Cleveland Coast

The coastal cliffs of Cleveland
The coastal cliffs of Cleveland © David Simpson

Along the Cleveland Coast

From the mouth of the River Tees to Whitby, the coast of Cleveland has a superb mixture of scenery ranging from extraordinary industrial landscapes and Victorian seaside towns to pretty coastal villages and dramatic coastal cliffs.

On this page we explore the coastal area and some of the neighbouring towns and villages inland such as the delightful Kirkleatham and the former ironstone mining communities that sprung up in the hills just inland from Cleveland’s coastal cliffs.

We are exploring the historic Cleveland, the ancient district of Yorkshire, rather than the short-lived and misnamed county of Cleveland (1974-1996) so we do not include Hartlepool which is north of the Tees in the historic county of Durham.

Paddy's Hole, South Gare
Paddy’s Hole, South Gare © David Simpson

Tees Estuary : South Gare

The meeting of the River Tees and the North Sea at Tees Bay is defined by the piers of the man-made breakwaters called North Gare and South Gare on either side of the Tees estuary.

The gares were built following a great storm in 1861 in which 50 vessels were wrecked on the sand bars between Redcar and Hartlepool in the vicinity of the estuary.

South Gare lighthouse
South Gare lighthouse © David Simpson

Both gares are under the management of PD Ports (formerly Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority). South Gare is the site of a coastguard station that monitors the busy shipping activity of the estuary. It is close to the South Gare lighthouse, at the end of the gare, which dates from 1884.

Fishermen's huts, South Gare
Fishermen’s huts, South Gare © David Simpson

Banks of land built up around the gare have created a natural extension of the coastland. On the river side of the South Gare a little harbour was created now utilised by fishing boats and known as Paddy’s Hole. It commemorates the Irishmen who were involved in building the gare. The opposite side of the South Gare hosts an interesting collection of fishermen’s huts.

In fact the whole area is a curious, yet peaceful landscape with an unusual mix of coastal scenery and industrial awe forming a popular setting for local photographers.

Paddy's Hole, South Gare
Paddy’s Hole, South Gare © David Simpson


The Tees estuary is one of the biggest on the North East coast and is dominated on either side by large areas of reclaimed industrial land. Seal Sands between Billingham and Hartlepool is on the north bank and the former Bran Sands is on the south side of the river where until recently we found a redundant steel works bordering the South Gare near Warrenby on the coastal outskirts of Redcar.

Steelworks, Warrenby, Redcar
Steelworks, Warrenby, Redcar © David Simpson

Near Warrenby and still present in 2021 when the demolition began, were the dramatic rusting buildings of the Redcar Warrenby steel works and blast furnaces. Warrenby has a nineteenth century name and was originally called Warrenton from the rabbit warrens of the neighbouring dunes.

The steel works was built here in 1917 by Dorman Long but the plant closed along with that at nearby Lackenby in 2015. Now the focus for a ‘freeport’ development, this was the most striking surviving legacy of an iron and steel industry that once stretched along the course of the River Tees from Redcar to Middlesbrough and really gave Teesside its lifeblood.

Steelworks pictured from Redcar beach
Steelworks (now gone)  pictured from Redcar beach © David Simpson

Inland : Tees Dock to Cargo Fleet

Before we head along the coastal area from Redcar we briefly head up river from the South Gare. Upstream, focusing on the south side of the river this part of the Tees is dominated by striking industrial landscapes.

It is the site of the extensive Tees Dock of 1962 at the heart of the port’s commercial and industrial activity. It superseded the earlier Middlesbrough Dock in the Middlehaven area of Middlesbrough (now home to Middlesbrough FC). A little downstream from Middlehaven between the old dock and present Tees Dock is an area called Cargo Fleet that surprisingly has roots as a medieval sea port.

Cranes Redcar Bulk Terminal, Teesport
Cranes, Redcar Bulk Terminal, Teesport. Notice the ships on the River Tees alongside the cranes Photographed from Paddys Hole, South Gare © David Simpson

Cargo Fleet had been a medieval fishing port called Kaldecotes or Caldecotes situated at the point where the Marton and Ormesby Becks joined the Tees. The old Anglo-Saxon name Caldcotes referred to ‘cold-shelter cottages’, or a place of refuge where fishermen or travellers took shelter. The site of the medieval Caldecotes is long since lost to the industrial developments of recent centuries.

