This article Robin Hoods Bay Things To Do, Places to Visit Was Written for Whitby Photography by Sarah Donaldson of Northern Editorial.
Historic Robin Hood’s Bay
If you venture five miles south of Whitby, or fifteen miles north of Scarborough, you will find an old fishing village, nestled between steep cliffs, that hasn’t changed much over the years.
Leave your car at the top of the bank and the steep walk down to Robin Hood’s Bay almost takes you back in time. Whether the village has links to ‘the’ Robin Hood we’ll probably never know.
Peter N Walker, in his book Murders and Mysteries from the Yorkshire Dales, reckons that Robin Hood was a common name between the 12th and 14th centuries. One Robin Hood, a possible valet to Kind Edward II, did spend time around the Whitby area, settling for a time in Bay Town, where despite being a rubbish fisherman he actually saved the village from a marauding French vessel.
Tales say he captured the boat and its cargo, part of which he used to endow the seamen’s hospital in Scarborough (although why he didn’t give it to Whitby we’ll just have to guess), and some he gave to the village’s inhabitants. Walker notes that the town was given the name Robin Hood’s Bay around 1532 in his honour.
Whatever the name’s origins, Robin Hood’s Bay has links to smuggling – during the C18th, when smuggling was commonplace, the small secluded bay was the perfect backdrop for trips in the dead of night to bring contraband over from the continent. As you walk the streets you can imagine what must have taken place. There’s even talk of smugglers tunnels linking the houses.
But it wasn’t just smugglers that took advantage of the area, Privateers (think Pirates with a government commission) plagued the Yorkshire coast in the 1700s. Newspapers of the time tell tales of lesser sea battles and terror:
- Derby Mercury 1 June 1744 – ‘They write from Robin Hood’s Bay , that on Thursday last a French Privateer was seen off at sea, which took two of their fishing boats’
- Derby Mercury 29 May 1747 – ‘The people on the Yorkshire Coast are greatly alarm’d as the Privateers have every day of late made their appearance’
- Newcastle Courant 27 June 1747 – 45 Frenchmen taken in a small French Privateer called the Dike de Villars , by His Majesty’s ship the Hastings (40 guns, Capt. Waller) off Robin Hood’s Bay. Prisoners carried off to York Castle.
- Newcastle Courant 29 July 1775 – ‘Last week Capt. Armstrong, of his Majesty’s Cutter, took off Robin Hood’s Bay a five men boat, which had just come out of Flushing with 400 half anchors of Geneva, and a ton of tea, and on Wednesday lodged the cargo in this custom-house.’It makes you wonder how many parties were had with confiscated goods. Visit the area on any cold, stormy winter’s night and you can imagine what life must have been like in those times.
Robin Hood’s Bay has even had its share of mystery:
- Derby Mercury 29 May 1747 – a letter from Norwich dated May 14
‘A fish of prodigious size was last week taken off Robin Hood’s Bay, which the curious are at a loss to find a name for. It has a head like a goat; a tail like a greyhound; only two feet, not unlike those of an ox, but somewhat shorter, and webbed like a duck; it is as large as a middling horse; it eats any fish; drinks salt-water, and is likely to live’
Wonder what that was and how long it lived?
If you want to get a taste of life in the village, Leo Walmsley’s Bramblewick books, written in the 1930s, immortalised the local fishing community and give a taste of life on the Yorkshire Coast. Born in 1892, he moved to Robin Hood’s Bay when he was about two, and his books are still popular today, despite him eventually settling in Cornwall.
So, what can you do if you visit the Bay?
No trip is complete without going down the beach. Explore the rock-pools, do some beach combing, and relax in this area of outstanding natural beauty. You might find some fossils, decide to explore the coastal paths, or just relax for a while.
Visit Old St Stephens Church. Overlooking Robin Hood’s Bay, a visit to Old St Stephen’s Church is a must. Events, such as walks and exhibitions, are put on throughout the year. A walk around the old church will take you back in time to how life used to be (it’s not changed since 1822), and a walk around the graveyard will show you how life was remembered.
