There’s nothing quite like a holiday to the coast and inhaling that fresh sea air to combat the trepidations of the ‘will they won’t they’ Green Card application limbo. Oh, just me that this situation is specific to? Maybe so, but there’s never a bad time to go to the coast, am I right? Well. Except for Bank Holiday Mondays when you can’t move for getting wayward beach balls chucked at your head and toddler’s constant screams punctuate the peace. That’s also in fact any time in August too, when the rest of the country wants to get some sun to their pasty chops.
I seemed to somehow time it just right with my visit to the North East coastline in mid July. There was just about enough promise of rain that kept the hoards away and I was able to enjoy the peace — although of course I wasn’t totally alone. Since when has rain ever kept a determined Brit away from the beach?
My solo jaunt began when I checked into The Falcon Inn just off the main road in Cloughton. It was late and I was grateful as they agreed to prepare me a meal before I rushed off to bed.
My early start the next day would take me to Robin Hood’s Bay, a dream destination of mine ever since watching Wild Child on Netflix (pleasure: guilty!), and from there on I had several North York Moors towns in my sights. A dreary raincloud would force on the waterproofs for a big part of my trip, but thankfully wouldn’t last long and for the most part I had the bleary, rustic coastal villages, cliffs and trails to myself (aside from the odd white haired man with a little dog — I’ll allow it).
Here are all of the towns I visited on my adventure.
Robin Hood’s Bay themes: Second hand book shops, dog lovers and smuggling.
Yes, seriously: smuggling. Somewhere around the 18th century, the coastline was aswarm with Davos Seaworths when the lights went out. Due to high taxes, villagers were eager to accept the loot — usually gin, salt, tea and tobacco — for a knockdown price, and since the bays like Robin Hood’s Bay were so isolated it easily went undetected. A network of tunnels was created that linked inns and houses so the goods could be hidden until they could be transported to markets in Yorkshire to be sold for a sumptuous profit.
In fact, this whole area and all of the towns I mention in this post were likely to be involved in smuggling and stickin’ it to the man, but Robin Hood’s Bay has a delightful, romantic bistro called Smugglers and is there not a better place to learn about the county’s smuggling history?
Today, Robin Hood’s Bay thrives on tourism. It is an insanely pretty town, with houses peppered up the steep cliffs forming layers of cottages and B&Bs. From pretty much any view you can see the sea — and here it is a wonderful teal blue (none of that murky green grey slop that I grew up with in Clacton). The place attracts couples and families (and solos like me!) and also a lot of dogs! Everyone wants to bring their dogs to the coast, especially Robin Hood’s because the whole beach is dog friendly year-round. The beach isn’t massive and I’m sure mid-summer it would be unbearably packed, but it’s a beautiful bay with a giant Game of Thrones-like sea wall offering incredible views.
My favourite discovery of Robin Hood’s was all of the second hand book shops and other trinket stores the town has to offer. Between Robin Hood’s Bay Bookshop on Chapel Street, the Book & Fossil Co (which is actually inside a museum!) on New Road, Berties of Bay on Bay Bank and Tea, Toast and Post on King Street there are plenty of old fashioned boutiques to explore.
Whitby themes: Fish & chips, boat trips and a 1,400 year old monastery.
From knowing very little about Whitby, I quickly gathered that it was the touristy place to go when the sun shines in this bubble of the world. It. Was. Heaving.
I made good use of the Park & Ride (£2.50 day return, a-thank you!) and, having seen the outline of the Abbey ruins from tens of miles away, made that my first stop of the day.
Whitby Abbey is on the highest point of Whitby — it actually has 199 steps to reach it from the harbour. Needless to say, it was obviously heaving too and this monastery is obviously the thing to see when people visit Whitby. I happily breezed past this — I would definitely love to see it up close, but better a time in winter when it’s quiet. Instead I wandered out to the coast and basked in the sunny glory of sea views for miles. There’s lovely photo opportunities of the town and also all of the boat trips going in and out like a bus service. From a choice of minke whales, bottlenose dolphins, porpoises, seals and puffins, there is so much wildlife in this area, and the boat trips help make these sightings possible.
