Route details, maps, pubs, features, local history and folklore for a wide variety of walks focusing primarily on Norfolk and Suffolk

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Cleveland Way - Saltburn to Staithes

Cleveland Way marker at Skinningrove

A 9 mile walk following the Cleveland Way between Saltburn and Staithes

This walk passes over the highest point on the east coast of England, a 670 foot high cliff at Boulby. The entire route bears the marks of numerous quarrying operations from over the centuries. The village of Skinningrove is roughly half way, and it is this place that holds a legend of a merman being captured and held in one of its cottages.

Cleveland Way - Saltburn to Staithes - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
Saltburn View in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
Staithes View in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
9.0 miles
Walk difficulty
Cliff top paths
Some fairly steep climbs and descents


The following maps and services can assist in navigating this route. The links include published hard copy as well as online plots and downloadable GPX route data for importing into navigational software and apps.

Ordnance Survey Explorer Map
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Ordnance Survey Explorer Map
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Online Ordnance Survey Route
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Online OpenStreetMap Route
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Online Google Route
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ViewRanger App Route
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GPX data for route (download)


Middlewood Farm, Fylingthorpe Camp site View in OS Map | View in Google Map
A family run touring site within a short walk to Fylingthorpe village and Robin Hoods Bay


Details of public transport that is required for the walk

Arriva Buses - Bus Service
Service Details
X93 - Arriva bus service lining Scarborough, Whitby and Middlesborough
Arriva Buses - Bus Service
Service Details
X4 - Coastal Service linking Whitby, Staithes, Saltburn, Redcar and Middlesborough

Walk Data

Date of Walk
Walk Time
10:30 to 14:30
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Thick sea mist throughout the day

Walk Notes

Buses and Fog

On this particular day in mid September the mist tumbled in from the sea. Thick and wet mist. Rolling in waves, twists and twirls in varying densities and a display of shades of grey. It wasn't cold, in fact the previous day had been distinctly warm and was probably the cause of the mist as the cool sea air met the humid warm air of the land. Visibility was almost non-existent in places. Given the choice, a better clearer day would have been preferred for such a ramble but in this instance there was a schedule to keep and despite the lack of views the walk was embarked up.

The start of the walk is the seaside village of Saltburn, south of the Tees, where the Cleveland Way joins the coast from the Yorkshire moors. In fact there was an idea to extend the walk to start from Redcar over the new England Coast Path. However, on the day, this addition was decided against due to the fact that the bus was running considerably late, and all we would have seen is more sea mist from a different view. Leave it for another day!

The bus journey had been such a long and drawn out affair on this specific morning. Base camp for the Cleveland Way expedition was made at the village of Fylingthorpe, a mile inland from Robin Hoods Bay which was central to the whole coastal section between Filey and Saltburn. From Fylingthorpe the X93 bus service runs a regular service between Scarborough and Whitby enabling connections further north of Whitby to Middlesborough. In this instance the X4 coastal service serves all the principle towns and villages that are located along this section of the Yorkshire coastline and is serviced with modern saloon buses enabled with wifi and usb charging points on board. So the change was made at Whitby, the X4 bus arrived ahead of schedule and the friendly driver allowed us to step aboard even though there was some time before departure of the service.

Another couple boarded soon after. 'Al-raight' they greeted the driver as they displayed their passes, then continued up the aisle to sit down in seats ahead of us. 'Al-raight' they gestured in our direction as they took their seats. A nod of recognition was offered back.

The bus left bang on the allocated time and headed out of Whitby during the latter end of the morning rush hour. The route follows the coast past Sandsend then progresses up to Staithes before heading inland to Loftus only to return to the coast at Saltburn. There are numerous stops along the way and at each stop, at the very least, a couple of people were waiting for the bus. Mostly pensioners but not exclusively. They would each board in orderly manner without any urgency. 'Al-raight' each new passenger would greet as they joined the bus and the driver would respond with 'Al-raight'. They sidled up the aisle. 'Al-raight' they would proffer as they passed each passenger. 'Al-raight' the passengers would reply in turn. The younger passengers would politely follow their steps and the ones who did hear above their plugged in ears would respond with a begrudging mumble 'Al-raight'.

