Cleveland Way – Runswick Bay to Whitby in the Sunshine

Soo Peeps, Today we’ll learn that ‘up’ is not necessarily the top and that fish and chips are best bought from a fish and chip shop!

We walked the Cleveland Way in the summer; however, I had to skip one day due to an appointment that couldn’t be rescheduled so today we are plugging that gap.

I’ve planned a route from Runswick Bay to Whitby on OS Maps and sent it off to George Preston (Tracker George) for his scrutiny as he likes to plot the route on a physical map. it worked well in the past although I’ve never had an issue using my iPhone to follow the route it’s great to have a belt and braces regime if it did decide to go belly up.

A number of chums are on holiday or taking a break and our leader is touring the battle sites of the world wars over the channel. The plan is to take the car to Whitby and park up then catch the bus using our old farts passes (OFP’s) back to Runswick Bay. We’ll then walk the coastline back to Whitby followed by fish and chips at one of the multitudes of outlets near the docks or the bridge. It’s just under ten miles and there’s a bit of ‘up’ to challenge and keep us fit.

The cost of the car park is somewhat eye-watering at £7 but I’m told there’s nothing that Whitby can do about it as it’s set by Scarborough Council. We make out way across the road to the bus station calling for a swift coffee on the way into the station. As we pass there’s the sound of a steam engine and with the aid of a short and not too elegant canter I manage to get a couple of distance photos for the album. Whilst the engine is quite a distance away as it changes ends to pull the train back to Goathland it leaves a fabulous mix of smells from the burning of the coal and the extensive plume of steam.

It’s a mix that I grew up with. I lived near the main north/south line that carried traffic from Edinburgh to London Kings Cross and the mix of sulphurous carbon and steam brought many memories flooding back.


I would be about four when I was allowed to sit on the five bar crossing-gate at Castle Hills to watch the huge steamers make their way along what we called the Low Line. Most of them would be heading to or from Middlesbrough and beyond but some would be stopping at the extensive shunting yards that were part of the industrial and rural activity of the North End of Northallerton. There were various facilities for loading and unloading trains and if a little boy like me wanted to watch a lot of train activity he would only need to tell his dad.  If he was lucky, the next Weekend his dad would take him to a particular bridge a little further along the line where he could be picked up and plonked down on the sandstone coping stones of the bridge walls. He was then pinned by his dad’s arms wrapped around his body and hands pushing down on the tops of his legs. There’d be no possibility of falling and the little lad could experience engines in full steam passing only feet under the arch and bathing him in smoke and steam for several seconds then the manmade fog would begin to disperse and the shunting yard would reappear with the engine either drifting right into the sidings or heading straight on through Low Gates which had magically closed to the one car, several carts and a mix of people on bikes and on foot.

Most things were transported by train then including cattle. There were facilities at both North End and the Main Station to load beasts onto the cattle trucks and thence to wherever. I’m not sure about animal welfare but I do remember the plaintive moos, baas and occasional squeals of pigs as one of them would upset another in the confines of the trucks.

As we got a little older we’d pluck up enough courage to stand on the embankment near the signal and when a train was stopped as the semaphore arm was set by the signalman and the oil light shone through a piece of red glass we’d ask the driver if we could stand on the footplate until he reached the next signal about 200 yards along the track. I remember being puzzled by the fact that the glass to indicate stop was as red as can be (and I’m colour blind) but the glass that was supposed to be green was actually blue, I was later to discover that this was because the oil light was yellow and the result of the two colours was, in fact, red!

If the driver had been stopped at this signal then the next signal would almost certainly be clear to indicate to the driver he could proceed so they were always a little reticent to concede to our request; however, if you ask enough drivers then there’s always one that will eventually cave in and we’d get our ride. It was thrilling to be standing there as the fireman opened the firebox using the long metal lever that was riveted to the firebox cover which was, in turn, made of some thick metal. As it was drawn to one side the heat would hit our legs and he’d throw a couple of shovels of coal into the gaping furnace then he’d close it again. The only thing that seemed to insulate him from the heat of the lever was an oily looking rag that he stuffed into a belt that he’d have hanging loosely around his overalls. There were gauges and more levers and the driver showed us the one that he called the regulator. It always seemed to be stiff as he pulled or beat it with the palm of his hand whilst pulling either a piece of cord or another small lever to blow the whistle twice. If he hit the regulator too hard the wheels would skid as metal on metal doesn’t induce the sort of friction that you’d get from rubber and tarmac but I didn’t understand the physics yet.

