Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Yorkshire coast is one of those perfect little seaside towns that seem to have stepped straight out of a time warp from a more innocent and simpler age. It’s the sort of place where wholesome pursuits like hunting for tiddlers in rock pools with shrimping nets and taking bracing walks along the beach are the order of the day. It’s the type of town that time forgot, where amusement arcades and chip shops and chain pubs have been held back by the self-conscious gentility of long ago. This is a place where every business is locally owned and run and where you’ll find none of the normal stalwarts of the High Street. There’s no W H Smith to deliver your newpaper or Boots the Chemist to sell your headache tablets.
Of course it also helps to be cut off from the outside world by some of the steepest navigable roads in the country, by being separated from the motorways by a formidable and intimidating moor that looks like something out of ‘An American Werewolf in London’, and by a ban on cars entering the lower part of the town other than to pick up or drop off. It is – put simply – the closest thing to the perfect seaside town that I have found.
Robin Hood’s Bay is also the start point or more typically the end point – it all depends which way you go – of the famous Coast to Coast Walk and it’s a welcome sight for weary walkers who’ve literally crossed the country to reach it. For those walkers it offers comfy beds, filling meals and a chance to dip their path-weary feet into soothing salt water. It’s literally the end of the (very long and uppy downy) road for such walkers and the sight of the sea marks the achievement of what for many is a long held ambition. You’ll find a small store selling commemorative certificates, a bicycle propped against the sea wall declaring that you’ve reached the end of the walk, and a bar in the pub closest to the sea called ‘Wainrights’ after the man who first defined the Coast to Coast route.
If you like a lively nightlife, then Robin Hood’s Bay is not for you. When the sun goes down, the town goes to sleep. When the restaurants close, there’s little to keep tired holiday makers from their beds. There are few actual hotels in the lower part of the town, more up on the cliffs where cars are still permitted. Most of the accommodation is in small B&Bs, some of them with a restaurant or cafe on site but not much more. Other options include a surprisingly large number of rental properties – most of them tiny little cottages, often with open fires. If your idea of heaven at the end of your day is to sip champagne in the Jacuzzi then you’ll be better looking further afield. But if you bounce out of bed with a yearning to jump between rock pools, look for fossils and clamber over the sea front, then you’re in the right place.
Robin Hood’s Bay has a small Fossil Museum that also serves as a second hand book shop which plays on the town’s historical significance as the location of some impressive dinosaur finds. It’s unlikely you’ll find anything big these days but there are plenty of small fossils to entertain beachcombers. If you like to shop, you’ll find lots of arty stores selling hand made ceramics and odd things fashioned out of bits of driftwood. You’ll find traditional locally made ice-creams and sticks of tooth dissolvingly sweet sea-side rock and old fashioned boiled sweets.
Robin Hood’s Bay is for the fit and mobile and hell on earth for those with mobility issues. To get into or out of the town you need to take on a fearsome slope or hundreds of steps just to get up the hillside to find your car. Most of the B&Bs have rickety staircases and getting to the beach in a wheelchair or on crutches is nigh on impossible. But for those who can handle the physical challenges, there’s an ice-cream van parked up at the bottom of the causeway to reward your efforts. There’s also a fascinating exhibit in a shelter in the town centre that tells the history of the local lifeboat and the ships to whose rescue it has been deployed. This is a part of the world where the sea has long been both a source of wealth and a provider of great danger. Even if you’re only planning a stroll on the beach, make sure you can see exactly how you’ll get back again if the tide comes in.
We spent just two nights in Robin Hood’s Bay and I loved it. The fresh sea air, the dramatic coast and the quaint old-world style of the place charmed me completely. I’d recommend a visit to anyone who thinks that sounds attractive and who can live without a mobile phone or internet signal for a couple of days – indeed even more so to those who’d see both things as a benefit to be enjoyed rather than a hardship to be endured.