Somehow, the name Caldecotes was corrupted into Cawker, then into Caudgatefleet and finally Cargo Fleet. During the eighteenth century Cargo Fleet was also called Cleveland Port and was the point where large ships off-loaded their cargoes onto fleets of smaller vessels which were then able to continue the journey along the River Tees to the port of Stockton.

Mouth of the Tees, South Gare
Mouth of the Tees, South Gare © David Simpson

Industrial landscape

The whole area along the River Tees and a little inland from Cargo Fleet to Tees Dock and South Gare is dominated by industry. Inland, away from the river are residential communities called South Bank and Grangetown built to serve the old steel industry. South Bank came into existence in 1855 while Grangetown was once the site of an outlying farm or ‘grange’ with medieval roots swallowed up by urban development.

Close by to the east, between here and Redcar, in the Lazenby, Lackenby and Wilton areas is the dramatic industrial landscape of the Wilton Chemical Works complex. They lie surprisingly close to the rural scenery of the imposing Eston Hills which overlook them to the south at the edge of the North York Moors. The A174 acts as a line of demarcation between the industrial and rural scenery.

Wilton Castle, now occupied by private residential apartments with an adjoining golf course is just to the south of the A174. It dates from the nineteenth century but is on the site of an earlier medieval castle. Wilton was first mentioned in the Domesday Book and was the site of a manor that became a castle in the 1200s. The manor and later castle belonged to the notable Bulmer family until the sixteenth century, a family who could trace their origins back to Saxon times.

Nearby Lazenby and Lackenby both have Viking names. The first was once home to a ‘leysingr’ meaning a freeman and the second was the settlement of a Viking called Hlackande.

Redcar and the cliffs of the Cleveland coast
Redcar and the cliffs of the Cleveland coast pictured from South Gare © David Simpson

Redcar and Coatham

Coatham, near Warrenby on the coast just west of Redcar derives from ‘cotum’ (still the correct pronunciation) and simply means ‘shelters’. Fishing boats probably took shelter here from the stormy seas in times past.

Coatham was once one of the most important fishing villages in the area and in 1801 hosted a population of 680 people. Comparable population figures in the district at that time show that 993 people lived at Hartlepool, 167 at Thornaby and only 25 people lived at Middlesbrough.

Redcar, to the east of  Coatham began as a little fishing village which grew as a coastal resort in the nineteenth century with the extension of the railway here from Teesside. Like Saltburn, a little further down the coast, Redcar is still frequented by visitors in search of ‘Vitamin Sea’ but one of the biggest draws on certain days is the race course, shaped like a lollipop stick, around which the town has grown on all four sides. Redcar racecourse opened in 1872 and ensured that day-trippers continued to flock.

Beach, Redcar
Beach, Redcar © David Simpson

Redcar seems to have been named from neighbouring red-coloured rocks or carrs or perhaps from the same word ‘carr’ which can also mean poorly drained land, so it could be the ‘reedy carr’. Old names for Redcar include Redker in 1165, Ridkere in 1407 and Readcar in 1653. It was only a ‘Poore Fishing Toune’ in 1510 as most activity in the area was centred on its then more important neighbour, Coatham, which held a market and fair from 1257.

Redcar © David Simpson

Redcar rose from obscurity in 1846 when an extension of the Stockton and Darlington Railway brought industry and seaside day trippers to the area. Redcar quickly expanded and soon absorbed neighbouring Coatham.

Notable features of Redcar include the free standing clock tower of 1913 in the High Street which was built to commemorate King Edward VII. On the seafront we find the prominent former Coatham Hotel which dates from 1870 and was originally known as Coatham Hydro.

Zetland Lifeboat Museum, Redcar
Zetland Lifeboat Museum, Redcar © David Simpson

Redcar’s famed lifeboat, The Zetland is displayed in the museum of that name in King Street that is run by volunteers. The lifeboat was built around 1802 by Henry Greathead of South Shields and originally worked at Spurn Head before it was bought by Redcar fisherman.

