Andrew Vine steps out to walk the Yorkshire coast and discovers a landscape of breathtaking beauty.
It’s the most magnificent stretch of coastline in Britain, with majestic cliffs, glorious beaches and enchanting coves, and putting your best foot forward is the perfect way to savour it at a leisurely pace.
Walking Yorkshire’s coast is to feel embraced by the beauty all around you, a constantly changing panorama of scenery. The path meanders through historic seaside towns including Whitby and Scarborough, the fishing villages of Staithes and Robin Hood’s Bay and takes in seemingly endless, award winning beaches including Filey and Bridlington.
At a steady couple of miles an hour along the clifftops or sands, the coastline reveals its grandeur and loveliness. Vistas of headlands and bays open up, stretching away as far as the eye can see, timelessly beautiful and as exhilarating now as when the first people to settle at the coast saw them centuries ago.
The sense of space and scale, the vast sky, the sparkling blues and greens of the summer sea stretching away to infinity, moorland of purple heather and yellow gorse overlooking the path, all combine to make this an inspiring walk that truly brings the senses alive. Dots on the clifftop gradually grow into Scarborough Castle, Whitby Abbey or Flamborough Head lighthouse, as the coast beckons you to discover the next treasure waiting along the path.
History and heritage feel vividly alive as you walk, of fishing communities which still put to sea in traditional cobles directly descended from the Viking longships that once landed, of smugglers who hid contraband in the caves that honeycomb secluded bays, of pioneers who made Yorkshire the birthplace of the great British seaside holiday.
And walking brings you thrillingly close to the rich array of wildlife for which Yorkshire’s coast is a haven – huge seabird colonies that nest on the sheer chalk cliffs, seals that bob their heads above the surf or bask on the rocks at low tide, porpoises that break the waves and even, if you’re lucky, whales.
Yorkshire’s coastline is on an epic scale, stretching about 120 miles from Redcar in the north to the unique natural wonder of Spurn in the south, where land and sea are locked in an endless battle for supremacy. It’s possible to walk the entire length, and dedicated long-distance walkers will find it as satisfying to complete as any route in the country.
But one of the great things about the coast path is that it naturally divides into shorter, easily manageable sections which are family-friendly and suitable for walkers of any age or ability, whether you’re looking for half a day’s ramble, or just an unhurried stroll of a mile or two.
It’s well signposted, easy to follow and you’re never far from somewhere to take a break and find something to eat or drink, which means that there’s no need to set out with a rucksack weighed down with supplies for a full day.
The path takes in every highlight of Yorkshire’s coast, all its landmarks and the extraordinarily rich and diverse heritage. For 50 miles, it follows the Cleveland Way from Saltburn to Filey, then joins the Headland Way around Flamborough and into Bridlington. From there, it’s along the beach to Hornsea and Withernsea, and finally to Spurn. Beginning on the seafront promenade at Redcar, the path climbs to the cliffs at Saltburn, leading on to Staithes, the fishing village that became an artists’ colony at the turn of the 20th century, where time seems hardly to have moved on since then.
Charming Runswick Bay is next and then Sandsend, with its two miles of beach leading into Whitby, where the sense of its heritage as a fishing and whaling port is so powerfully felt at every step. The path is a stroll through the town’s history, passing alongside the harbour, across the swing bridge and up cobbled Church Street, then climbing the 199 steps to St Mary’s Church and the iconic ruined 13th century Abbey that make Whitby’s skyline so unforgettable. Beyond lies Robin Hood’s Bay, nestled in the cliffs and coyly staying out of sight from the path until you round a headland and it reveals itself, pretty as any picture.
The trail climbs again, to the mighty 600ft peak at Ravenscar and then, visible from nearly 10 miles away, is Scarborough, Queen of Resorts, crowned by her castle, and coming closer with every step. The path becomes a promenade through the heart of Britain’s original seaside resort and one of its best loved, from the North Bay, round the Marine Drive and into the bustling South Bay.
It passes the Spa, the site where the first tourists came to take the waters of a mineral spring believed to benefit health 400 years ago, beginning the enduring love affair between Scarborough and its visitors. Cayton Bay, surfing capital of the Yorkshire coast, is next and the trail leads to a grandstand view of elegant Filey and its Brigg, the finger of rock pointing out to sea, a magnet for families exploring its pools teeming with tiny creatures at low tide.
And then comes one of the Yorkshire coast’s most imposing features – the towering chalk cliffs of Bempton, North Landing and Flamborough Head, gleaming white and seeming to glow when the sun is on them.
From there, it’s an easy downhill stroll into Bridlington, with its busy harbour which is Britain’s leading port for lobster and crab fishing, and miles of golden beaches which stretch away to the horizon. Those sands are the route onwards to Hornsea and Withernsea, and then to the magical finale of the coast – Spurn, the fragile sliver of land that is a living entity, forever on the move as the tides erode it and then bring in sand and shingle to reinforce it.
A circuit of this utterly captivating place poised between the sea and the River Humber, where the beach shape-shifts constantly like a restless sleeper trying to get comfortable, is just one of the shorter walks that the path breaks down into.
Others explore the coast’s wildlife and heritage. Walking from Bempton to Flamborough Head in spring or early summer is to be in the midst of one of Britain’s greatest natural spectaculars – half a million seabirds nesting on the cliffs and soaring on the air currents at your eye level as they head out of their nests in search of food. There are gannets, guillemots, razorbills and fulmars, but the stars of the show are puffins, with their colourful bills, clockwork-toy flight and guttural call. All are easily visible, especially from the viewpoints at the RSPB’s Bempton Cliffs reserve.
Walking from Staithes to Runswick Bay or from Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay is to step back 300 years to an age when smugglers sailed darkened ships into lonely coves to land contraband.
Robin Hood’s Bay was their prime destination because it knew how to keep a secret. The closely packed cottages that make it so enthralling and picturesque were once riddled with interlinked secret passages, enabling smugglers to pass their wares from the seashore to the top of the village without them ever seeing the light of day. Or simply wander from Scarborough to Cayton Bay for the breathtaking views back across the town from the clifftop. But whether out for a stroll, or exploring everything Yorkshire’s coast has to offer, walking it makes the spirits soar higher than any clifftop along the way.
THIS ARTICLE WAS TAKEN FROM THIS IS Y 2020 - YOU CAN VIEW THE FULL MAGAZINE HERE.