We headed north, picking up more passengers at Enderby, Hinderwell, Staithes and Easington and the bus was gradually filling. This resulted in additional minutes at each stop as it took so much more time to say 'Al-raight' to each of the ever increasing number of boarded passengers. 'Al-raight', the response could be heard precessing up the bus like a verbal Mexican wave. 'AL-RAIGHT', 'AL-RAIGht', 'AL-RAight', 'AL-Raight', 'AL-raight','Al-raight'......... 'al-raight' the little man at the back was nudged into a response by his wife.

By Loftus there was only standing room left on the bus but this did not stop the ritual. New passengers squeezed aboard. Their eyes would glance this way and that and each time they caught the eye of another passenger they would issue 'Al-raight'. 'Al-raight' the individual return would come. One did muse that it would have been a lot more efficient for the boarding passengers to sing in unison 'Al-raight' and the whole bus to chorus back 'Al-raight' but this just did not happen. It had to be individual 'Al-raight's' and the bus could not move until all greetings had been concluded.

Naturally the waiting for this ritual to complete delayed the bus and by the time we arrived at Saltburn it was considerably behind schedule. Now I should not complain about this behaviour and this précis of the the event is certainly not a complaint, merely an observation. Indeed, if it was not for these good friendly locals then we would surely have not known where to alight in the foggy scenes rendered outside. The couple sat on the seat behind engaged us in conversation. It was obvious that we were not locals as we did not offer an 'Al-raight' to each new passenger. They asked of our days itinerary and then gave firm direction of where to alight, where the coast path could be found and promptly issued the word when the first Saltburn stop beckoned. 'Al-raight' they spoke as we gave up our seats and squeezed through the crowds of the bus. 'Al-raight' they bid their farewell.

Walking and Fog

As already stated, the mist was dense. We had been told that Saltburn Pier was a landmark worth seeing but the fog was so dense that from the Old Saltburn side of Skelton Beck it was all but invisible. Not many folk can say they encountered an invisible pier. A mere 300 yards away in the distance, it shrouded itself in an invisibility cloak that Star Trek fans would have been proud of.

Unfortunately due to the length of the journey there was only one place that was required after admiring the invisibility cloak around the pier, and that was the loo. Admittedly hiding in the fog one could have peed up the wall alongside the pavement without anyone seeing unless upon close inspection. That did not seem civilised and at 10:30 it seemed prudent to try the pub at the foot of the cliffs to the east. The Ship Inn. There were lights on and the door easily pushed open. A cleaner was inside. 'Al-raight' she spoke, soon followed by the information that the pub was yet to open for the day, 'Another hour yet'. We explained our predicament and only wanted the loo and permission was granted. She then left the building and when we emerged from the loo the landlady was there. 'Al-raight' she spoke in a somewhat confused state having strangers emerging from her conveniences. A plausible excuse was made and off we sauntered.

The Cleveland Way heads up the cliff behind the pub with the waymarker accompanied by a brand spanking new England Coast Path marker, this stretch of coast having been inaugurated into the National Coast Path earlier in 2016. The climb is fairly easy, steadily rising to Huntcliff which stands at over 100m, at which point a marker board declares this to have been the site of a former Roman signal Station. We looked around in interest at the fog. An invisible Roman Signal Station!

Just beyond this is the coastal railway which sweeps around Warsett Hill in a long curve. This section of line connects Skinningrove and Brotton, just a mile or so apart yet it has to navigate 3 miles around Warsett Hill, almost tumbling off of the cliff edge. At this point there are a series of metal sculptures that are visible in the fog. They lurk in the mist and slowly come into existence as one nears them. A large metal fish. A tall marker post. A huge charm bracelet with ten hanging charms. They are the work of Paul Farrington and supposedly represent the fishing industry, the earth, air, sky and water and local culture and folklore. I could understand the fish connection.

Continuing along the cliff-tops one encounters another information board, this one detailing the history of ironstone mining that was undertaken on these cliffs through centuries past. A little further along the cliffs yet another information board, this one declaring the enduring qualities of the scenes at Cattersty Viewpoint. We stand and admire for a few minutes. The whiteness of the fog is quite outstanding with little areas of grey. At some instances even the grey bits became white. Amazing.

