Park your car at the top of a very steep cliff and walk down a twisting, turning, cobbled street to the ocean. On either side of you a village clings to the cliffside, defying gravity.
Robin Hood's Bay has operated as a village under various aliases. Nothing exists in fact to determine where its name really came from. Once known as Bay Town, Robin Hood’s Town and Robbyn Huddes Bay—whatever it is called—it is still a charming spot, with every twist and turn of a street bringing into view another picture postcard scene.
Red pantiles decorate the roofs of stone cottages. A stream runs through a ravine in the middle of the village to the sea below. Shops, cafes, pubs and small cottages cling precariously to the sides of the cliff. The Laurel Inn has a bar carved from solid rock.
Viking raiders settled here. Fifty fishermen lived here in 1536, and the catching and drying of fish was a thriving industry—130 fishermen worked here until the end of the 19th century. Tourist trade soon took the place of the fishing trade as the development of railroads brought people to this area.
Nobody knows how many smugglers plied their illicit trade at Robin Hood’s Bay. This former smugglers’ den owes its reputation to its strategic position sitting below a steep cliff lapped by the sea. It was ideal for such nefarious activities. And its rabbit warren of narrow tumbled streets and alleyways made it ideal for escaping the law. Legend has it that secret tunnels and passageways once existed between the houses. Perhaps they still do.
At low tide, 1800 feet (550m) of exposed sea floor make for great fossil hunting, tide pool investigation and exploring. You can walk to nearby Ravenscar at low tide when three miles (5km) of beach are exposed. But beware the swift turn of the tide that can cut beachcombers and walkers off in an instant. At high tide, the sea has been known to force its way up the main village street, which ends in the sea, where the ocean literally laps at your feet.
This charming village takes on a different demeanor when fog and storm and high winds abound, and seas pound the cliffsides. The raging storms have taken their toll, claiming many buildings as the limestone cliffs erode. In 1780, 22 cottages fell into the sea. Today a rock seawall helps protect the picturesque village.
The narrow road down into the village was considered unsafe for carriages. It still is—for cars—as residents will attest. Trucks and cars, defying gravity and attempting to enter the village, have demolished walls on more than one occasion. One look at the stepped street with its handrails and sharp angles explains why.
Robin Hood’s Bay with its labyrinth of streets and cottages piled on top of one another, clinging like wild goats to the cliffside, paints a vivid picture that stays long in one’s memory.
Robin Hood's Bay is located five miles (8km) south of Whitby and 15 miles (24km) north of Scarborough, on the B1447, off the A177, along the Heritage Coast in North Moors National Park.
The coast to coast walk, The Cleveland Way, (one of 12 designated National Trails) is nearby.
Photos courtesy Lakeland Cam, North York Moors Cam and Barbara Ballard
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