You’ll find that it’s an interesting historical graveyard, full of tales of old Yorshire, life and death. There are even graves remembering those lost at sea, something that was all too common. It’ open June to October, with donations accepted to help with the upkeep.
Visit the Old Coastguard Station, and the Robin Hood’s Bay Museum. Take a walk along the Cleveland Way or Wainwright’s Coast To Coast Walk that ends at the Bay, or many of the other walks, such as the Cinder Path (the old disused railway line between Whitby and Scarborough).
Walk to Boggle Hole and go fossil hunting. This site of special scientific interest lies just south of Robin Hood’s Bay. If you’re lucky you might find one of the ammonites that the area is famous for, just remember to respect the beach, don’t disturb the bedrock and use some common sense.
Walk to Ravenscar. A walk along the coast (about 8 miles) will bring you to the town that never was. Occupation on the site dates back to the time of the Romans, with Raven Hall, now a country house hotel, being built in the 1770s on the site of the old farm.
What makes Ravenscar special is the fact that around the turn of the C20th, when tourists began flocking to Scarborough, plans were made to extend the village as a resort to rival its neighbour.
Amenities were laid out, such as roads and a sewer system, to service houses that were never built. The plans never came to fruition and the village was not extended to become the much hoped for resort. Now it’s a lovely place to visit and take in the surrounding scenery.
There’s a grey seal colony down on the beach, so if you’re lucky you might manage a bit of seal watching. You won’t have to stray far from the path as the seals come right up onto the beach.
Take in the wonderful surroundings. The area around Robin Hood’s Bay and Whitby truly is one of the best in the country for its spectacular scenery, wildlife and natural beauty. Watch the purple heather bloom, marvel at the wild seas and if you are lucky you might spot a peregrine falcon or a barn owl swooping along the moors. And of course it’s a paradise for those of you who like a spot of fishing. Watch the moon rise over Ravenscar, or the sun set over the Bay, and it’s something you’ll never forget.
When you need to re-fuel
The village is lucky to have some top-class places to stay and eat:
Tea Toast and Post is a welcoming cafe run by Luke and Sam Pearson in the village’s old Post Office. It’s also attracting top musicians as an evening music venue, so keep an eye out on their Facebook page for upcoming performances.
The Smugglers candle-lit bistro right on the dock in Robin Hood’s Bay specialises in seafood and steaks, sourcing local ingredients wherever possible.
The Bramblewick fish and grill, uses the finest quality locally-sourced ingredients, for breakfast (until 11am) or dinner (from 5pm).
The Swell is a lovely gift shop and cafe that was once the old Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, well worth a visit.
The Pubs – sometimes only a pub will do, so in the village we have The Bay Hotel, The Fylingdales, Ye Dolphin, The Laurel Inn and the Victoria Hotel
Ye Dolphin Folk Club – every Friday night (except Good Friday) a folk club is held in Ye Dolphin Inn, on King Street, starting between 8.30 and 9.00pm. Why not go along and keep a tradition alive?Staying longer?
Boggle Hole Youth Hostel was converted from an old mill, and is situated just south of the Bay. With a recent £1.2m renovation, it’s a great stopover for families, walkers and cyclists
Holiday cottages owned by Sam and Luke Pearson are a popular place to stay for a while.
Keep the memories
But once you leave you’ll want to remember your visit. Take your pick from Whitby Photography’s extensive catalogue. From atmospheric portraits of the streets of Robin Hood’s Bay, moonlight in the Bay or beautiful countryside walks, to glorious shots of heather at Ravenscar or Bayside views, one of my prints will let you treasure the memories forever.
Murders and Mysteries from the Yorkshire Dales, Peter N Walker, London: Robert Hale, 1991.
Wikipedia – Robin Hood’s Bay [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Hood%27s_Bay]
Article By Sara Donaldson of Northern Editorial.