Zetland lifeboat, Redcar
Zetland lifeboat, Redcar © David Simpson

Redcar once had a pleasure pier that suffered from damage in the nineteenth century when it was hit by ships and then deliberately broken during World War Two, to prevent its use by German ships. Its last remaining remnant, a former ballroom pavilion was demolished in 1981. A modern feature of the seafront dating from 2013 is the Redcar Beacon, described as a ‘vertical pier’ and has a helter-skelter-like appearance. Other features of modern Redcar include the Hub Gallery and a live music and creativity centre called Tuned In!

Tuned In!, Redcar
Tuned In!, Redcar © David Simpson

Dormanstown is a western extension of Redcar built to accommodate the expanding workforce of the district by the steel firm of Dorman and Long in 1918 and added further to the population of the Redcar area.

Kirkleatham and Yearby

The villages of Kirkleatham and Yearby in open countryside near the southern outskirts of Redcar both have names of Viking origin. Kirkleatham’s name comes from the Old Norse ‘hlith’ meaning ‘slope’ which in a plural form was lithum. It was once called West Lidium or West Leatham to distinguish it from Upleatham to the south east.

Kirkleatham Old Hall
Kirkleatham Old Hall © David Simpson

Around 1181 it became Kirkleatham because of a medieval church or ‘kirk’ that existed here. Kirkleatham is best-known today as the site of the Kirkleatham Old Hall; Sir William Turner Hospital and the Turner Mausoleum. All of these were associated with the alum mining family called the Turners who owned Kirkleatham from 1624. One of their number was Sir William Turner, a Lord Mayor of London (1669) who was born at Kirkleatham.

The Kirkleatham Old Hall Museum was built as a free school with money bequeathed by Sir William to his nephew Sir Cholmley Turner and was built in 1709. It became Kirkleatham Old Hall Museum in 1981 and focuses on local history in the Redcar and Cleveland area.

Turner Hospital, Kirkleatham
Turner Hospital, Kirkleatham © David Simpson

The impressive Sir William Turner’s Hospital, across the road nearby, was founded in 1676 as alms-houses for the poor by Turner. It was almost entirely rebuilt in 1742 but is certainly one of the most beautiful examples of its kind.

Turner Hospital, Kirkleatham
Turner Hospital, Kirkleatham © David Simpson

A little further along the road to the east from the hospital is the impressive walled garden of Kirkleatham Hall. Opposite, the road curves round towards the church of St Cuthbert which dates from 1763, though its tower is of 1731.

Turner Hospital, Kirkleatham
Turner Hospital, Kirkleatham © David Simpson

Attached to the church is the octagonal mausoleum  of Marwood William Turner (the son of Cholmley Turner) who died in 1692, though the mausoleum istelf was built in 1740.

Turner Mausoleum, Kirkleatham
Turner Mausoleum, Kirkleatham © David Simpson

Opposite the church once stood Kirkleatham Hall, which was the family home of the Tuners. Not to be confused with the former school that is now the Kirkleatham Old Hall Museum, this hall was, sadly, demolished in 1954.

Skull detail, Kirkleatham
Detail from gate of church and Turner Mausoleum, Kirkleatham © David Simpson

The collection of buildings at Kirkleatham makes this little place one of the most delightful villages in the Redcar and Cleveland area. Also pleasing, is the tiny rural village of Yearby just south of Kirkleatham which seems a world away from the chemical industries of nearby Wilton. Yearby is yet another Norse name, deriving from the Viking ‘Efri-by’ meaning ‘upper village’.

Eston and the Eston Hills

In the near distance looming just beyond Yearby, Kirkleatham and above Wilton are the Eston Hills which were the source for the iron ore on which Teesside’s fortunes as a steel town were built. In 1881 one commentator described how the ironstone of the Eston Hills processed at Middlesbrough had been used in the building of structures throughout the world:

“The iron of Eston has diffused itself all over the world. It furnishes the railways of the world; it runs by Neapolitan and papal dungeons; it startles the bandit in his haunt in Cicilia; it crosses over the plains of Africa; it stretches over the plains of India. It has crept out of the Cleveland Hills where it has slept since Roman days, and now like a strong and invincible serpent, coils itself around the world.”  Sir H.G Reid.

