Friday, May 19, 2006

Walk 131 -- Port Mulgrave, via Staithes & Skinningrove, to Saltburn-by-the-Sea

Ages: Colin was 64 years and 11 days. Rosemary was 61 years and 153 days.
Weather: Heavy showers with fleeting glimpses of the sun. Very windy!
Location: Port Mulgrave to Saltburn-by-the-Sea, via Staithes and Skinningrove.
Distance: 10½ miles.
Total distance: 1041 miles.
Terrain: Mostly grassy cliff paths which were very undulating! Cobbles in Staithes, concrete in Skinningrove and Saltburn.
Tide: Out.
Rivers: Nos.53, 54 & 55 — Staithes Beck in Staithes, Kilton Beck in Skinningrove and Skelton Beck in Saltburn.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.99 at the very beginning of the Walk.
Pubs: ‘New Marine’ in Saltburn where we drank ‘Olde Trip’ by Hardy’s and Hanson’s. (We did this the next day as we were too tired at the end of our Walk even for the pub!)
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were camping in Hinderwell. Colin drove to Saltburn and parked the car at the top of the cliff lift. Then he returned to the campsite by a series of two buses, as there was no direct bus link. We walked down through Port Mulgrave to the clifftop.
At the end we drove straight back to the campsite in Hinderwell.

