This Yorkshire village enjoys a great location for both coast and country and has a thriving artists’ community. Words: Lesley Gillilan
The best way to describe Staithes is as a mini Whitby – without the Goths and the Abbey. Like Whitby, it’s a jumble of red-tiled rooftops and cobbled streets that tumble down to a North Sea harbour, but tiny Staithes has its own unique character and a distinctive topography.
One of the most photogenic towns on the English coast, Staithes sits on either side of ‘the Beck’, a meandering creek which cuts through a cleft in the rocky landscape and emerges into the sea between soaring cliffs. At one time it was the northeast’s largest fishing port with a side-line in minerals and mining; there is still a potash mine in the area. The famous 18th-century explorer Captain James Cook lived here until 1746, and its place at the heart of ‘Captain Cook Country’, now underpins Staithes’ busy tourist season.
Staithes has an air of a place unchanged: a throwback to the age when smuggling was endemic and fishing was king. It’s enchantingly picturesque (artists can’t get enough of it) but it’s not the easiest place to live in. Traffic is restricted; most people park on the bank (Staithes’ upper ‘New Town’) and stroll down to the sea. A footbridge across the Beck leads to Cowbar, a teeny hamlet tucked under the Cliff Nab. A parking place in Old Staithes is worth more than a sea view. You wouldn’t come here for the beaches or the night life, but there’s a lot to be said for the location: on the fringe of the North Yorkshire Moors, between Whitby and Saltburn-by-the-Sea – the latter with its bandstands, pier, and a cliff tramway that trundles between the beach and town. Leave Staithes via Cowbar Lane and within minutes you’re in corn fields and countryside.
WHERE TO BUY
Look for quaint cottages and Georgian townhouses in Old Staithes, particularly on the High Street (perhaps best avoided if you don’t enjoy summer tourists looking in your windows), Wesley Square or along the Cowbar on the north side – which is linked to the south via a bridge across the Beck. The newer part of town at the top of the bank is not as pretty but there is a better chance of owning a garden or a parking space, it’s handy for the Co-op (the only local supermarket) and some of the houses have good sea views (look at Cliff Road or Staithes Lane). Other places worth investigating are the nearby villages of Easington or Hinderwell and, going south along the coast, Port Mulgrave and Runswick Bay.
Local house prices are below the national average – cheaper than Whitby – with decent family-sized houses selling for around £300,000. Old Staithes is a shade more expensive than the so-called New Town: for example, a quirky two-bed cottage with no outside space in Staithes’ Gunn Gutter lane is offered at £220,000, while a three-bed 1930s semi up on the bank is going for £175,000 (with parking and gardens). Aside from holiday cottages, rentals are rare but you can rent for as little as £550 a month.
Staithes’ local beach is Seaton Garth but Runswick Bay – one of the loveliest beaches in Yorkshire – is only two miles along the Dinosaur Coast. Explore the Esk Valley, go hiking in the North York Moors National Park, surfing in Saltburn, sailing at Runswick or fossil-hunting in Port Mulgrave. Estbek House restaurant in posh Sandsend (seven miles away) is the place to eat around here, but Staithes has the Cod & Lobster pub on the front, the Endeavour B&B’s pop-up restaurant and the Seadrift Café. There is a thriving artists’ community: Staithes Gallery is one of the few local shops. The annual Staithes Festival of Art and Heritage takes place every September. For more information see visityorkshire.com.
This isn’t the area’s strong point. The nearest train stations are a half-hour drive to either Whitby or Saltburn. Access into the village is limited and many streets are closed to traffic. London is almost six hours by road and the nearest cities – and airports – are at least an hour and a half away. Newcastle is marginally closer than Leeds.
There is a local primary, Seton Community school, deemed Good by Ofsted, but older children need to travel to Huntcliff Secondary in Saltburn (Good) or Eskdale in Whitby (Good).
Much of Old Staithes has been colonised by second-home owners and many of its charming cottages are holiday lets; hence, it can be very quiet in winter – a stark contrast with the crowds of high summer visitors. Mobile phones reception is poor, too.
If Staithes feels a little too remote, it’s worth checking out Saltburn-by-the-Sea, 10 miles north and nowhere near as well-known as touristy Whitby. A Victorian resort, Saltburn offers roomy period houses with huge gardens at attractive prices – not cheap but great value (£600,000 buys eight bedrooms and bags of character).
PAY A VISIT
Cowbar Cottages (yorkshireholidaycottages.co.uk).
One of a pair of beautifully converted cliff-top barns right on the Cowbar Bank on the northern side of Staithes, Tawny Owl is a single-storey, luxury holiday cottage with two bedrooms, two en-suite wet rooms and spacious family lounge-kitchen. An outdoor hot tub and terrace is shared with Barn Owl cottage next door. From around £418 per week; short breaks from around £344.
CAN YOU AFFORD IT?
Average house prices: May 2022