Sometimes, if we were lucky, the signal wouldn’t change for several minutes and these periods were gold dust as the driver of the fireman would show us the gauges and dials and tell us what they did. There was one dial that showed the pressure in the boiler and when it got to a particular red mark there would be the most excruciating noise as the safety valve would activate and steam would escape in the most horrendous shrill eruption and the engine would be engulfed in steam. I remember that this noise was probably the loudest I’d ever experienced and it hurt my ears. The driver and fireman would laugh and gesture to us to put our fingers on the little flap of skin, which I’d later be told in a biology lesson is called the tragus, and push it into our ear with our fingers and this helped but it really was intolerably loud.

On a couple of occasions, we were allowed to pull the string for the whistle and it became the subject of playground conversation for weeks.  Getting off was always a little more challenging as the embankment was far steeper along the line and he’d only have seconds to stop as the signalman wouldn’t be best pleased if this little treat was witnessed. The metal steps were at huge intervals for little legs and he’d hold our hands or arms as we kicked our feet around until they found safe footing then he’d lower us until we shouted, “I’m down”.

We’d scramble up the embankment before he moved the train and then walk back along the top past Baker’s barn and back to the level crossing. This was done through beds of nettles and as we’d only be in shorts they’d leave us with angry, itchy and painful rashes of spots that we’d rub dock leaves on. I’m not sure there is any pharmacological effect from a dock leaf but it always felt better and what we’d just done soon had us forgetting the imitation anyway.  We rarely asked again on the same day, our hearts were beating fast and we’d barely be able to speak for excitement but the tales that we told and kudos we got in the playground was incalculable.

Of course, this degree of what you might call ‘reckless generosity’ would result in instant dismissal these days but that was in the mid-1950s and times were different.


All this is going through my mind when Pete’s voice comes through the fog in my brain, “You alright”.

“Just want to take a snap through here”, says I and Pete promptly speeds through the alleyway and after a brief pause, looks around the corner and gives me the thumbs up that no one is coming and I can get my shot looking out of the harbour and across at the Abbey, it’s not the best as there is a lamp post in the way but you win some you lose some and I get more than my fair share of gooduns. When it comes to taking a picture Pete’s usually ahead of the game and I appreciate his thoughtfulness in checking there are no people going to accidentally spoil it.

We manage to drink half of our mugs of coffee and tea when Tracker George announces it’s only five minutes to bus departing so we make our way around the corner to the bus station where our ride to Runswick is waiting.

The bus journey is worth the cost for the scenery alone, North Yorkshire at its best with rolling hills, a goodly bank (Lythe Bank), a few small woods and the beautiful North Sea, although, a little quiet today.  To clarify, it’s worth the cost if we were paying but our OFP’s obviate all of that.

At Runswick we disembark along with a number of other walkers whilst a couple who’ve been staying at Brunswick are standing at the other side waiting to go to Sandsend, they’re also walking to Whitby but missing the best part of the walk; ah well!

Dave advises the path adjacent to the hotel for the simple reason that I’d never gone that route before. it enables a great view of the bay and we stop at the top to allow Pete to fall over and me to get a couple of good photos looking into the sea. Pete’s OK if a little shaken and as always he looks on the bright side. “I’m glad I’m not in shorts”, says he, “I could have scrubbed my knees”. So there you go, no negativity here but the rest of us are not so forgiving and he’s subject to a deluge of quips about sobriety and age.

Towards the bottom of the path Dave points out a toilet and as we’re all of an age where the prostate is bigger than bladder we avail ourselves of the facilities whilst Pete pretends he knows what he’s doing with his camera and snaps a couple of great shots with me in them.

Onwards and in this case downward and we’re on the beach for a few hundred yards then turn right into the cut immediately after Hobb Holes and begin the ascent to the aptly named High Cliff. It’s about a quarter of a mile but the rise is a good three hundred feet and we stop a couple of times purely to take in the view of course. On one of these stops, we meet Steve. Steve usually walks the Norfolk coast and the contrast is immense if a little challenging on the stretches like this one, although an odd stop to look out through the shrubs at the bay below, mitigates any pain.

