were all but deserted as we wandered around in search of snacks for the day ahead.  It certainly made for a pleasing contrast with the previous day’s bustling crowds and tightly packed shops.


Once suitably provisioned, we returned to the inn to check out and collect our rucksacks.  The day was rapidly heating up and, with a forecasted temperature of up to 30 degrees, we set out to tackle the famous 199 steps which would lead us back on to the route of the Cleveland Way.  Ordinarily, on previous visits to Whitby, I’ve made it my mission to climb all the steps without taking a break.  Not so today.  The combination of heat and my heavy backpack made for slow progress, and I was forced to pause at the midway point, taking a photo looking down on the harbour as I did so.

Whitby’s 199 Steps

At the top of the steps, we had a further rest, giving me time to capture an image of Caedmon’s Cross.  This striking 20 feet high monument commemorates the seventh century poet, who spent most of his life in nearby Whitby Abbey, until his death in 680.  The cross was erected in 1898 and was made from stone which was quarried in Northumberland, close to Hadrian’s Wall.  The front (east) side of the cross is carved with four panels, depicting Christ with his feet on a dragon and a swine, King David playing a harp, the Abbess Hild, founder of Whitby Abbey, with ammonite fossils beneath her feet and, in the bottom panel, the poet Caedmon himself.  With its Celtic design, typical of the work of the Arts and Crafts movement, set against a backdrop of Whitby harbour, it’s a thing of great beauty.

Caedmon’s Cross

After passing through St Mary’s churchyard, we were reunited with the Cleveland Way, by the entrance to Whitby Abbey.  A short walk along a road led us to a national trail sign, directing us to take the clifftop path which, after a short distance, led us to a gate.  Here the trail narrowed and diverted to the left of the gate, which to avoid any confusion had been painted with some helpful advice.  

A helpful warning

We had been hoping to be greeted by a cooling sea breeze as we began our walk along the clifftop, but in this we were to be disappointed.  The day was calm, with not even a hint of a breeze, and the temperature continued to rise.  Looking back as we strode along the path provided us with a fine view of Whitby Abbey.  Founded in the seventh century (circa 657) by Hild, the daughter of a nobleman, the original abbey was home to both monks and nuns.  It was here in 664 that the Synod of Whitby established how to calculate the date when Easter should be celebrated, as well as reconciling differences that had arisen between Irish and Roman religious practices in Northumberland.  The abbey was abandoned after repeated attacks by Danish invaders in the ninth century, until a new monastic community was founded by a monk named Reinfrid in the eleventh century (circa 1078).  In 1225 work was commenced on the impressive Gothic structure, the ruins of which remain to this day.    Like most similar religious sites, the abbey’s decline began with its suppression during the reign of Henry VIII in 1539, when most of its surrounding buildings were completely demolished.  

Whitby Abbey

Looking down from the cliffs we could see that the tide was receding, exposing what remains of MV Creteblock, a shipwreck with a riveting story.  In fact, this ship didn’t have any rivets, having been made from concrete.  At the time of its construction in 1919, just after the First World War, materials were in short supply, and so resourceful shipbuilders improvised by using concrete.  The Creteblock was used as a tugboat on Teesside, until it was taken to Whitby in 1947 to be scrapped.  After it had been stripped of everything of value on board, the vessel was towed out to sea so that it could be sunk in deep water in the North Sea.  However, after leaving the harbour it was caught by a current and struck the rocks of Whitby Scar.  An attempt was later made to blow up the wreckage with dynamite, but this was only partially successful.  Over time the North Sea has continued the job of dispersing this unusual wreck, so that today only a hint of a ship remains visible at low tide on the rocks below the abbey cliff.


I tried to imagine, as I gazed down at the rocks, the fateful day when the Creteblock had been towed out of the harbour, only to be caught in a riptide.  I felt sure that there’d have been a lot of shouting.  Voices hollering out from one vessel to the other, frantically yelling instructions and, more than likely, cursing.  Desperate attempts to avoid the inevitable.  The grounding had occurred so close to the shore, it must have been witnessed by people looking down from the spot where I was now standing.  It would have been quite a spectacle and one not easily forgotten.


The wreck of MV Creteblock

I was grateful that the day’s short route enabled us to dawdle along, taking our time.  I’d enjoyed the previous night’s birthday celebrations, but the fuzzy-headed morning after feeling, combined with the mounting heat of the day, wasn’t conducive to exertion.  Looking back at Whitby’s east cliffs we could clearly see its underlying geology, which is quite different in composition to that of the west cliffs, on the other side of the harbour.  From this vantage point, the layers of shales and sandstone were clearly visible.   An abundance of fossils has been unearthed from the bottom layer of alum shale; predominantly anmmonites and belemnites, as well as the fossilised remains of reptiles, such as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs.  This area has also been a rich source of the jet for which Whitby has become famous.

Whitby’s East Cliff

The path, which ran perilously close to the cliff’s edge at times, took us through Saltwick Bay Caravan Park.  From here we had a view down to Saltwick Nab, a former alum quarry founded in the seventeenth century by Sir Hugh Chomley of Whitby Abbey.  Alum, which was used as a binder in textile dyeing, was quarried here until 1791.  Saltwick Bay has seen more than its share of shipwrecks over the years, the most recent being that of the trawler Admiral Von Tromp in 1976, the remains of which are still visible today.