Eston has ancient origins. Eston Nab, a prominent landmark in the hills overlooking the Tees valley was the site of an Iron Age fort dating to pre-Roman times. Later, the Anglo-Saxons settled the neighbourhood and gave Eston its name. Eston means ‘East Farm’ and is now a Teesside suburb north of the A174, which separates it from the Eston Hills.

Eston Nab
Eston Nab viewed from Kirkleatham © David Simpson

Eston’s parish church, dedicated to St Helen was built in the 1100s and stood here for centuries but in the late twentieth century it suffered from vandalism and fire. For the sake of its preservation the church was removed stone by stone with each block carefully numbered and painstakingly re-assembled from 2011 as one of the features at the Beamish Open Air Museum in County Durham.


The name of Marske down the coast from Redcar may have boggy origins as it is thought to derive from a Scandinavian pronunciation of the English word marsh. In 1180 the place was fined for the pillaging of a Norwegian ship.

The early coastal settlement was situated in the High Street and Church Lane area leading up from the coast. The manor of Marske was purchased by the Pennyman family in 1616 (also connected with Ormesby Hall) but sold to the Lowthers in 1650 and acquired by Thomas Dundas in 1762. A Lord Lieutenant of Orkney and Shetland (Zetland), his descendants were the Earls of Zetland. Marske Hall of 1625 was home to members of the Zetland family who resided there until the late 1940s. It is now a care home.

The village of New Marske, another nineteenth century development, to the south of Marske-by-the-Sea, was built by Pease and Partners for the ironstone miners in its employment.

Saltburn Pier
Saltburn Pier © David Simpson


Saltburn a little down the coast from Masrke was an important Victorian bathing resort and we are reminded of this by the presence of the North East’s only pleasure pier (1868) which juts out 600 feet from Saltburn beach.

Originally the pier was 1,400 ft long but its length was severely reduced during a storm in 1924 when it was rammed by a ship called The Ovenberg.

Saltburn Pier
Saltburn Pier © David Simpson

Another intriguing feature related to Saltburn’s role as a Victorian resort lies directly above the pier where we find the oldest working water balanced inclined tramway in Britain. Dating from 1884 this funicular railway was specially designed to transport visitors back and forth from Saltburn town to the pier and beach.

Funicular railway, Saltburn
Funicular railway and pier, Saltburn © David Simpson

The original little fishing village of Saltburn started beneath the prominent Cat Nab hill near the beach and is still there at the foot of the cliffs with the Victorian town and its grand houses towering above it on the cliff top.

The original village was famed for smuggling and fishing until 1860, when the Stockton and Darlington Railway was extended to the clifftop site and Henry Pease of Darlington set about the development of the wonderful Victorian coastal resort of Saltburn-by-the-Sea.

Old Saltburn.
Old Saltburn © David Simpson

Highlights of this charming town include several lovely Victorian buildings including a charming station; the former Zetland Hotel of 1861; the pleasure pier; the Valley Gardens; the beautiful beach and the cliffs that tower above the coast.

Former Zetland Hotel, Saltburn
Former Zetland Hotel, Saltburn © David Simpson

Saltburn’s history goes back to a time long before the little fishing village and Victorian town. In the thirteenth century we know it was inhabited by a hermit and in even earlier Roman times it was the site of a fortified Roman signalling station.

The earthworks of this fort are situated on Huntcliff, the vertical sea cliff 365 ft above sea level, to the east of Saltburn. Huntcliff was the site of one of a number of Roman signalling stations along the Yorkshire coast which were built as watchtowers against the threat of barbarian attacks from what are now Denmark, Germany and Scotland.

Dating from around 369AD the station was eventually overrun by raiders in the later fourth century AD when its occupants were murdered and reputedly dumped in a nearby well.

The Cleveland Coast at Saltburn
The Cleveland coast at Saltburn © David Simpson

During an excavation in 1923, the victims were discovered when the skeletons of fourteen men women and children were found. They were clearly the victims of murder.

