THE COAST FROM WHITBY TO SCARBOROUGH
As soon as the abbey and the jet-sellers are left behind, you pass a farm, and come out on a great expanse of close-growing smooth turf, where the whole world seems to be made up of grass and sky. The footpath goes close to the edge of the cliff; in some places it has gone too close, and has disappeared altogether. But these diversions can be avoided without spoiling the magnificent glimpses of the rock-strewn beach nearly 200 feet below. From above Saltwick Bay there is a grand view across the level grass to Whitby Abbey, standing out alone on the green horizon. Down below, Saltwick Nab runs out a bare black arm into the sea, which even in the calmest weather angrily foams along the windward side. Beyond the sturdy lighthouse that shows itself a dazzling white against the hot blue of the heavens commence the innumerable gullies. Each one has its trickling stream, and bushes and low trees grow to the limits of the shelter afforded by the ravines; but in the open there is nothing higher than the waving corn or the stone walls dividing the pastures—a silent testimony to the power of the north-east wind. The village of Hawsker, with its massive though modern church, can be seen across the fields towards the west, but it does not offer sufficient attractions to divert you from the cliffs, unless you have a desire to see in one or two of the fields, gateways and rubbing-posts formed of whales' jaws, suggestive of the days when Whitby carried on a thriving trade with the great cetaceans. To enjoy this magnificent coast scenery, there must be plenty of time to linger in those places where it seems impossible not to fling yourself on the long brown grass and listen to the droning of insects and the sound of the waves down below. At certain times of the day the most striking colours are seen among the sunlit rocks, and the boldness of the outlines of overhanging strata and great projecting shoulders are a continual surprise.
After rounding the North Cheek, the whole of Robin Hood's Bay is suddenly laid before you. I well remember my first view of the wide sweep of sea, which lay like a blue carpet edged with white, and the high escarpments of rock that were in deep purple shade, except where the afternoon sun turned them into the brightest greens and umbers. Three miles away, but seemingly very much closer, was the bold headland of the Peak, and more inland was Stoupe Brow, with Robin Hood's Butts on the hill-top. The fable connected with the outlaw is scarcely worth repeating, but on the site of these butts urns have been dug up, and are now to be found in Scarborough Museum. The Bay Town is hidden away in a most astonishing fashion, for, until you have almost reached the two bastions which guard the way up from the beach, there is nothing to be seen of the charming old place. If you approach by the road past the railway-station it is the same, for only garishly new hotels and villas are to be seen on the high ground, and not a vestige of the fishing-town can be discovered. But the road to the bay at last begins to drop down very steeply, and the first old roofs appear. The path at the side of the road develops into a very long series of steps, and in a few minutes the narrow street, flanked by very tall houses, has swallowed you up.
Everything is very clean and orderly, and, although most of the houses are very old, they are generally in a good state of repair, exhibiting in every case the seaman's love of fresh paint. Thus, the dark and worn stone walls have bright eyes in their newly-painted doors and windows. Over their doorsteps the fishermen's wives are quite fastidious, and you seldom see a mark on the ochre-coloured hearthstone with which the women love to brighten the worn stones. Even the scrapers are sleek with blacklead, and it is not easy to find a window without spotlessly clean curtains. The little coastguard station by the opening on to the shore has difficulty in showing itself superior to the rest in these essential matters of smartness. However, the coastguards glory in a little stone pathway protected by a low wall in front of their building. On this narrow quarter-deck the men love to walk to and fro, just as though they were afloat and were limited to this space for exercise. At high-tide the sea comes halfway up the steep opening between the coastguards' quarters and the inn which is built on another bastion, and in rough weather the waves break hungrily on to the strong stone walls, for the bay is entirely open to the full force of gales from the east or north-east. All the way from Scarborough to Whitby the coast offers no shelter of any sort in heavy weather, and many vessels have been lost on the rocks. On one occasion a small sailing-ship was driven right into this bay at high-tide, and the bowsprit smashed into a window of the little hotel that occupied the place of the present one.