The path leads down to Cattersty Sands and through the dunes although it seemed much easier to descend to the beach where the firm sand made for an easier walk. One has to aim for the gap in the long stone jetty which is the start of Skinningrove. The jetty used to contain a railway which would allow waiting ships to be filled with the iron and steel that was smelted in the iron works which made Skinningrove a renowned town, producing the steel for many railway lines.

Skinningrove is quiet. Few people are about. The sound of industry long gone. A boat sculpture adorns the seafront. Along the road leading away from the front there is another sculpture. A pigeon fancier in wood. There's a Chip Shop. It's closed. We had been hoping to find a pub for a drink an bit to eat. There is a run down building that looks like a pub. It's not. It's Timms Coffee House. It's closed. I had been told that Skinningrove boasted a working mens club that had the cheapest beer in Britain. It did. It's now closed. Another loo break is needed. No loo. A women and man are talking at the roadside. We wait to excuse an interruption. Pub? No - closed. Cafe? No - closed. Public loo? No - closed. Then the woman invited us to use her loo in her house. She was not a native of the area but had retired after many years working in London. It seemed too intrusive to go in with soiled boots but she insisted. I offered to take them off. She told me to think nothing of it. She had moved here for the peace and quiet. Peace and quiet was in abundance without a doubt.

The next stage of the walk climbs to the highest point on the east coast of England which is along the Boulby cliff above the Allum Quarries. At over 200 m in height, which is around 670ft in English money, this is a huge cliff. The walk begins with a steep climb out of Skinningrove, then a saunter along the cliff tops past Hummersea Bank. One could believe, especially in the fog, that this was the highest point but beyond this the path turns inland and up a gentle slope beside a field boundary, then past some farm buildings and another steep climb. This is the top. Somewhere around here. In fact one needs to walk another mile along the cliff top before the highest point is reached. There is no marker. There is nothing other than the meeting of a path leading inland. But look around at the view and you may be amazed. Without doubt all the grey bits of fog are white at this altitude.

The path rapidly descends back down to Boulby, then a path leads across the fields to a country road and leads into Cowbar or Colburn as it used to be called, which is the western side of Staithes Beck. Quite why the name of this hamlet was changed from Colburn is unknown but judging by a little research it would appear to have changed by 1928. So Colburn, Colburn Bank and Colburn Nab and Colburn Lane turned into Cowbar, Cowbar Bank and Cowbar Nad and Cowbar Lane for no apparent reason. Maybe the original name got lost in the fog.

It is interesting that on old 19th century maps there is a rocket apparatus house at the top of Colburn aka Cowbar. Although it is tempting to think that Britain once led the world in space exploration, this is almost certainly not the case, and it is a lot more likely that this building housed the rocket apparatus invented by John Dennet that was used as a method of firing a line over to a ship in distress.



The Cleveland Way is clearly marked with the usual acorn markers of a national trail

The path is found at the southern end of Saltburn behind the Ship Inn as the road leads inland. The path is well trodden and leads across the cliff tops through to Skinningrove where it descends prior to the jetty.

Follow Beach Road out of Skinningrove, heading towards the beach, the road makes a sharp bend double back on itself at which point the path ascends the cliff. Keep to the cliff top until the path leads inland alongside a field boundary. At the top it turns left and into the grounds of some farm buildings. Keep to the right of the building that is straight ahead and there is a wooden gate on the right hand side. This leads up through the hillside to the top of the cliff. Keep to the cliff top until there is a path that descends down a vegetated slope. It is not totally discernible whether one should continue along a path at the top here but the path through the undergrowth is well trodden and is the route one should take. This descends down to a lower cliff-top and into the hamlet of Boulby. Keep straight ahead along the tarmacked road, then continue ahead across the fields to join a road that leads to Cowbar, then descend down to the beck and a footbridge across to Staithes. Follow the road around to the left all the way to the seafront and the Cod and Lobster pub cannot be missed with other pubs along the road as well.

There is no bus stop in the village and one needs to ascend up out of the village for the nearest stop. This is simply a case of following the only road out of the village until it meets the road at the top. There are bus stops either side of the road to the left of the junction.

