As long distance walks go, the Cleveland Way takes some beating. And this stretch from Whitby to Scarborough is the perfect coastal walk.
Whitby to Scarborough
For most people, trips to the seaside are about the bucket and spade, deckchairs, frisbee and plenty of 2ps to waste in the arcades. It’s sunburn on your nose and sand between your toes, as you jostle for position on crowded beaches. A pleasant day out, sure, but I think there’s a better way to experience our incredible coastline.
It takes more effort. But effort makes your fish and chips and ice cream taste sweeter. Effort means you’ll leave most of the crowds behind. Effort means you’ll see the coast in a new light. Welcome to the long distance coastal walk.
Coastal walks are great. Long distance coastal walks are even greater. High cliffs. Huge distances. Solitude. Who says you always have to go to the mountains?
As long distance walks go, the Cleveland Way takes some beating. Wending its way from the pretty village of Helmsley to Filey Brigg on the Yorkshire coast, it’s 109 miles of long distance perfection in the best county in England.
The variety is what makes it so special. From pretty market towns to heather moorlands, dramatic coastlines to hidden coves, sleepy fishing villages to bustling seaside towns, this trail has it all.
I know what you’re thinking – ‘109 miles is a long way. I’ll have to take a week off work. And I’ll end up miles away from my car. Plus I’ll need to arrange my own accommodation and pay for someone to transfer my bags. Too much effort. Not interested thank you very much.’
Well, you’d be missing out on one helluva adventure, so why not either do the whole thing in a day (apparently the record stands at a shade under 20 hours…) or for us mere mortals, simply choose a chunk of the route to suit you.
I opted for the latter on a sunny day in May. The weather in the Lake District was looking decidedly ‘grey’ and a trudge through mist was not what I craved. Instead, I turned my attention east and was drawn to the North Yorkshire Coast linear walk on the excellent National Trails website.
The walk from Whitby to Scarborough is described as a two-dayer of about 21 miles. I didn’t have two days and I quite fancied the challenge of turning this into a long day walk. It’s a good candidate for a LDW: a good path (albeit with lots of ups and downs); very little navigation to worry about (keep the sea on your left until you reach Scarborough); and several places where you can bale out en route.
I arrived early in Whitby and parked up by the Abbey. This has the benefit of postponing the climb up the famous 199 steps to the end of the day – a nice way of loosening stiff legs after the return bus ride. The imposing Abbey also makes for a more iconic start than the car park next to the bus station.
The action starts immediately with the path taking you along the cliff edge, high above the North Sea below. The expansive views across the water with endless coastline paths before you gives a taste of what’s to come but first, there’s a more mundane trudge through a large holiday park, shattering any illusions of being in the wilderness just yet.
Coastal walks are often bracing affairs with screaming seagulls soaring on the thermals, crashing waves on rocks below and a brisk, salty wind all competing for your attention. The scene today couldn’t have been more of a contrast, with skylarks serenading me serenely as the waves gently lapped against the shore and the breeze took the edge off the heat of the early-morning sun. Although mountains will always be my favourite environment, the coast on a day like this takes some beating.
Mention the Cleveland Way to anyone who’s done it and they’ll tell you about the undulating terrain. Endless ups and downs, like a big dipper. You’ll come to resent these by the end of the day but along this first part of the route with fresh legs, I enjoyed the ride and made good time, arriving in Robin Hood’s Bay after a couple of hours.
Robin Hood’s Bay is a cracking place, with its steep hills and quirky backstreets ideal for exploring. This sleepy fishing village was once the epicentre of Yorkshire’s smuggling community. Navigating the twists and turns and secret passageways, you can imagine the locals passing contraband from house to house in their efforts to avoid detection from the tax man.
It would have been easy to linger here but having made such good time and with so far to go, on I pressed. The main path is easy to miss as you approach the bottom of the hill in Robin Hood’s Bay. I ended up on the alternative path along the beach to Boggle Hole, which is only passable at low tide. It was a welcome diversion and it felt right to walk on sand for at least some of this coastal walk.
Before long, you’ll be tempted to stop again at Boggle Hole. There’s a Youth Hostel in an enviable location, complete with café. I regretted not taking the two-day option as I began the steep climb back to the cliff-top path.
This is a lovely stretch of the route, with expansive views of the bay behind you and quiet farm tracks, dense woodland and babbling brooks adding to the sense of calm. Before you earn your next café stop, there’s a steep climb up to Ravenscar. This is apparently the biggest climb of the day but the reward is a sign suggesting you are about halfway to Scarborough.
From Ravenscar, the environment feels more remote. There’s an element of exclusivity, with steep climbs down to secluded bays and ascents through thick woodland. Disused radar stations and look-outs litter the coastline with fantastic views out to sea.
Hayburn Wyke is the highlight of this stretch. Trees clinging to the cliffs gave an air of arriving on a Polynesian island, or the set of Jurassic Park. Water tumbles down steep slopes, creating a surround sound experience of tricking streams in one ear and crashing waves in the other. Hayburn Wyke feels worlds away from the popular beaches and amusement arcades soon to greet you in Scarborough.
I left Hayburn Wyke, rounding the first corner of the ascent with a spring in my step to be met by a lady taking a rest on a rock. She told me I looked like a mountain goat – not sure if that was a reference to the day-old bum fluff sprouting from my chin or my deft footwork as I tackled the steep climb but I’ll take it!
Despite the scenery, here’s where the monotony of a long walk threatens to creep in. With so many highlights under my belt and the majestic sight of Scarborough Castle in the distance, the path seemed never-ending as progress slowed. I passed countless signs of ‘Scarborough 4 miles’ – at least one of them was lying.
The white pyramids of the Sea Life Centre mark your arrival in Scarborough as you leave the ruggedness of the cliff tops behind. The sense the excitement of day-trippers to this quintessential British seaside resort was thick in the air. People waiting for the miniature railway to Peasholm Park, seagulls swooping to steal chips from unsuspecting tourists and toddlers paddling in the sea. I felt slightly out of place with my walking boots and purposeful stride.
My sore legs carried me up the hill from North Bay to Scarborough town where I was lucky enough to jump straight on the bus back to Whitby. The bus driver spoilt the enjoyment of the walk. First blaming me for crashing his computer when paying for my ticket. Then grumbling as he reset the system! He then drove the double-decker as if he were playing a racing game in the arcades, throwing pensioners around the bus and bags into the air. Hardly the relaxing trip back across the moors I’d hoped for! Perhaps an incentive to walk back next time…
That just left the one seaside tradition I couldn’t do without: fish and chips. And there’s no finer spot to enjoy them. Overlooking Whitby with 199 steps plus 21 miles of the Cleveland Way under your belt.
Highs and Lowdown
Start / Finish: Whitby (Abbey car park – £9 all day)
Transport: X93 bus runs regularly between Whitby and Scarborough. At least one an hour but more frequent in Summer. A single ticket cost me £6.60. Link to Arriva website here.
Distance: 21 miles (33.5 km)
Navigation: Easy – keep the sea on your left and follow the signs
Terrain: Good paths throughout. Frequent (but short) descents and ascents – many with steps. Paths run close to the cliff edge for much of the route with steep drops and coastal erosion adding to the danger. Take care if walking with children or dogs and don’t be tempted to peer over the edge.
Facilities: Plenty of options for refreshments along the way. Main cafés in Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay, Boggle Hole, Ravenscar and Scarborough. Public toilets aplenty.
*These routes and descriptions are only ever intended to be a personal record of my adventures, which may inspire your own. Hillwalking involves a degree of risk, so please make sure you are properly equipped and prepared if you choose to follow them.