Cleveland Way – Saltburn to Port Mulgrave then Sandsend – Day 6
So Peeps, today we’ll walk the cliffs of Saltburn and beyond, we’ll see a train negotiate a tight corner on a cliff, learn about some sculptures on the cliffs and see the poignant words of love written for a departed sweetheart expressed in a cliff face 300 feet above the sea.
I’m up at six o’clock to the news of the Manchester atrocity and it takes the edge off a very beautiful summer morning. Andy was up before 5 and has milked a shed load of cows since then.
We set off at 8 am to drop one of the cars off at Sandsend then make our way to Saltburn for the start. It’s yet another summer day with unbroken sunshine and a welcome breeze off the sea.
The sunshine and sands remind me of times as a child when once per year we’d be brought either here or to Redcar by bus. I think it was organised by the church and would happen regardless of the weather. On one occasion we went to Scarborough which was a very long way and when we got there the heavens opened with the most violent of thunderstorms and we had to take shelter in Kinderland where we looked out at streets that had turned to rivers and lightning that seemed to strike the sea almost within reaching distance. With that as an exception, I don’t remember bad weather on those trips and Saltburn, in particular, was always warm and sunny.
We’d sit on the beach making sandcastles and then bringing buckets of water from the sea to fill the moat. This would last several seconds before disappearing into the sand leaving a residue of bubbles as the only evidence that water had ever existed in that man (or child) made ditch. We’d build them deliberately below the tide line so that we could watch them disintegrate as the tide came in, each parapet, battlement, tower and carefully crafted barbican would be melted by the waves. First gently as the waves flooded the moat, usually to a round of applause and cheering; then, brushing the bottoms of the walls that would start the inevitable demise then complete obliteration as the waves became bigger and took total occupation of the beach. Dad would reappear with a glint in his eye and some half-melted ice creams after a sneaky pint at the top of the cliffs.
Towards the end of the day, we’d make out way back to the bus park where all of the coaches had been parked to maximise the space. There would begin a carefully choreographed dance of the buses as the last ones parked would be re-populated first then driven off allowing the next wave of buses to be treated the same way. It was all fascinating stuff to a little boy and I loved it.
Like most of the starts from seaside resorts, the first half mile is up and this is no exception. We walk past The Ship Inn and then onto the steps. Even if you can make it up these steps in one I would urge you to stop and look behind you. Saltburn is a delight and well worth a couple of minutes two or three times up the path.
At the top there are flowers where some youngsters had thrown themselves off the cliff a few weeks ago and died together. No one seems to know why and there are all kinds of rumours I just think that the day started on a poor note and as we ascend, the dreadful irony is, it’s just gone downhill.
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When you walk sometimes you think and today it’s time to think. The first couple of miles along the cliff edge are beautiful but my mind hasn’t yet become positive then, out of the blue, we see a two coach train heading towards the ridge where the line runs within 40 feet of the cliffs. The sight is surreal and from our angle, it just doesn’t feel that the cliff could hold the weight of the train and we marvel at the sight. This is without a doubt not a trivialisation of the events of the previous day but it has the effect of a much-needed reboot to my mind and I begin to notice the beautiful things that surround us.
Sunshine, flowers, gentle wind, fabulous scenery of both moorland and sea complete with sea cliffs that are the highest in England with sea birds and land birds in abundance. My mind is taking on a positive note and I’m grateful for the interruptions and distractions that have helped.
As we approach the railway line that services Boulby Mine I marvel at the engineering that has resulted in this wonderful track not least the 11 arch viaduct in Crow Wood at Saltburn, the embankments and cuts to keep the track level, the ingenious routing that takes the track in enormous loops around the contours of the hills and valleys to avoid the type of steep incline that the huge engines would struggle with as they haul thousands of tons of material from the mines. As I look at the route that is plotted on the OS map I’m filled with envy at the job these drivers have, moorland, valley, woodland, field, heather, seascape and lake, add to these the ever-changing weather and time of day, the result; just sublime.
At Hunt Cliff and beyond the path is sandwiched between the railway track and the cliff edge. To our left and 300 feet below is the sea and on the right is Warset Hill about 180 feet above. There were three sculptures set back from the cliff edge. Richard Farrington was the artist responsible for these sculptures and there’s a bit of a tale behind them.
Although from Alton, Hampshire, he lived in the area and collaborated with local groups with regard to the subject of his works.
They were the result of a three-month residency commissioned by the local parish council. They were constructed at the British Steel plant in Skinningrove, they’re made from locally produced metals and represent the industrial, social and natural history of the district.
