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

My first instinct, when the alarm on my phone rang out at 5 a.m., was to immediately turn it off, roll over and continue the deep refreshing sleep from which I’d been rudely awoken.  A quick glance at the Met Office app, however, provided an instant reminder of why I’d set such an early wake-up call in the first place.  The forecast temperature for the day ahead was set to soar to 32 degrees, with barely a breeze to provide any relief.  The sooner we set off, the cooler the temperature and the easier the going would be for the initial, most strenuous section, from Robin Hood’s Bay to Ravenscar.

In preparation for our early start, we’d bought some flapjack and biscuits which, along with a coffee from our room’s hospitality tray, made up our breakfast.  By 5.30 a.m. we were stealthily creeping down the stairs, feeling somewhat conspicuous as we left our room key on the bar, quietly unlatching the front door and gently closing it behind us.  Robin Hood’s Bay was still well and truly fast asleep.  Except that is for the town’s herring gull population, which screeched noisily, almost as if they were trying to thwart our discreet getaway, as we crossed the cobbles towards the steps to the clifftop path.  

So far, every one of our days on the Cleveland Way had started with a fairly steep climb, and today was no exception. The only difference with this day’s uphill trudge was the fact that we weren’t undertaking it after a hearty breakfast.  This did make the going slightly easier, and before long we were up on a level path above a sleepy Robin Hood’s Bay, which looked serene in the hazy morning light.

Robin Hood’s Bay at dawn

At the top of the steps, the walking was pleasant and easygoing, along a well-maintained level path which continued for just over one mile before it descended to Boggle Hole.  The curious name for this small, wooded cove was derived from the belief that the valley was once home to a boggle, or hobgoblin.  Like the hob holes of Runswick Bay, local people believed that leaving their children in the boggle’s lair overnight would cure them of ailments, such as whooping cough.  And seriously traumatise them into the bargain, no doubt.  

Once a popular place for smugglers to land their contraband, today Boggle Hole is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, due to its geological significance.  The cliffs here were created from glacial till deposited over layers of Redcar Mudstone at the end of the last ice age and the steep-sided valley was formed by the beck cutting through the glacial till deposits.  It is also the location of a rather splendid Youth Hostel.

Boggle Hole Youth Hostel

From the valley bottom of Boggle Hole a further set of steps led us back to the clifftop path.  Even though it was still only a little after 6 a.m., the temperature was ramping up without even a hint of a breeze.  Ahead of us we could see the higher cliffs at Ravenscar, which was to be our first resting place of the day.  There was just the small matter of the long uphill path to take us there, the main reason for our super-early start to the day.  Once we’d cracked that, we thought, the rest of the day would be plain sailing.

Looking over to the Ravenscar headland, the split nature of the cliff was prominent, as was the geological fault for which the area is well known (more on this a little later).

Heading towards Ravenscar

Just a short distance after Boggle Hole the path descended steeply again to a small section of beach at the end of the wooded ravine of Stoupe Beck.  The tide was high and not much of the beach was visible, but I understand that this is a popular place for families to visit.  Here too, the cliffs are formed from glacial till, making them crumbly and subject to erosion.  

Stoupe Beck

A stepped path climbed up from Stoupe Beck, emerging onto a narrow country lane which we followed for a while before turning to rejoin the path along the cliff’s edge.  From this vantage point we could enjoy a clear view of the beach at Stoupe Beck, all the way back to Robin Hood’s Bay and beyond.  The sea was smooth and calm, shimmering like silk in the early morning light.  Not for the first time along the trail, I remained still for a while, drinking in the view and savouring the present moment in such tranquil surroundings.  Sometimes, getting out of bed so early in the day can be a bit of a struggle, but it’s nearly always worth it, just for the feeling of peace and solitude being the only ones out and about can bring.

