For a tiny fishing village, this jewel of the North Yorkshire coast is full of charm, history, fabulous walks and inspiration for artists. Words: Ruth Addicott
With its cobbled streets, tiny alleyways and fisherman’s cottages tumbling on top of each other, it is easy to see why Robin Hood’s Bay was once a hotbed for smugglers. Hidden in a ravine on the North Yorkshire coast, between Scarborough and Whitby, it has a rugged, romantic charm and air of mystery even today, making it a magnet for artists seeking inspiration.
As a result, the village has a thriving art and crafts scene with many designers and artists working in the bay, selling quirky ceramics, jewellery and original paintings in the area’s galleries.
As well as being popular with families, it is also the finishing point for the ‘Coast to Coast’ and attracts a fair share of walkers, weary, but elated to have finally made it. There is no evidence Robin Hood ever visited – the name is thought to come from local legend.
The old village sits at the bottom of a steep hill which runs down to the water’s edge. Exposed to storms and strong winds, sometimes reaching 60mph, a huge sea wall was built in the 1970s to stop the cliffs from collapsing.
Once a thriving fishing port, by the 18th century, it was reported to be the busiest smuggling community on the Yorkshire coast. Awash with boltholes and secret passages, there are tales of bay wives hiding contraband in their petticoats and pouring boiling water over Excise men from bedroom windows. Today, it is a lot more genteel with a small close-knit community who all have one thing in common – their affection for the bay.
10AM A RICH MARITIME HISTORY
The moment you leave your car at the top of the cliff and tip toe down the hill, you get a sense that you’re somewhere special. With higgledy-piggledy streets, windows at pavement level and narrow alleyways, the road trails down to the water’s edge and Old Coastguard Station. Once a look-out post for smugglers, it’s now a visitor’s centre run by The National Trust and perfect for children with colourful displays and a rockpool tank crawling with crabs, prawns and sea anemones.
Further up, you will find a tiny museum, with stories of shipwrecks, rescues, smuggling and secret tunnels (at one point, a bale of silk could be passed from the bottom of the village to the top without seeing daylight).
1PM CAFÉ CULTURE
Next, we stumbled across The Swell, a converted chapel and now a gift shop and café bar with a beautiful terrace overlooking the sea. Along with locally sourced dishes, speciality teas, coffee, wine and beers, it also exhibits work from local artists. The building dates back to 1725 and underwent restoration in 2004, including an auditorium with 1840s box pews which now hosts concerts, films and weddings. Owners Jason and Jane Brine both have links with the area – Jane’s great-great-great-great grandfather was a blacksmith in the 1800s and is buried with his wife at Old St Stephen’s Church at the top of the hill.
3PM ROCKPOOLING AND SHOPPING
If you love the beach, check the tides and do the walk to Boggle Hole (a crevice in the cliff with curved out hollows). Robin Hood’s Bay is known for being one of the best spots in Britain for fossil-hunting and there are plenty of rockpools to explore en route.
Back in the village there was time for a quick browse around the shops – Browns (for chocolate treats), Jet Black Jewellery (for Whitby jet), The Old Drapery (for that all essential waterproofing in case of a downpour) and Robin Hood’s Bay Bookshop (for that bargain book). Another gem is Wave contemporary craft gallery run by Helen Berry, with a stunning selection of ceramics, art and jewellery, most of which is handmade in the bay.
7PM FRESH AND LOCALLY SOURCED FOOD
After a quick stop at The Laurel Inn, then trying to count the steps back up the hill (109), we headed out for dinner. There are loads of places to eat and although Smugglers, a candle-lit bistro in ‘The Dock’ oozes character, we chose The Wayfarer Bistro after rave reviews from locals. It didn’t disappoint. Owned by Chris and Lucy Hutchinson, the bistro has a fabulous choice of dishes, from grilled steak and lamb to daily specials featuring locally caught seafood. I had the Tempura Prawns – with a hot and sweet chilli dip – which were delicious, followed by tasty seabass fillets in a tomato and caper sauce.
10AM BREAKFAST AND BAY VIEWS
With the sea glistening in the sunshine, there’s no better spot than Candy’s. Perched on the hill, its home-cooked breakfasts are popular with locals all year around. Amongst the regulars is well-known artist Lynne Wixon, who moved to the bay from Sheffield two years ago. ‘I came here to paint and it’s absolutely wonderful. I love it,’ she says.
For such a small place, Robin Hood’s Bay is overflowing with artistic talent and, eager to see more, I decided to stop in at Lynne’s studio, where she runs art classes for the local community. Her oldest student is 89, the youngest 21 and they recently held an exhibition. Lynne loves talking to visitors and showing them paintings of the bay and even encourages some to join the class. ‘I like to think it’s inspired them to pick up paper and a pencil and have a go at home,’ she says.
1PM CLIFFTOP PATHS
Just up the road, lies the Cinder Track, the disused railway line which once ran from Robin Hood’s Bay to Whitby. The path takes you over the cliffs, past fields of sheep, cows and bales of hay with the sea stretching out alongside. Three miles further on, we found Coast Café Bar, which served lunch and amazing cake.
3PM TAKE A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE
If you’re after something more active, there’s Trailways cycle hire trailways.info or horse riding along the beach farsydefarmcottages.co.uk. Also popular is The Original Robin Hood’s Bay Ghost Walk (check the board at the slipway for times) along with the annual Victorian Weekend in December.
6PM BREATHTAKING BEAUTY
As our own weekend draws to a close, I can’t help but go back to the top of the cliff to catch a glimpse of the view one last time. We’re about to leave when I notice a quote on the bench: ‘Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.’ This view sort of sums it up, really.
NEED TO KNOW
A fisherman’s cottage with sea views. Sleeps 4-6. Prices start from £295 for a three-night weekend break, and £412 for a week this autumn SykesCottages.co.uk
The Victoria Hotel
If spectacular views, a balcony and slice of luxury is what you’re after, then The Victoria is the perfect choice. Rooms start from £80-£120 per night based on two people sharing, including breakfast and parking victoriarhb.com
Hooks House Farm
High on the hill with views over the fields stretching out towards the sea, it’s no surprise Hooks House Farm has been featured in the top 10 UK campsites. Open March to October. Adults £7-9, children £3 per night hookshousefarm.co.uk
HOW TO GET THERE
While the bay is easier to reach by car, parking is limited. Regular train services operate from Scarborough via York to London Kings Cross grandcentral.co.uk.The Esk Valley route runs from Middlesbrough to Whitby. Buses also run from Scarborough to Middlesbrough through Robin Hood’s Bay and Whitby arriva.co.uk