The North Yorkshire Coast is famous for its quaint fishing villages and stunning beaches nestled at the foot of tall sea cliffs, and a paddle from Runswick Bay to Staithes is a perfect way to see two of the area’s prettiest. With a rich mining history, you’ll see evidence of ironstone and alum workings, as well as jet mines dotted along the cliff sides, and the whole area is renowned internationally for its Jurassic fossil finds and even boasts dinosaur footprints. At low tide you can expect to readily find ammonites, belemnites and bivalves, especially at the Kettleness end of Runswick beach, but please be aware that the shale cliffs along this coastline are treacherous and are prone to frequent and sometimes very large rockfalls.
Put in/Get out – Runswick Bay
- Pay & Display (Coins/RingGo – 4644): NZ8089 1598 (harnessed.graced.easygoing)
- 150m carry to the beach via slipway (trolley friendly). Although this is rather steep in places.
- Public Toilets
- Café (also selling buckets and spades, should you get the urge to build a sandcastle)
- Experiences some surf, but generally less than the Sandsend/Whitby forecasts, due to location within the bay.
Depending on the state of the tide, you’ll either put in directly from one of two slipways at the bottom of the steep roadway, or find yourself with a short haul across smooth golden sand. Both are trolley friendly, although when I say the road is steep, I mean it, your boat will escape you if you lose your grip, and so might your shoes if you’re not careful! Get on in the relative shelter of the bay and as you paddle away from the village, you will pass the old coastguard’s house, with its thatched roof, clinging wonkily onto the end of the breakwater. Beyond it, the tall and crumbling, striated cliff faces begin to rise up, and across the bay, the headland at Kettleness owes its distinctive shape to the extensive alum working, which once took place there. On leaving Runswick Bay, turn left, and note that the rock scars extend some way out into the sea (as they do in many places along this stretch of coast) where they are completely covered at high tide, so watch out for submerged rocks if you intend to stay fairly close to the shore. Any conditions are exacerbated here, and around the headlands, so expect breakers and confused water, especially where tidal eddies within the bays meet the flow. Saying that, the tides never exceed 2 knots, but do check your usual source for tidal stream information (see foot note) and be sure to understand the effects the tides have on the water and your paddling.
Tall cliffs dominate this coastline, and easy landings are limited to the bays dotted at intervals along the route. In reasonable conditions, Port Mulgrave is your next opportunity, with a handful of cliff top houses and the remains of a stone-built harbour at sea level. Built in 1856, the harbour allowed iron ore from nearby mines, to be shipped northwards for processing. Above the harbour you can see a closed-up railway tunnel which brought the ore from cliff top mines down to the dock side for loading. The opposite entrance lies 1.6km to the west and the line descends over 100m in height. Fire destroyed the original wooden loading gantries and during WWII the Royal Engineers deliberately destroyed the west harbour wall, to prevent it becoming a potential landing point for German forces. Nowadays though, the harbour has been infilled, and a handful of fishermen’s shacks line the shore (to where I imagine the local fellas escape purely to enjoy a bacon butty in peace). Access over land is via a steep and often slippery, cliff side track which is prone to landslips.
Paddling on, you might be able to spot square shaped holes disappearing into the foot of the cliffs; unfortunately, they’re not the dwelling place of the legendary Hob (more on that shortly), but are hand mined shafts following seams of jet into the rock. Jet is a type of lignite – essentially fossilised wood, and if you’re lucky, you might find raw jet amongst the pebbles on the beach. Cut and polished up nicely it makes a lovely glossy black gem stone and Whitby Jet jewellery is still a popular souvenir from the area.
As for that Hob. Presumably the name is derived from hobgoblin, and otherwise known locally as a Boggle. Residing in the sea caves at the cliff bottom, legend says these mysterious little creatures were grotesque enough to scare away grown men, however, the local women knew of their healing powers and would take their sick children to the caves to be made well. Of course, its likely just a tall tale designed to keep prying eyes from smugglers’ treasure, but if you do spot something out of the corner of your eye, it might be worth asking if they can sort out your blisters.
As you reach Staithes, the scars extend out once more either side of the harbour entrance, and in big seas the breakers here make for an impressive sight. On approach it may appear as though the harbour is inaccessible without a good tumble cycle, however paddle on seaward of the breakers until you are at 90° perpendicular to the village, and a clear channel will be revealed between the waves. Inside the harbour you are well protected, and high tide will afford a short excursion upstream to get a look at some of the iconic, higgledy-piggledy houses which are crammed in at the foot of the cliffs.
The discrete landing and maze of tiny streets made Staithes a smugglers’ paradise, but it was also once a thriving fishing hub. A few small fishing boats still set out from Staithes, but you’re more likely to find tourists enjoying an ice-cream from the van, cake from the café, or a fine pint and fish n’ chips from the Cod & Lobster pub. Captain Cook apprenticed in the village as a grocer and chandler, before finding his fame at sea, and in the late 1800’s the Staithes Group of artists made Staithes their home and inspiration, and it is east to see why, its so beautiful!
The sandy beach at the harbour’s eastern corner makes a wonderful place to stop for a spot of lunch before heading back towards Runswick for the return journey. If you intend to paddle one way and shuttle this trip, there is extremely limited parking available at the bank bottom in Staithes (for residents or blue badge holders, assuming you can find a space), and you can expect the streets here to be busy with pedestrians. If you are unable to park/pick up at the harbour side, public pay & display car parking is available at the bank top, but do anticipate the steep 650m walk to the water’s edge. Otherwise, this is a lovely little half day trip, with good amenities, great scenery, and superb paddling, what more could you ask for!
N.B. These mini guides are aimed at competent sea kayakers, who are familiar with the inherent dangers of the sport and know their own limitations. Be aware that conditions beyond the bays are likely to be more severe and I have deliberately omitted detailed tidal stream data, so that you can take the usual precautions in making your own calculations. Useful resources for tidal stream data can be found in a series of excellent guide books by Pesda Press, or at Tidelines.org.uk – a brilliant, free, online resource, but please do show your appreciation by buying Richard a beer via the link provided on the site.