Looking back to Robin Hood’s Bay


Approaching the start of the ascent up to Ravenscar, we passed by the ruins of the Peak Alum Works.  This important industrial archaeological site has been in the care of the National Trust since 1979 and includes some of the most extensive remains of any alum works in Yorkshire.  Over 30 alum producing sites were established in North Yorkshire in the 17th and 18th centuries, and we had passed several of them during the course of our Cleveland Way journey.  This particular site, however, contains the most visible and intact remains.  
Alum production began here in 1650 and continued for over 200 years until the closure of the works in 1860.  In its heyday, the Peak Alum Works employed up to 150 men who were housed in small communities close to the site.
The name, Peak Alum Works, refers to the former name for the village known today as Ravenscar, which prior to 1897 was called Peak.  The change came about after a wealthy developer purchased the manor of Peak Hall, which was then turned into a luxury hotel and renamed Raven Hall.  Thereafter, the village of Peak was also renamed Ravenscar, and investors were enticed into funding the development of a seaside resort to rival the likes of nearby Scarborough, lured by the promise of golden sandy beaches.  Investments began to roll in and streets were laid out, foundations plotted, and a drainage system dug out.  Quite possibly it was the eventual realisation that Ravenscar’s cliffs descend directly onto rocks, with no hint of a sandy beach in sight, that led to investors withdrawing their funding and Ravenscar earning the title of “the town that never was”.  
Once we had spent a few minutes browsing the information panels at the Peak Alum Works, we began the steady climb up the village of Ravenscar, starting with a walk along the former track of the Scarborough to Whitby railway.  This line opened in 1885 and was closed in 1965 as part of the infamous Beeching Closures.  In 1990 the line reopened as the Cinder Track, a 21.7-mile surfaced track running all the way from Scarborough to Whitby and widely acknowledged as one of the country’s foremost cycle trails. 
Leaving the Cinder Track, our route climbed steeply and steadily up to the village, emerging at a visitor centre with some welcome public conveniences.  Here we took a short break on a picnic bench, to enjoy a drink and a snack, having completed 5 of the day’s 15 mile route, and certainly the most strenuous section.  It was a little before 8 a.m., we were well ahead of schedule, and the early start had meant that we hadn’t been too hot to enjoy the walk.


Peak Alum Works



The distinctive headland at Ravenscar owes its prominence to a major geological rift known as the Peak Fault, which roughly runs from north to south and is clearly visible along the path down to the shore.  Our path, however, was to continue past the entrance to Raven Hall Hotel before turning to follow a track which took us back to the clifftop.  
Beneath this high point on the coast runs an undercliff; essentially a second, lower cliff formed by a landslide from the upper, main cliff.  Known as the Beast Cliff, the total height from sea level to where I was standing is 160 metres (520ft), with the lower, undercliff measuring 45 metres (148ft).  
The Beast Cliff is almost entirely vegetated with thick woodland and scrub foliage, giving it a distinctly primordial appearance. Had a dinosaur come crashing through the undergrowth at that very moment, it would not have looked out of place.  As I cast my gaze around the lush, verdant scene below, I thought I could detect the hint of a path here and there, meandering through the trees and shrubs.  It looked as though it would be a fascinating area to explore, although I understand the area is unstable and subject to further possible land slips.  Even so, in times past livestock were lowered down here on ropes for grazing purposes, which may well be the source of the name Beast Cliff.


Beast Cliff



The temperature began to rise as the morning progressed, but thankfully the hardest work was now behind us as we happily strode along the grassy trail between fenced off fields and the cliff’s edge.  Below us we could hear the sound of an engine as a small fishing boat made its way up the coast.  Suddenly the engine cut out, and shortly afterwards a couple of shots rang out from below, stopping us dead in our tracks.  Unmistakably, the sound was that of a both barrels of a shotgun being discharged from the small boat.  Nervously I peered through the bracken that lined the cliff edge and could see that thankfully we were out of range.  But what could anyone possibly have been shooting at?  Seagulls?  Hopefully not seals!  A short while later another pair of shots rang out and my curiosity got the better of me.  Fishing my small pair of field binoculars out of my rucksack, I scanned the scene below until I could focus on the boat.   Just as I did so a couple of dark discs hurtled skywards from the stern of the boat, quickly followed by two further shots.  Clay pigeons!  I suppose in the absence of a big enough area of land, out at sea is as safe a place as anywhere to practice.
Curiosity satisfied, we continued on our way, the sounds of gunfire receding as we headed ever southwards.  In the distance the first glimpse of our day’s destination emerged, as the hazy outline of Scarborough Castle loomed out of the mist.  We were making good progress and at this rate we may find ourselves with some free time to enjoy in Scarborough.

