A cliff adventure
Part one by guest writer Kevin Rushby
We left the village of Robin Hood’s Bay after an early breakfast. It was Day Three of our trek from Staithes to Scarborough – the 15-mile leg. The tide was out and the plan was to walk briskly along the beach and make it to Ravenscar, two miles to the south. There we would watch seals before climbing the trail back up the cliff to the hotel where we would stop for coffee.
And all this we had done, except the coffee, when halfway up that cliff I took out the map and examined it. Maps are dreadful things. They get you into all kinds of bother. They tempt you with alternative plans and new adventures. The trouble was that we had come to stormwatch and the weather was utterly tranquil. Now a little devil in me was demanding some compensatory drama.
Sophie, my wife, was all for pushing onwards and up. She wanted that coffee. But I stood there, uncertain, examining that map. “Look here. There’s a little footpath that gets you back down to the shore further south.”
With my fingertip I traced a green dotted line that ran down through the contours to the symbol for a boulder-strewn beach. “Then we could scramble along for half a mile to this...” I pointed out a short green line that appeared to climb the cliff. I should have noticed, of course, that it was barely visible in the crush of brown contour lines. “We would come out on the cliff path next to this car park.”
I was thinking that few people would go that way. There might be more seals, undiscovered fossils and great views. Sophie just shook her head. “I’m not doing that,” she said. “I’ll see you at the car park.”
Our three-day winter walk had started in Staithes, the northern extremity of the North York Moors National Park, then headed south. The plan was to reach Scarborough in three days with stops in Sandsend and Robin Hood’s Bay. The views were sublime. There were no big waves, no wind, not a hint of the stormy drama I wanted.
The daily mileage did not seem overly ambitious, but I knew from experience that this clifftop route has some challenges. There are, for example, frequent descents into coves and stiff climbs out. Plus there is the winter weather. I have walked this path in a whiteout blizzard – in late April. I have walked it in gales so severe that spume was flying over my head even on top of the cliff. Look at the names on the map, places like Scab Nab, Dungeon Hole and The Scar. They speak of a violent heritage. But heading down that tiny path at Ravenscar, I had no inkling of what lay ahead. The weather was unusually calm, the sea sparkled with a hint of Mediterranean blue.
There were hints of Ravenscar’s past: a rusting hulk of a steam traction engine buried in deep foliage next to a sundew pond, probably a relic of Victorian alum mining, then the ruins of a cottage. I came out on the shore and scrambled and slithered along the beach.
And then, rounding one particularly massive boulder, I came across a set of perfect ammonites embedded in the rock at my feet. Casting about I could see several more. Further on were some large belemnites: big primeval squid with ten arms although all I could see was the conical central skeleton sticking out the rock. There were great views of the massive crags above. It was wild and magnificent, tempting me to search around for better and better specimens until I suddenly noticed the tide coming back. If I went on, I would not be able to return.
I wavered and finally decided on safety, retracing my steps up the hill past the Raven Hall Hotel. I was out of breath: this cliff summits at about 600 feet. No wonder the Romans built a signal station here. Back on the coastal path I found Sophie sitting on a park bench.
“It’s a good job you didn’t try that other path,” she told me. “I spoke to a fisherman who said it’s a horrible long struggle up an old rope that someone fixed to the cliff.”
I sat on the bench. On this coast, I decided, a drama is never far away.
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