The Cleveland Way. Saltburn by the Sea to Staithes
Day 4. 8 miles
Much like yesterday, I awoke to heavy rain and an equally heavy wind swirling around outside. Not appealing conditions to step out to and more so having woken up in a comfy bed in a warm hotel room. I eventually peeled myself out for breakfast though I stupidly neglected the full English in favour of a disappointing omelette, but also got stuck into cereals and fruit to make up for the somewhat pathetic breakfast I had at the farm yesterday. I packed up my gear and peered out of the window in my hotel room. The wind and rain was crashing against the glass. I reluctantly got quickly reacquainted with my waterproof jacket and trousers, the latter practically brown with dried mud up to the knees, and headed out into a grey and distinctly quiet waterfront.
A climb was the first task I had to encounter on the first day of coastal Cleveland Way, with the intention to camp somewhere around Runswick Bay, around twelve or so miles away. First things first, though, and I clambered up Saltburn Cliff to the wide and windswept Hunt Cliff nature reserve which lay atop and surveyed my surroundings; beautiful views out to sea and to the north, Saltburn being left behind having reluctantly seen very little of it. To the south a green landscape that even in less than desirable conditions like todays was a boost to the senses. As I walked along, I was also relieved to find that my decision to check into the hotel was vindicated. There wasn’t really anywhere decent I could see to pitch up with the initial foray on the clifftop in view of a farmhouse, and once out of sight lay only rough fields inland, and overgrown grass separating the path from the steep cliff edge. After less than a mile up there and round the bend from the farm and an old Roman signal station, the path heads adjacent to a disused railway track before the approach to the first village on the trail since Saltburn, that of Skinningrove.
Reading back my guidebook, the general consensus of Skinningrove seems to be that walkers merely pass through there rather than stopping to enjoy its facilities and having now been there, I can see why. The beach is lovely, even on a gloomy morning like todays and with the tide out, it was wide and golden and sandy. The problem is the area around it. Whilst the bulk of the town lies inland, the seafront contains no appealing cafes or pubs or restaurants or shops, at the southern end lie rusty and dilapidated huts and sheds, the harbour is grey and listless and there just seems to be an air of shabbiness over the whole area along with what appeared to be a distinct aroma of stale chip fat oil. Maybe some sun would help, sun makes everything better. I hung around long enough on the beach to do some filming and enjoy the sea view and some respite on lower ground from the wind, my tranquility though only interrupted by a solitary dog walker and her four mongrels who seemed to take an interest in my bag, parked a few feet away from where I was. “They’ll be using that as a toilet you know”. Well tell them not to! Jesus wept, I thought next time I see you I’ll urinate in your general direction then, love.
I made a grateful escape, pee-free, and clambered out of Skinningrove and back into the wind on Hummersea Cliff. The wind had really picked up here and the walk up a muddy track was a wobbly one before the path headed slightly inland and away from the cliff edge - thankfully so - and through some heather and long grasses that skirted past a farm. I was really being buffeted by the wind up here, it was 40mph plus and I was only grateful to not be on a path that was literally next to the cliff edge. There were little climbs here and there, and when I stopped in places to turn around I could see back up to Saltburn far into the distance, and notice, with envy, that it was sitting under blue skies, with heavy grey clouds being blown down south. These stayed with me all the way down to the next village of Boulby, where I arrived distinctly muddier than I had been when leaving Skinningrove. The path led in a U sort of shape to the coast and back around again, and the first part of this was a descent along a surface that was tantamount to an ice rink. I slipped twice, the second certainly more extravagant than the first and I briefly had reason to think I’d broken my leg, when my boot got stuck in the mud and my body twisted around as I hit the deck. Thankfully this fear was unfounded, and I continued to Staithes on my groggy and muddy way inland again and with Staithes on the horizon, I was led there along a flat, grassy track with cultivated farmland either side of it.
On approaching Staithes, my first impressions were less than remarkable, just a housing estate and a few other buildings dotted around, before I realised that the main body of Staithes sits cosily below the newer part of town in the harbour, and it was with a little gleeful sound when I cast my eyes down there for the first time, and in reality it was love at first sight when I turned the corner and saw the rooftops of the little village centre with the cottages beneath a cliff running their way along the small harbour. I walked down to the little bridge that separated an old river bed, now bone dry with a handful of boats roped to the walls, and the shallow waters on the other side that led to the sea. The town was full of charming little steps and lanes and alleys, and the main road running through is cobbled, with cafes and shops and cottages huddled neatly together. There wasn’t anything out of place, no soulless concrete breeze block, just a perfect harmony of historical, well cared for buildings. I headed to Dolly’s Cafe that also doubled as a B&B, a warm and cosy establishment full of vintage items both on display and for sale, and I settled down to enjoy a massive scone and a pot of tea. The clouds outside were ever threatening and much like yesterday, the urge to book a room for the night was too much to resist, especially as I wanted to spend more time in Staithes, see more of it and love it even more. Therefore I booked a room in the B&B next door to the cafe, drank up and had a walk around the town before enjoying a pint in the Royal George.
Walking around Staithes at night was just as pleasant. Being a Monday the streets were as quiet as they were in the day, though the tables at the Cod and Lobster on the harbour were practically all taken. Being a solo traveller, though, it’s usually easy enough to find room and therefore I found a little table for one and enjoyed my first fish and chips dinner of the walk. You have to when reaching the seaside. The food was delicious. I emerged with a full belly in to the cold autumn air, and enjoyed a post-dinner walk along the cobbles.