When our alarm went off at 6am in our tent this morning, it started raining! Undaunted, we got up anyway and did all our usual things to get ready — and then it stopped. But it soon started again, and that is how it was all day. Once Colin had ‘planted’ the car in Saltburn, we walked to the clifftop at Port Mulgrave, back-tracking a little to the ‘permissive path’ notice where we had left the clifftop yesterday. It was a couple of days later that we clambered down the steep path to the beach. It is not exactly a ‘port’, more a pile of rocks on the beach! Only the smallest of fishing boats could possibly land there.
It started raining again, and it was quite windy on the exposed cliff. Colin persistently refused to put his arms out of the sleeve-holes in his cape — he says his wrists get wet if he does — so it kept twisting round and he got in a right mess with it. Also it flapped noisily in the wind. I just let him get on with it, I can’t be sympathetic when he behaves so obstinately. At least he didn’t try to battle it out with his wretched umbrella this time!We walked along to the end of the road, past some fields on the clifftop, and came to the top of a steep slope. There we met a walking group coming up. I don’t know how far they were intending to walk, but one lady looked all in by the time she got to the top. Perhaps she should have got herself fitter before she embarked on a walking holiday, or perhaps she was frightened of being left behind and was walking more quickly than she wanted to in order to keep up with the ‘route-marchers’. If it was the latter I can sympathise. One of the main reasons I don’t like walking in groups is because people generally tend to walk too fast!
It had stopped raining by then — just — but it was still very windy so we kept our capes on. Colin strode ahead of me with his cape flapping noisily because he wouldn’t put his hands through the sleeves. The sheep in the field rushed after him, baaing furiously! It was so funny, I was helpless with laughter! If he stopped and turned round, they all stopped too and looked bemused. When he carried on they rushed after him again. We think they were under the impression that he was their shepherd. They were most disappointed when we reached the bottom and left their field.
We approached the fishing village of Staithes down a narrow block-stone path. There we met another walking group, all women and mostly young. They were all wearing the same design T-shirt with the words – ‘WALKING FOR CHILDREN CANCER RESEARCH’ – emblazoned across their bosoms. Sorry, we are not walking for anybody, simply because we don’t work that way. As I’ve said before, we gave our time to various good causes when we were younger. Several friends have suggested we raise ‘loads of money’ for charity by getting ourselves sponsored, but we decided, at the outset, that we were doing this for ourselves — for our health, to kid ourselves that we are still young, and for fun. We must be beholden to nobody, and that is what keeps us going. As soon as we ask for sponsorship, it will become a chore. As soon as it becomes a chore, we will no longer be able to carry on. We are doing it because we don't have to! That is the essence of this trek! It MUST remain as it is, for no reason whatsoever, or we can't continue with it. Another friend has suggested it could be a ‘nice little earner’. For the same reasons, it can’t be. It is a completely futile exercise, but we have gained an enormous amount from it. I feel we know our country, and it’s history, more than most people — and we are not even a quarter of the way round! We are fitter now than we have ever been, despite hyperopia, monocular vision, astigmatism, myopia, hypertension, gastro-oesophageal reflux, arthritis, incontinence, cramp, legs full of pins and screws, bad feet and wonky knees — we ignore them all! As for will we ever finish? – Who knows? – We plan to zoom back into Bognor with great pizazz! on our jet-ski zimmer frames when we are about 106! Between us, we have so far conquered two badly broken legs and prostate cancer. Who knows what's round the next corner?
Staithes is a Clovelly / Polperro-type fishing village, very pretty. We walked down the cobbled streets — pity about the double yellow lines — past picturesque little cottages to the harbour. The trouble is that, nowadays, most of these cottages are probably holiday lets, and few locals, if any, can make their living fishing from such a tiny place. One of the cottages was called ‘James Cook Cottage’. A plaque (not blue) on its wall proclaimed:
The young James Cook
received his first taste of the sea and ships
in this harbour village
where he worked as an assistant to
William Sanderson, merchant,
for 18 months from 1745.
I remember coming here in the 1980s on an Open University Summer School where I was studying Geology. (No plaque for me!) We marched down the main street and out on to the beach — a motley selection of ‘students’ of indeterminate ages, shapes and sizes — wearing hard hats and carrying clipboards and geological hammers! We must have looked ridiculous on a holiday beach in the middle of August, but we thought it was all very serious and important at the time. (After spending many cold hours in the rain on soggy beaches, windy clifftops, climbing waterfalls, slithering down cliffs, eating rocks (yes, really!), standing in draughty road cuttings and rat-infested quarries, I eventually managed to gain a second class honours degree in the Earth Sciences! Was it worth it? That question is still open for debate.)
We sat on a seat overlooking the tiny harbour and ate the pies I had bought freshly that morning in Hinderwell. The sun came out, the sky was blue and it was really nice, so we put our capes away. Five minutes later we hurriedly got them out again — the sky had turned BLACK!
We crossed the beck into Cowbar and were amused by some pixie dolls ‘climbing’ the cliff. A notice told us they were the Cowbar Search & Rescue Team! We climbed up the winding lane, and just as we got out into the open the black cloud emptied its contents all over us. It was like walking through a giant power-shower, the mother and father of a storm! But it was soon over though the wind didn’t die down.