‘Trawl Door’, a representation of the doors of an open trawl net with its catch: a large fish and plankton. It takes its form from equipment used by fishermen in Whitby.
‘Pillar’, a ridged marker post, supporting a chain of four metal sculptures which represent a star; the top of plant growth; the shape air makes when striking a surface; a jellyfish and its reflection in the water. The figurative elements in Pillar are intended to symbolise sky, earth, air and sea.
‘Circle’ is the largest work. Within it there are ten figurative sculptures hanging on metal rods from a large steel hoop. The Circle includes castings of the Cleveland Bay Horse and a cat (apparently, cats were hunted here in the 14th c.). Farrington described the whole sculpture as a giant charm bracelet. It has become a local landmark; however, in 1996 vandals cut through its base and rolled it into the sea 300 feet below and the only piece to be recovered was the horse. It has been reported that the New Circle sculpture produced to replace the vandalised one has been the site of a wedding one Midsummer’s Day. It has also been the focus for a number of stories by the Saltburn writers’ group.
As we admire ‘The Circle’ we’re treated to another train this time coming from the mine. We’re closer this time so the excitement is even more intense and for the second time, we’re amazed that this astonishing mass of metal and cargo could be supported by the limited land between the line and the cliff.
We start the descent to Skinningrove and its secret pristine sands are laid out below us. Why this hasn’t been discovered as a beach destination since the ironworks stopped discharging the red residue into the stream I have no idea and today is even better. There are three people and a horse on this beach and it looks so clean and beautiful.
We stop at Skinningrove for a banana break, the sea is flat calm and the breakwaters seem surplus to requirements but when we set off again there are noticeable loudspeakers mounted on a post and pointing inland. It turns out that these are an early warning system and were established following huge floods that occurred a few years ago. There was also a huge steelworks that discharged a red residue into the steam and it was renowned for its red hue. It’s not like that now but there are parts of the river, especially on bends that still have that red die in the banks. It’s also got a museum. Do consider coming here if you want a few hours on the coast.
We’re now on our way out of Skinningrove and on the ‘up’ to the cliffs above White Stones heading towards Boulby. I’ve been up here before but the most memorable was a walk with Lou who took me to this trig point a couple of years ago. It was a great walk but tough at the end. The cliffs here are spectacular and you’d think you’d get immune to superlatives but believe me they’re appropriate so you don’t.
It’s a day of thinking of others and as we pass Vin and Pat’s house we think of them and the stress of illness. Hope things are improving and you’ll be back on the road soon Vin, take it easy until then!
The track meanders along the coastline always with spectacular views both left, right and in front of us, then even more thought-provoking words, this time on an outcrop way above the sea:
It was Spring when I first saw you, Your eyes shone like morning dew,
It was Summer when I stayed with you, We had a love so true,
It was Autumn when they told us, There was nothing we could do,
It became Winter when you left.
They’re inscribed into the cliff and the artist/poet who wrote them certainly had a head for heights.
These beautiful words are carved into a spectacular location and read on a most thoughtful day.
We can see Staithes now in the distance and the gorse is injecting bright yellow pools along the tops. We have a discussion about having a break here but agree to walk to Staithes and stop there.
The walk into Staithes from Cowbar is wonderful and enables a complete view of the village, something you don’t see when you leave your car at the car park at the top of the hill. In Staithes we make our way to the harbour area and find a cafe that sells bacon sandwiches. We manage to get seats outside in the shade but get a bit of a bollocking when we move them into the sunshine. Apparently, they don’t have permission to use the other areas but the waiter, presumably the owner of the cafe, does make a bit of a meal (sorry) of the situation as he labours the point and I feel that he may well have failed his customer relations course. On the upside, his bacon sandwiches are first rate.
Half an hour later and we’re on the track again. We look back at the harbour and then look forward to the cliff edge again and there are three hundred feet that separates us from the sea. At the top we ignore the app and take the route that’s indicated by the sign. It’s new and combines the England Coastal Path with the Cleveland Way. it’s a route we’ve done before and gives excellent views back across Staithes definitely a good move.
The next ‘up’ is towards Port Mulgrave and does raise the heart rate but we enjoy the challenge as we imagine the cup of tea at Lou’s.
There is a plan ‘B’ after Port Mulgrave which is to walk onwards to Sandsend. I’m not doing that but wish the others well. It’s another five miles and whilst I’m full of respect I’m not envious.
This is a longish walk without the extra five miles it is demanding, if you do the full 19 miles you’re a fully qualified tracker and deserve maximum respect.
Enjoy the photos…G..x
Please share as some folks are less able and can’t do these walks. They also enjoy the banter and photos.
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