Whitby to Runswick Bay

Walking the Cleveland Way on the North Yorkshire coast

Ali and I spent two days in Whitby, the first place we ever went on holiday together. It's somewhere we've both enjoyed visiting since we were children. Neither of us has ever walked the coastal path north of Whitby, so we decided to try it out. Starting from the top of West Cliff, watching the waves roll in from the North Sea, we followed our maps and signs for the Cleveland Way. As we got to the edges of Whitby, we had an idea to go down onto the beach and walk along there until Sandsend, the next village up the coast, where we'd pick up the path again. The tide was approaching and I was stressed out thinking we might get cut off, since part of the beach has no escape routes, only cliffs and the sea.

The tide nearly did reach the edge of the beach, but we were fine and made it to Sandsend dry. After stopping for coffee and a pasty, we followed the Cleveland Way signs again onto the hill behind Sandsend, onto a former railway track, now a footpath.

We passed some old quarry sites, inactive since the late 19th century. Two ponies stood the other side of a gate, staring into space. Ali tried to speak to them, but they didn't respond. We moved on.

A little further down the track was an old railway tunnel which was fenced off, presumably unsafe. The alternative route takes you up some exceedingly steep steps, right onto the top of the hill which the tunnel bores through. At the top, I looked back. The steps looked even steeper from above. A man appeared out of a field, looked at us, and then wandered back into the field. We walked a little further and then decided to keep going all the way to Runswick Bay, rather than take our chances returning on the path behind us.

It was gorgeous on the clifftops; worth continuing for. Near the Filey/Hemsley sign I spotted yellowhammers. Parts of the landscape were farmed, while others were apparently barren, almost volcanic-looking. I'm not sure if this results from past quarrying, or just because they're too much on the edge of the land to be tamed.

What you don't see from here on is more farmland, sheep, and the increasing fear that we might come across cattle, something neither of us wanted to happen. We didn't, but what we hadn't expected was that the descent to Runswick Bay involved yet more steep steps - thankfully not quite as bad as the previous ones - before the footpath became one with a kind of rocky, slippery gulley which we had to carefully tip-toe down. I often think about accessibility in the galleries where I work my 'day job', but this section of path was quite the opposite of accessible. You would be forgiven for looking at it and thinking, "that's not a path; that's a rocky gulley/stream". But it was the path. We were happy and more relaxed when we reached the bottom and it opened out onto Runswick Bay beach.

Runswick Bay is a pretty little fishing village. There's another steep hill - road and pavement - to the top of the village, which is where we intended to catch a bus back to Whitby. We did, but before doing that, we sat outside the Runswick Bay Hotel for a drink in the sunshine. Birds were singing all around. It was a happy day.

Write a comment