From here it’s a steady ‘up’ to Kettleness then reasonably flat along the cliff edge with great views of the North Sea and all of the sea traffic heading towards Teesport, it’s a great sight and verifies what we already know, it’s big and it’s busy.

Teesport handles over 6,000 vessels per year and the annual cargo tonnage is 56,000,000 tonnes. You can argue the case for it being second or third largest in the country and be right or wrong each time, what can be said is that it’s up there amongst the biggest and best and we can be proud.

I’m lost in thought during this part of the walk, the sun is shining and there really isn’t a cloud in the sky, by that I don’t mean that there’s only a few, I mean it literally and the result is that sea takes on a deep blue that is rarely seen and quite beautiful. It’s also as flat calm as you’re going to get so that the excitement of huge breakers hitting the rocks and cliffs is replaced by a gentle solitude even though there are four of us and it’s induced by the stillness of the day.

As we approach Sandsend Tracker George goes off-piste and beckons us to follow him and he points through a couple of thin shrubs to a cutting that leads to a tunnel. It’s the old Sandsend line and in it’s day would be responsible for carrying alum and other minerals from the mines hereabout. A figure of £235,000 was budgeted in the 1860s and, like all things contemporary, wasn’t nearly enough as the final cost amounted to over £650,000.

It would be easy to miss this delight and I would urge you to take a few minutes to have a look and go ‘on-line’ if you’ll pardon the pun and read all about it, it’s fascinating.

Now we’re walking carefully down some very steep wooden steps through the woods towards the other end of the tunnel, clearly, it would have been easier to walk through but it has been barricaded and I’m not sure about the safety even if it were open.

At the other side we’re back out in the open and following the old track bed for about a mile then down a little more and we’re on the seafront near Witzend Cafe requisitioning a bench seat with a perfect view of the sea whilst we eat a snack to get us up the last hill to Whitby – we don’t want to ruin appetites for the fish and chip reward at the end.

As we sit we’re entertained by a small sea creature and a guessing game ensues.

“It’s a seal”
“No, it’s seaweed”
“No, it’s a baby seal”
“It looks like a piece of wood”

This game continues as we nibble our way through what the farmers would call our ‘llowance. The ‘llownace was a sandwich accompanied by a flask of tea in the fields when we were ‘tatie pickin’. Towards the end of this delightful break, the ‘thing’ is rolling alarmingly towards the shore when Pete says what we all hoped, “I hope it’s not a baby seal…” as it flopped like a corpse as what was left of the already small waves rolled it onto the sand.

Dave was the one brave enough to investigate and came back with the welcome message that it was seaweed; all relieved now, we set off again.

It’s pathway now as we walk along the seafront. We get an occasional smile and “only 35 miles to go” from some folks who think we’re walking the Cleveland Way. We are actually walking the way but not all the way so we just smile back and nod.

The next mile is a little tedious as we negotiate our way past small groups of people who take up the width of the path then as we approach the golf course it becomes clear again.

Beyond the golf course and we turn left to regain the path on the edge of the cliffs and enter Whitby via West Cliff with mandatory photos at the whale jawbones then down into Khyber Pass and onto the fish quay turning left over the bridge and into the Dolphin for fish and chips and, in Pete’s case, a chicken pie. If you use this hotel, and please do, bear in mind that only fish and chip shops do the best fish and chips, I may well come back here in the future but it will be a chicken pie!

Satiated, we’re dragged kicking and screaming to Arguments Yard for a photograph by Snapper Pete then we close the loop via the bridge which has obligingly opened to enable us to take photographs and by coincidence also let a couple of boats through to the upper harbour. It’s at this point that we note the height of the tide and I’m glad I looked at the chart before deciding on the upper sections of some of this route.

It’s an excellent walk of just over 9 miles and you can add a mile if you wander aimlessly around Whitby.

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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Here’s the next article:

Cleveland Way – Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay

3 thoughts on “Cleveland Way – Runswick Bay to Whitby in the Sunshine”

  1. once again , i am just loving the running documentary of your journey , and hopefully my wife colleen and i will be able to follow in your tracks next summer 2019 .

  2. Oh, you must let me know and one or more of us will do a leg with you if we’re her and you’re happy with that.




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