A foggy view of Saltburn Pier
A foggy view of Saltburn Pier


The Cod and Lobster, Staithes View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
High Street, Staithes

This sea front pub in Staithes faces the wrath of the winter storms and has taken many severe batterings in the past. In 1953 the front of the building was washed away and its stock of bottles were last seen heading out to sea. This seems to have been a common occurrence through the centuries although there is no indication of when an inn first stood on this site. William Banks' 1866 publication Walks in Yorkshire states that 60 years prior to his visit, the inn-keeper on noticing any loose brickwork in the sea wall, would drive in wooden wedges in his desperate bid to keep the integrity of the defence against the sea. This extract also recounts a storm of 1812 which took houses that once existed on what is now shingle.

The pub offers traditional pub food using local produce and a selection of ales


This proved to be a popular little pub on the sea front at Staithes with many lunchtime diners leaving only space at the bar. The selection of ale included Old Jacks Tipple from the North Yorks Brewing company, a microbrewery from Guisborough. This was a pale, soft brew that was perfect for a lunchtime and I believe it is brewed specifically for the pub. So good to see local brews getting an outlet and much appreciated.

Richard Farrington Charm sculpture
Richard Farrington Charm sculpture


The Skinningrove MermanView in OS Map | View in Google Map

There is a Skinningrove legend of a Merman who was caught by fishermen that has been told and retold down through the centuries. Although the many accounts use the term 'merman', it is probably better described as a sea-man, for this curiosity who was fished from the sea was undoubtedly human in appearance. After capture, he was placed in an empty cottage, where he refused any food apart from raw fish. He did not speak any discernible language, instead communicating using what is described a skreak which is a local term for a high pitched screeching noise. He quite naturally became a curiosity and folk came to see him from far and wide. He was always courteous to such visitors and even took a shine to some of the ladies who paid him a visit.

Eventually he gained the trust of the villagers although this was what allowed him to escape. One day he stole away and fled back to the sea, never to be seen again.

Some accounts give 1535 as the year that the Merman was captured, others use the date of 1607. Most accounts reveal that their source of the tale was an old manuscript. One such account provides the quoted account from the manuscript, detailed here in its original spelling:

Ould men, that would be loath to have theer credytes crackt by a tale of a stale date, reporte confidentlye, that sixty yeares since, or perhaps eighty or more, a Sea-Man was taken by the fishers of that towne, whome duringe many weekes they kepte in an Guide house, giveinge him rawe fishe to eate, for all other foode he refused. In steede of voyce he skreaked, and shewed a curteous acceptance of such as flocked farre and neere to visyte him ; fayre maydes were welcomest guestes to his harbour, whome he would behould with a very earneste countenance, as if his phlegmaticke breste had bin touched with a sparke of love. One daye, when the good demeanure of this newe gueste had made his hoastes secure of his aboade with them, he privily stoale out of doores, and ere he could be overtaken recovered the sea, whereinto he plonged himself ; yet, as one that would not unmanerly depart without takinge of his leave, from his mydle upwards he raysed his shoulders often above the waves, and makinge signes of acknowledging his good entertainment to such as beheld him on the shoare, as they interpreted yt, after a pretty while he dived downe, and apeared no more.

The manuscript is quoted as being preserved in the Cotton Library. This was the private collection of 17th century Member of Parliament Sir Robert Bruce Cotton, and which formed the basis of the British Library. It is said to have been written at the insistence of Sir Thomas Chaloner to record the tale. Thomas Chaloner is most likely the 16th century English courtier and Governor of the Courtly College who was a principle figure in developing the Alum manufacture that was renowned in this coastal area and whose coastal quarries still little the area. The preferred date in most accounts is placed as 1535 which has probably been deduced from the date the account was written and its first words stating that the event happened 60, or even 80 years or more previous. We can only assume that this account was written from the local tale that was shared by word of mouth although there is nothing to deduce that it is not even older.

This tale bears a lot of similarities with the Suffolk tale of the Merman of Orford in which a wild man from the sea is caught by local fishermen and imprisoned in the castle. He is found not able to speak any known language and eats only raw fish. Eventually after he gains the trust of the locals he escapes never to be seen again. The origins of the Suffolk version come from a lot earlier, in the Chronicon Anglicanum of AD1200 which was recorded by the English chronicler and monk, Ralph of Coggeshall. Maybe there is a connection, maybe this tale travelled through the centuries as well as across the geographic localities.

Boat Sculpture, Skinningrove
Boat Sculpture, Skinningrove


Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on an image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: 2018-12-18

2017-05-23 : Initial publication
2018-12-18 : General website updates


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