Saltwick Nab

As we meandered along the clifftop, I found myself frequently turning to look back at the coastline behind me.  At this time of day, the lighting was perfectly illuminating the geological structure of the cliffs which, despite not understanding, I still find intriguing and incredibly beautiful in its variety.  I’ve read several books on geology over the years, but I must admit that I find the concept of 4.5 billion years of earth history just too much to grasp.  It seems unfathomable.  Nevertheless, I can still stand and stare in appreciation of its magnificence.

Fascinating geology

Onwards we strode, hugging the coastline, eager to reach our day’s destination of Robin Hood’s Bay, in spite of being on schedule to arrive shortly after lunchtime.  The mounting heat was making walking just a little too uncomfortable, whatever our pace, so we reasoned that it would be preferable to get the job done as quickly as possible.  Which is a shame, in a way, because this really was a spectacular section of coast.  


A little further along the path, at Ling Hill, we passed the old Whitby Foghorn and Lighthouse.  Although the foghorn was decommissioned in 1988, and replaced by an electric version, I could still clearly remember how it must have sounded, having grown up close to a similar signalling mechanism on Flamborough Head.  It sounded like the crazed bellowing of a huge bull and, should you be standing close by when it suddenly boomed into action, you felt that you could quite easily be blown clean off the headland.  I once had the misfortune to be directly beneath the Flamborough foghorn as it was fired up and, although I managed to stay on my feet, I have never forgotten it.  And for this reason, just the sight of those enormous horns made me quicken my pace until I was safely past, even though the building is these days used purely for residential purposes, with the appropriate name of Hornblower Lodge.

Whitby Foghorn

The old lighthouse presented a much gentler façade, nestling as it does on a terrace in the cliff.  It’s a charming, stubby little lighthouse as they go.   Built in 1858 and automated in 1992, these days it’s controlled remotely by Trinity House from Harwich in Essex, and the range of its light is 18 nautical miles.

Whitby Lighthouse

The path steadily climbed above the lighthouse before returning to the cliff’s edge which it hugged all the way, descending and ascending steps as the coastline dipped and rose again while traversing inlets.  It was easy pleasant walking, but the absence of a sea breeze was noticeable as the sun relentlessly beat down.  

At Oakham Beck we once again found ourselves on the route of the Coast to Coast walk, this short coastal section being the grand finale for those following the traditional route from west to east.  After our experience on an earlier section of the trail, I half expected to see groups of walkers ahead of us, trudging their way towards Robin Hood’s Bay.  It was therefore something of a relief to discover that we were alone.   I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at how blissfully quiet it was at this time of day.  It was a little after midday and any Coast to Coasters approaching the finishing line of their cross-country adventure wouldn’t start to arrive on this section until later in the afternoon.   The only person we passed was a friendly National Park Ranger, who we chatted to for a while about path maintenance, coastal erosion and walking in general.

Just above Robin Hood’s Bay we found a conveniently located bench where we were treated to a splendid view of the bay, the village and the hills beyond.  It was tempting to remain seated on the bench, admiring the view for a good long while, but the prospect of the lunch and beer which awaited us was too hard to resist and, after a short rest, we continued along the path into the uppermost part of the village.  

View of Robin Hood’s Bay

The origins of the name Robin Hood’s Bay is shrouded in mystery, although it’s highly unlikely that it ever had anything to do with Sherwood Forest’s famous outlaw.  To local residents it’s known as Baytown and the village spans a hill, from the sea up a steep street to the top of the cliff.   We made our way down the hill, in search of beer and a sandwich.

Robin Hood’s Bay

Once at the foot of the hill we headed straight to our base for the night, The Bay Hotel, and having learned that we could check in immediately, we dumped our bags in our room and settled down to enjoy our lunch in the appropriately named Wainwright Bar.  As an avid fan, I’m always pleased to pay my respects to any connections with the late, great fellwanderer, however tenuous these may be.  And a pint of Wainwright Ale in a bar bearing his name at the end of a trail he created was a connection I relished.  The only missing ingredient was my own completion of the Coast to Coast, but that will surely happen, one day.  

The Wainwright Bar

Swapping our hiking boots and socks for lightweight shoes, we wandered around the picturesque streets before walking down to the water’s edge for a paddle in cooling seawater.  As the afternoon wore on a steady stream of Coast to Coasters began to arrive, dipping their boots in the sea and depositing the pebble they’d carried with them all the way from the beach at St Bees, in the time-honoured tradition of the trail. 
The heat of the day subsided as evening drew near and, as the shadows lengthened, the tide receded, exposing seaweed clad rocks which seemed to perfectly mirror the distant cliffs at Ravenscar across the bay.

 Retreating tide

After dinner in the hotel bar we sat out for a while on the balcony which overlooks the sea, enjoying the cooling air as the sun set and the moon rose across the bay.  It was a wonderfully refreshing end to what had been a hot and humid day, with the promise of even higher temperatures for the following day.  As we sat sipping on a cool beer, we made the decision to skip breakfast in the hotel and get as early a start as possible on the day ahead.  We had 16 miles to walk to Scarborough, the toughest part being the first three miles to Ravenscar, which included a few steep ascents.  

Moonlit low tide

Once we’d arranged where to drop off our keys in the morning, we returned to our room.  Like the hotel balcony, this was also directly above the sea, allowing the soothing sound of the returning tide to bring a gentle waft of cooling air directly through our open window.   It was just like having the perfect air conditioning unit with an added relaxation soundtrack.  I set an alarm for 5 a.m. and almost instantly drifted off into the most refreshing of sleeps.

Map of the day’s route

Coming soonOur penultimate day kicks off with an early start, followed by a hot 16 miles to the seaside resort of Scarborough.


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