Like Tess in Freya North's novel "Secrets" I love Saltburn-by-the-Sea. Victorian architecture, cliff top walks, Italian gardens that meander down to the beach, a pier, cliff lift- what more do I need?
In the story Tess leaves an unhappy life in the south of England for a fresh start in this quiet corner of the North East. She is soon smitten with the panoramic views of Huntcliff Nab, and her landlord Joe makes quite an impression too. On a walk round the town, with her daughter in pushchair and his shaggy dog on lead, Joe, a bridge-building engineer, unwraps a little of the history of Saltburn.
Old Saltburn started life as a single row of smugglers cottages down by the shore. In the 1860s Henry Pease, a local industrialist, had a vision for a cliff top town to cater for the wealthy, with formal gardens sweeping down to the sea. Joe points out its crowning glory, the Zetland Hotel- the world’s first railway hotel. The building still commands wonderful views out to sea but sadly today the hotel has given way to flats. Pease’s father was a founder member of the Stockton and Darlington Railway- the first passenger railway in the world- so it’s no surprise that a miniature railway was constructed to run through the Valley Gardens. The name Saltburn derives from “Sealt Burna”- the salty stream, coloured brown by alum in the soil, which flows out from the gardens to meet the sea. It's a lovely spot.
They stop to buy icecream at Camfields, a tiny café nestled beneath Cat Nab, a small hilly mound which gives shelter from the breeze. There's a decked area for catching the sun and on cooler days the owner supplies a warm blanket with the outdoor seating so you can still make the most of the view. A BBC panini (bacon, brie and cranberry) while sitting here is my idea of heaven at £4.95. (Saltburn Bank, tel 01287 626070)
They continue their stroll down the Victorian pier and Joe explains the workings of the water-balanced cliff lift. It's quite a climb back up but a ride to the top will cost you just 70p. Finally they wander through the jewel streets off the seafront and into Milton and Dundas Streets, a sympathetic blend of old and new, overflowing with Victorian character. The trendy Interiors shop with its colourful modern designs sits happily alongside the Victoria public house's faded upholstery and elaborate chandelier. High class confectionery can be purchased from Chocolini and there's an excellent delicatessen selling gorgeous cheeses and homemade pies- perfect for picnics. As Tess points out, Saltburn has everything you could possibly need.
Tess makes other friends in Saltburn, including a young man who works at the local Surf Shop. He wines and dines her at the Vista Mar, a pub/restaurant with generous decking and glorious views of Huntcliff Nab (Saltburn Bank; tel 01287 623771; closed Mondays; www.vista-mar.com ). You can be extravagant here with roasted halibut and salad of scallops, crab and lime chilli for £19.95 but a better deal is to be had at lunchtime when £13.95 will buy you a fisherman's lunch for two - smoked fish, crab cocktail and mussels. The Pease family were Quakers and frowned upon alcohol so Vista Mar started life as tearooms, and then became a fish and chip café before licensing was finally granted.
Like all good love stories the heroine finally captures her hero and there's a great scene near the end featuring the Transporter Bridge at Middlesbrough, a 160ft high steel structure spanning the River Tees. A ride across in the gondola is fun. Freya North has an obvious fondness for Saltburn, which she describes as "quirky and enchanting", and includes much of the local history in her novel. She reminded me how much I like this endearing place and prompted me to share it with you.
Some helpful details including the best places to stay
The Tourist Information Office is at 3 Station Buildings (closed Mondays) and can provide walks leaflets to get you out and about. The entire length of the Cleveland Way starts from the cliff top but you don’t need to venture far to enjoy a ramble. The Valley Gardens, with the bridge where Tess played “Poohsticks”, are the perfect spot for that picnic, rounded off with a ride on the train, which starts running on Easter Sunday www.saltburn-miniature-railway.org.uk . They 've added a new bridge and playground equipment recently.
Don't miss the Ship Inn, an allegedly haunted 500 year old inn with original beams, coal fires and a reputation for good food.
Somewhat surprisingly surfing has become a popular activity locally and lessons and equipment hire are available on www.saltburnsurf.co.uk. The UK Pro Surfing Championships were held here 15th- 16th May this year. All dates can be checked on www.redcar-cleveland.gov.uk
The Saltburn Spa Hotel on Saltburn Bank showcases the lovely view of Huntcliff Nab and has 28 recently restored traditional suites, from £60 per night.
Further round the bay you have equally stunning views with a bit more space and the opportunity for a round of golf. Hunley Hall Golf Club & Hotel, Ings Lane, Brotton has 29 holes, from £75 per double room.
Self catering is a good option here and you’ll be hard pressed to beat the location of Coastguard Cottages, above the Ship Inn on the cliff top. They sleep up to four, plus an infant from £250- £550 per week (Old Saltburn TS12 1HG). Don't be put off by the climb- there is of course road access.
Tower Court offer four-star luxury apartments, centrally situated and near to both shops and seashore. Lovely sea views again, in a Grade 2 listed Victorian building, from £350 per week (Glenside, Saltburn TS12 1JS).
Lastly, maybe a nice couples option if you’re feeling flush, Saltburn Victoria Apartments specialise in midweek and weekend breaks from £80 per night, and still more great views (3 Diamond St, Saltburn TS12 1EB).
Getting there is easy and economical if advance-booked with East Coast railways www.eastcoast.co.uk . A half-hourly connection runs from Middlesbrough to Saltburn.