We noticed the road at the top had recently been rerouted further away from the cliff edge. Erosion is the reason for this, we could see places where chunks had fallen away. We came across a double sided seat in stone which was a memorial to Eric and Nina Hibbin who had died recently in their eighties. A carved message the other side told us it was a ‘Walkers Halt’. What a nice thought! Obviously they were a couple who liked walking and loved this spot. Unfortunately we couldn’t use it because it was still pouring with rain, in fact we had to come back in the car on another day to photograph it. We walked along to the hamlet of Boulby, and by that time the rain had just about stopped. We passed a row of houses, and the end one was for sale. A forlorn hope, really, because it is right on the cliff edge! We had to go very carefully past it because the cliff had fallen away leaving only a very narrow path. (Mind you, our house in Bognor has been on the market for TEN WEEKS now, we have had one viewing and no offers — and we don’t live anywhere near a cliff edge!)I was feeling a bit grumpy because my arthritic toe was playing up again. It has been ‘quiet’ for months — no years — because I always apply ‘Powergel’ before I start on a walk. But today it hadn’t seemed to work, so I had to stop, remove my boot and apply some more. It was really quite painful and I couldn’t walk evenly because of it.
The path took a sharp turn left and went up a very steep bank. We were climbing the highest cliffs in England! My, it was windy up there! We were looking for a place to stop and eat the rest of our lunch, and ended up huddled behind a dry-stone wall. Even there we felt we were being blown over the six hundred foot cliff — but at least the rain held off. A mile or so further on we took an alternative path through an area called ‘The Warren’, and there we found a host of wild flowers including carpets of bluebells. It was beautiful, and we were really enjoying ourselves despite being in such an exposed place in a high wind. I think the conditions gave us extra adrenalin to carry on.
We descended to beach level at Skinningrove down a very steep uneven flight of steps. It was quite tricky because there was no handrail. Skinningrove was a mining village where they dug out ironstone for about a hundred years from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. So the cottages are quite different — rows of Victorian terraced mining cottages, not pretty little fishermen’s cottages. As a result, it gives the impression that it is generally ignored by tourists. When we returned to the area a few weeks later, we visited the mining museum which is further up the valley. We were amazed to discover that there is a labyrinth of passages which were dug out during that hundred years of mining, covering six square miles!! The whole town of Loftus is perched over this honeycomb — the only building they didn’t dig under was the church and its adjacent cemetery because that would have been ‘unlucky’. So “Beware!” any of you who are thinking of living in Loftus — your house could disappear down a hole even as you sleep! An information board by the bridge told us that at the height of the mining operations “the cliffs steamed with slag tipped from the furnaces and a smell of sulphur filled the air. Few trees remained, and the beck ran red with mine water.” Mining ceased forty-eight years ago, so we found it to be a lot cleaner and more pleasant.
We crossed the bridge, and found a bench out of the wind where we could sit and give ourselves an energy boost by eating chocolate. I also reapplied the ‘Powergel’ as my toe was still giving me jip, and I took a couple of paracetamol as well — that cured it! We didn’t go on the jetty because it was closed and derelict, though some local boys on bikes were playing on it. We went through a broken bridge and found a fairly firm path along the top of the sand dunes — the beach was too ‘sinky’. We watched a family playing with their dogs down there — good to see children out in the open air, not huddled over a computer screen.
The path took us up some steps to the top of the cliff, the last climb of this particular Walk we were pleased to note from the map. At the top, after a steady climb which seemed to go on forever, we came across an iron sculpture. It was a ring hung with ‘charms’, but it was huge! We rather liked it, especially coming across it unexpectedly in such a remote place. There we were joined by a railway coming round the hill — there wasn’t much room for the path between the line and the cliff edge at the narrowest point. We were puzzled because we knew the passenger line came to an end at Saltburn, and we wondered if this part of the line was still in use. Then a train came along, so that answered the question. It was a freight train from the potash mine just outside Staithes. Our glorious wild walk along the coastal east edge of the North York Moors was coming to an end.
As the railway looped away, following the contours, we could see the sun shining on Saltburn-by-the-Sea and an industrial landscape in the distance. Smoke was gently rising into the evening sunshine and ships were lining up in the distance, waiting for the tide so they could enter Hartlepool. It was a stunning view, but we couldn’t help a sinking feeling in our hearts — we were not looking forward to the Middlesbrough and Hartlepool area with all their chemical works.
We took a last lingering look at the beautiful cliffs behind us, and descended to sea level at Saltburn. Here the Cleveland Way turns sharply inland across the moors to Helmsley. We had been following it from Filey, but had to leave it here.

Saltburn-by-the-Sea boasts the most northerly pier in England, but we decided to leave its exploration to another day because we were so tired. We crossed the beck and came across a tiny chapel which just had one word above the door — Mortuary. There was no cemetery anywhere near, as far as we could see in our fatigued state, and we wondered about the history of the building. We walked along the prom as far as the pier. On the way we admired a mural of the seaside, based on a children’s painting. It was so bright and cheerful with all the elements of a typical seaside holiday. Opposite the pier entrance we came to a cliff lift — our car was parked at the top. But we were too late, the lift was closed!
That ended Walk no.131, we shall pick up Walk no.132 next time at the shore end of Saltburn Pier. We walked up steps to our car, had a cup of tea and drove straight back to our camp at Hinderwell. We were too tired even to visit the pub!

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