Photographers, artists, fossil hunters, lovers of our stunningly varied English coastline; just some of the people who've discovered the North Yorkshire village of Runswick Bay and come back for more.
It was just a dim childhood memory for me until I renewed my acquaintance recently. Barely 8 miles north of bustling Whitby, on the North East coast of England, this peaceful village is a photographer’s dream. Picture a craggy coastline, the dark sandy beach peppered with pebbles. As the tide recedes, slabs of rock appear, full of enticing pools. Nestled in the shelter of the cliff lies the village of Runswick Bay - a warren of winding lanes and pretty cottages.
Like many a community these days, Runswick Bay thrives only in the summer months, the vast majority of its picturesque stone cottages given a new lease of life as holiday lets. It wasn’t always so peaceful - one night in 1664 the entire village slid into the sea! Returning from a wake, one of the villagers noticed the steps of his house slipping away beneath his feet. He gave the alarm and most of the village fled to safety. By morning only one house remained standing- the house of the deceased man. The village was rebuilt further around the shore but land slippage continued to be a problem. In 1970 a new sea wall was finally built, thankfully securing the village’s future.
So who comes to a village like this?
Certainly anyone with an eye for beauty, but the bucket and spade brigade could have a glorious time here too, poking about in the bladder wrack and the rock pools. Fossil hunters search Jurassic shale on the foreshore and in the cliff face crevices and caves. Nor could you find a more romantic hideaway in which to “cosy up” in a deep armchair, delighting in the panoramic sweep of the bay.
Set on the coastal leg of the Cleveland Way, which runs from Saltburn down to Filey, the clifftop vistas are stunning. You need to be pretty fit for the climb up from the beach, but there is a winding path up through the houses, to the upper village. Keep pausing for breath, and to admire the view. Temptation beckons in the form of The Royal Hotel where, on a less clement day, the roaring fire will ensure your stay. In fine weather, sitting outside with a freshly drawn Guinness, it’s hard to shift your gaze from the shimmering sea.
Food options are various, from tasty jacket potatoes and sandwiches at around £5 to full blown seafood platters for £9. (The Royal Hotel, Runswick Bay TS13 5HT www.royalhotelrunswick.com or phone 01947 840215) A quirky feature- the toilets occupy a separate building to one side of the pub. A hint of olden days. Upstairs there's a 2 bedroom flat available- no problems with the walk home.
It’s not easy to ignore the weather in this landscape. A sheltered haven from the north winds, when the weather turns against you, you’ll know it. Shipwrecks and rescues from heavy seas have enlivened many a winter evening, none more so than when, in 1901, the men folk went off to fish in calm seas. The lifeboat crew was out fishing with them when the storm blew in. The heavy task of launching and manning the lifeboat was down to the women of the village and a few old uns, while the children lit the beach with lanterns. All returned safe. Today Runswick Bay no longer has its own lifeboat, but the village people are well aware of the awesome power of the sea and are quick to turn out in their own craft if help is needed.
Where to stay to make the most of those views
If you fancy life in a church conversion with double height ceilings, High Chapel gives you just that experience. Phil and Karen have done a lovely job. The sense and space of the former Methodist Church are retained along with many original features, but nothing is sacrificed to comfort. A family home for 5, full weeks cost from £450 low season to £750 in high. 3 night weekends and 4 night midweek breaks can also be booked.
At the top of the village Castle House Holiday Cottage can accommodate 6/7 in 4 bedrooms. Its location ensures beautiful views, but the old stonework inside is a delight too. Prices range from £450 for 3 nights.
Did I mention romantic? If there are only two of you how could you resist Crab and Lobster Cottage snuggled in the heart of the village? You can have 3 nights of romance from £270 - not cheap, but with that special someone…
I have a little treat in mind
Runswick Bay is primarily about self catering, but if pure indulgence is what you’re seeking I know of a superb option not too far away. The Beehive Inne is a 15th century former drovers cottage specializing in period elegance. Depending on your personal style you can have a rolltop bath or a walk-in wetroom. You can choose to look out on the duck pond or on rolling moors. Best of all you can dine from a menu to make you drool. How does Whitby loin of cod, seared scallops, creamy chive mash and a chowder of caviar and green lipped mussels sound to you? If you prefer to stay in Runswick Bay you should still spoil yourself with a meal at this special inn. Or combine the two (The Beehive Inne, Newholme, Whitby YO21 3QY). Rooms are from £65, fabulous breakfast included.
A car is the easiest option hereabouts, but a half-hourly bus service (no 5) runs by the village, en route from Whitby to Middlesbrough, where there are railway connections. There is free parking at the top of the village if you’re agile. If not you need a ready supply of pound coins. The parking meter advises you can pay by credit card, but it is almost impossible to contact the phone number quoted to do so.
The village is a lovely place both to visit and to stay, but as there are no longer any shops you need to bring provisions with you or food-shop in nearby Whitby. If you are interested in the history of the village, including details of the "binks” and the thatched cottage, it’s all there on www.runswickbayyorkshirecoast.co.uk. Similarly for natural history lovers, lots of facts on local fossils and the seashore can be found on www.runswickbay.blogspot.com. Nothing remains to do but come along, marvel at its survival, and enjoy.