With angry seas periodically demolishing the outermost houses, it seems almost unaccountable that the little town should have persisted in clinging so tenaciously to the high-water mark; but there were probably two paramount reasons for this. The deep gully was to a great extent protected from the force of the winds, and, as it was soon quite brimful of houses, every inch of space was valuable; then, smuggling was freely practised along the coast, and the more the houses were wedged together, the more opportunities for secret hiding-places would be afforded. The whole town has a consciously guilty look in its evident desire to conceal itself; and the steep narrow streets, the curious passages where it is scarcely possible for two people to pass, and the little courts which look like culs-de-sac but have a hidden flight of steps leading down to another passage, seem to be purposely intricate and confusing. For I can imagine a revenue cutter chasing a boat into Robin Hood's Bay, and I can see the smugglers hastily landing on the beach and making for the town, followed by the Excise officers, who are as unable to trace the men as though they had been chasing rabbits in a warren. The stream that made this retreat for the fishing-town is now scarcely more than a drain when it reaches the houses, for, after passing along the foot of a great perpendicular mass of shale, it rushes into a tunnel, and only appears again on the shore.
It is strange that there should be so little information as to the associations of Robin Hood with this fishing-village. The stories of his shooting an arrow to determine where he should make his headquarters sound improbable, although his keeping one or two small ships in the bay ready for making his escape if suddenly attacked seems a rational precaution, and if only there were a little more evidence outside the local traditions to go upon, it would be pleasant to let the imagination play upon the wild life led by the outlawed Earl of Huntingdon in this then inaccessible coast region.
The railway southwards takes a curve inland, and, after winding in and out to make the best of the contour of the hills, the train finally steams very heavily and slowly into Ravenscar Station, right over the Peak and 630 feet above the sea. On the way you get glimpses of the moors inland, and grand views over the curving bay. There is a station named Fyling Hall, after Sir Hugh Cholmley's old house, halfway to Ravenscar. It was about the year 1625 that Sir Hugh to a great extent rebuilt Fyling Hall, which is still standing; but he came in with his family before the plaster on the walls was thoroughly dry, and the household seems to have suffered in health on this account. Shortly afterwards Sir Hugh lost his eldest son Richard, who was only five years old, and this great trouble decided him to move to Whitby; for in 1629 he sold Fyling Hall to Sir John Hotham, and took up his residence in the Abbey House at Whitby.
Raven Hall, the large house conspicuously perched on the heights above the Peak, is now converted into an hotel. There is a wonderful view from the castellated terraces, which in the distance suggest the remains of some ruined fortress. At the present time there is nothing to be seen older than the house whose foundations were dug in 1774. While the building operations were in progress, however, a Roman stone, now in Whitby Museum, was unearthed. The inscription has been translated: 'Justinian, governor of the province, and Vindician, general of the forces of Upper Britain, for the second time, with the younger provincial soldiers built this fort, the manager of public works giving his assistance.' There is therefore ample evidence for believing that this commanding height was used by the Romans as a military post, although subsequently there were no further attempts to fortify the place, Scarborough, so much more easily defensible, being chosen instead. A rather pathetic attempt to foster the establishment of a watering-place has, however, been lately put on foot, but beyond some elaborately prepared roads and two or three isolated blocks of houses, there is fortunately little response to this artificial cultivation of a summer resort on the bare hill-top.
Following this lofty coast southwards, you reach Hayburn Wyke, where a stream drops perpendicularly over some square masses of rock. After very heavy rains the waterfall attains quite a respectable size, but even under such favourable conditions the popularity of the place to a great extent spoils what might otherwise be a pleasant surprise to the rambler. The woodland paths leading down to the cove from the hotel by the station are exceedingly pretty, and in the summer it is not easy to find your way, despite the direction-boards nailed to trees here and there. But there are many wooded and mossy-pathed ravines equally pretty, where no charge is made for admittance, and where you can be away from your fellow-mortals and the silver paper they throw away from the chocolate they eat.
There is a small stone circle not far from Hayburn Wyke Station, to be found without much trouble, and those who are interested in Early Man will scarcely find a neighbourhood in this country more thickly honeycombed with tumuli and ancient earthworks. There is no particularly plain pathway through the fields to the valley where this stone circle can be seen, but it can easily be found after a careful study of the large scale Ordnance map which they will show you at the hotel; and if there be any difficulty in locating the exact position of the stones, the people at the neighbouring farm are exceedingly kind in giving directions. There are about fifteen monoliths making up the circle, and they are all lying flat on the ground, so that in the summer they are very much overgrown with rank grass and low bushes. This was probably the burial-place of some prehistoric chief, but no mound remains.