The path above the Beast Cliff


The trail continued along the edge of the cliff until we reached Hayburn Wyke, which is famed for a pair of waterfalls which cascade down onto the beach from a wooded stream above.  I had been eagerly anticipating a visit to this popular beauty spot, but it turns out that I was to be disappointed.  The recent heatwave had reduced the cascades to barely a trickle.  Having negotiated a steep descent on slippery stone steps we immediately crossed the stream bed to begin the climb to rejoin the clifftop path.  As we were about to take the first step, Tom stopped in his tracks and silently pointed to the very first of the stone steps, just at the spot where he’d been poised to place his foot.  I blinked in disbelief.  Right there on the step, basking in a shaft of sunlight, was a snake.  At least, I thought it was a snake.  I bent over for a closer look and to take, it has to be said, a very poor photograph.  In fact, this wasn’t a snake at all, but a slow worm, which although looking very snake-like is actually a legless lizard, and Britain’s most common reptile.  Suddenly aware of our presence, it swiftly slithered into the undergrowth and disappeared from sight.


Not a snake….a slow worm!



The climb up from Hayburn Wyke was exhausting and seemed relentless in the oppressive heat.  Thankfully though, once we’d got to the top, a light sea breeze had picked up, bringing with it a little relief.  
Yet another descent and ascent awaited us a little further along the trail, at Cloughton Wyke.  The name “Wyke” is Scandinavian in origin and means “a narrow inlet sheltered by headlands”.  Just four miles north of Scarborough, Cloughton Wyke is popular with anglers, bird watchers, climbers and fossil hunters.  Not to mention walkers on the Cleveland Way.  Remarkably though, as we clambered down to the bay and back up the other side, not another soul was to be seen.


Cloughton Wyke

 Ahead of us we had a clearer view along the coast, with Scarborough Castle drawing ever closer and the distinctive outline of Flamborough Head extending out to sea beyond.  We had continued to make good progress and, at our current pace, we realised that we would reach the village of Scalby, just a couple of miles north of Scarborough, in time for lunch.


A distant Scarborough Castle



The going was easy from Cloughton Wyke to Scalby Mills and much to my delight the breeze picked up a little stronger, cooling us with refreshing sea air.  Before long the pyramidal shapes of the Scarborough Sea Life Centre came into view and we were descending directly into the car park of the Old Scalby Mills pub.  Here we treated ourselves to a plate of sandwiches, accompanied by a large bowl of chips, washed down with a couple of pints of the excellent Whitby Whaler beer, while sitting at an outside table watching the world go by along the adjoining road.  This, I quickly realised, included a frequent open-top bus service from Scalby Mills into the centre of Scarborough.  From this point onwards the remainder of our walk would be at sea level with little prospect of a breeze.  The heat and exertion of the day had been draining.  Would it be so wrong, I asked Tom, if we hopped on a bus for the last couple of miles?  His answer was unequivocal.
“You can cheat if you want,” he said, “but I’m sticking with it.”

Scalby Mills


Shortly afterwards we drank up and pressed on, following the seafront path above Scarborough’s north beach which was crowded with holidaymakers, basking in the sunshine or taking a dip in the sea.  
“I suppose a paddle’s out of the question?” I asked Tom, but he didn’t seem to hear me.


Scarborough North Beach


 Our accommodation for the night was to be the Premier Inn, which is located right in the middle of Scarborough’s town centre.  This had lengthened our day’s walk to include a traverse of the castle headland, passing the harbour before climbing St Nicholas Cliff.  The seafront was packed with tourists and the sounds of amusement arcades, chattering crowds and traffic was an assault to my eardrums after the relative peace and tranquility of the mostly deserted clifftop paths.  And down there, on the bustling seafront, the heat was almost overwhelming.


Scarborough Harbour



Thankfully, our room was air conditioned and, after a shower and a short rest, I was good to go again.  Ready to enjoy a night out in Scarborough, which consisted of a couple of drinks at a nearby Wetherspoons followed by a highly enjoyable meal in a locally renowned Italian restaurant.  Before returning to our accommodation we visited a small, quiet pub for a nightcap.  And here, I’m almost embarrassed to confess, I promptly fell asleep.  The one and only time I’ve nodded off in a pub with a pint glass of beer still in my hand.  Remarkably, I didn’t spill a drop!     


Map of the day’s route 


Coming soon…A deliberately short day of just ten miles to take us to the end of the trail in Filey for a celebratory meal and beers, followed by a train journey home.


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