One of the main things to get excited about in Whitby is the food: it is fish & chips central! Most coastal towns have a chippie on every corner, but in this area there is an absolute abundance of cheap and cheerful, but also high quality, places to get this statement grub. I wanted to go for a full sit-down meal, so opted for the Magpie Cafe where I had monkfish skewers on a bed of sticky BBQ rice. It was bloody delicious but I’m sure I would’ve been equally happy to have grabbed a takeaway and found a spot along the seafront to enjoy a battered cod al fresco.
Staithes themes: Crabbing, Captain Cook and sheer cliffs.
Another fishing (and smuggling!) town, I fell in love with Staithes the second I started walking down the (inventively-named) Staithes Lane.
The steep descent from the public car park leads only down one way and the first sign of tourism you hit is the Captain Cook & Staithes Heritage Centre, and this museum dedicates two floors to James Cook’s early days and how he started his maritime career in this very town.
For anyone else instantly picturing Peter Pan’s nemisis, I can confirm they are two completely separate people 😂. James Cook, non-pirate, discovered New Zealand and the Great Barrier Reef, was an expert cartographer (his maps changed the course of history) and also discovered a random cure for scurvy: sauerkraut. What an interesting chap.
Staithes is utterly charming, with more windy, narrow streets than you can shake a stick at: front doors and windows peer out over the road with next-to-no clearance between car wing mirrors and rustic brick wall. And this one main street brings you straight out at the pretty harbour and its tiny beach with scattered parents showing their children how to use crabbing nets. Buckets sit off to the side besides perfectly-tended sandcastles and an ancient ice cream van awaits the masses along the promenade.
There are many coastal walks surrounding Staithes, many of which follow the rugged coastal cliffs. The Cleveland Way National Trail zooms right through and you can jump on this to do some circular routes around the coast. It is also possible to walk to Whitby via the clifftops (and don’t worry — there are plenty of buses that can take you back).
Ravenscar themes: Golf, seal colonies and Chemical heritage
A tiny town of less than 400 people, Ravenscar was once a key player in Britain’s 17th century chemical industry (and thus is deemed The Chemical Coast) and now is a wee bit forgotten about.
I happened upon Ravenscar one evening heading back to my accommodation, when I wasn’t quite ready to pack it in for the night so I followed a windy road that led from my B&B all the way to the coast.
For all of its lack of facilities, Ravenscar is home to the Raven Hall Hotel, a grand manor that sits atop the cliffs and has insane views of the surrounding countryside and sea. In its mahusive grounds is a golf course and croquet lawn — and it also sits upon the Cleveland Way. And here’s where I found myself that evening, wandering along the Cleveland Trail for 20 minutes or so and arrived slapbang in the middle of the golf course. There wasn’t anybody playing so thankfully I didn’t have to duck 🤷.
It was a pleasant little stroll. When I returned to my accommodation and the landlady asked where I’d been, she’d asked if I’d been to Ravenscar specifically to see the seals.
Obviously I’d missed the key USP of Ravenscar.
Back at 7am the next day I was down at the Ravenscar beaches (which was actually quite a hike!) and, lo’ and behold, there was a mahusive seal colony. At least 200. A kindly National Trust worker introduced himself and explained he was there to keep an eye on them to ensure none were injured.
I pootled around for a good hour to two, taking photos from afar and even happened upon many seals up close too, ones who had strayed from the pack and settled down for a snooze in the sun.
They are freaking adorable creatures with canine characteristics — one kept scratching an ear with its paw. Another rolled over on its back, swishing its tail. Oh boy, if I could’ve taken some home with me….. well, I’d have had one pissed off husband for a while that’s for sure.
Now there is so much more to tell you about the coastal towns of the North York Moors (not to mention the bloomin’ great Harry Potter-style steam railway service that runs into the hills) and I’ve even deliberately left out another of my favourite places by the sea: Runswick Bay. But all’s that is for another time and another blog post — keep tuned!
Where do you want to visit in North Yorkshire? Let me know below! ❤️