The Anglo-Saxons who would later settle Cleveland and give Saltburn its name may have been responsible for the murderous raid. The name ‘Sealt-Burna’ is Anglo-Saxon and means ‘salty stream’, perhaps from its salty water or because of the salt-like alum found in the neighbourhood.

The stream still flows through the town, cutting a deep wooded ravine before making its way into the sea after cutting its way through the middle of Saltburn beach.

Saltburn Beck
Skelton Beck and Saltburn beach © David Simpson

When the Vikings came three centuries later they may have changed the name of the stream from ‘burn’ to ‘beck’ but the village of Saltburn retained its name. The stream, however, came to be known as the Skelton Beck.


A few miles inland from Saltburn to the north of the Skelton Beck valley is the village of Upleatham on the Guisborough to Marske road. Its Viking name means ‘the upper slopes’.

Here we find the ‘old church’, a twelfth century Norman church measuring 17 feet 9 inches by thirteen feet. It is reputedly the smallest church in England and is certainly very quaint and in a very pleasing setting.

The tiny church of Upleatham
The tiny church of Upleatham © David Simpson

The church includes part of an Anglo-Viking sculpture called a ‘hogback’. This old church of St Andrew lies somewhat isolated from the main village and should not be confused with Upleatham’s present church of St Andrew, dating from 1835 and built by the Durham architect, Ignatius Bonomi.

About half a mile to the west of Upleatham the Skelton Beck begins, formed by the merging of the Waterfall Beck which comes down from Slapewath (‘the slippery ford’) near Charltons with the Tocketts Beck which rises near Dunsdale in the Eston Hills. The Tocketts Beck plays host to Tocketts, a working watermill with a beautiful restaurant set in a country park near Guisborough.

View of Skelton from Upleatham
View of Skelton looking across the wooded valley of the Skelton Beck from Upleatham. The church tower on the horizon is the Victorian church of All Saints. The eighteenth century Skelton Castle can just be seen to the left of the green field at the centre of the picture © David Simpson


Staying inland, to the east of the Skelton Beck is Skelton-in-Cleveland. The name is a Scandinavianised form of an English name ‘Shelton’ and means ‘settlement on a shelf’. There are a number of other Skeltons found in Yorkshire and other Viking settled areas of the north.

Like Hart and Hartlepool over on the old Durham side of the River Tees to the north, Skelton on the Cleveland coast was a possession of a  Norman family called De Brus from the twelfth century. They would later focus their attentions in Scotland and family members would include the Scottish kings Robert the Bruce and his son, King David II.

Old village green Skelton
Old village green Skelton © David Simpson

It was a Robert De Brus who built a castle at Skelton in 1140 with later owners including the De Fauconberg and Conyers families but the present castle on the site dates from the eighteenth century and was built by its then owner, John Wharton, an MP for Beverley, after he had demolished the ruins of the original castle.

Old church, Skelton
Old church, Skelton © David Simpson

Just south of the castle is the eighteenth century All Saints church, which is Skelton’s old church. Nearby, as we head east we enter the village green area which, along with the church and castle site, represent the old village. The main part of the present day town on the High Street, to the east, hosts a Victorian church also called All Saints and represents the heart of the ironstone mining town development of the nineteenth century.

Ironstone mining

In the nineteenth century ironstone mining stimulated population growth in the area resulting in the development of satellite settlements called Skelton High Green, Skelton Green and North Skelton. In fact many of the industrial villages in this area of Cleveland were mining settlements that served neighbouring pits connected to railways with large numbers of new settlers moving in to work in the dangerous and sometimes deadly mines.

Much of the semi-urban nineteenth century development in the Cleveland district of North East Yorkshire took place from 1848 to 1878. It mirrored the development of similar mining communities in County Durham and South East Northumberland, but the key difference being that Cleveland was an area in which ironstone was mined rather than coal, creating the distinct mining district of East Cleveland.

Although a steel works survives at Skinningrove and potash is mined at Boulby near Staithes to the south, the last ironstone mine in East Cleveland was at North Skelton and closed in 1964.

A sculpture in Skelton called the Spirit of East Cleveland commemorates the mining communities and miners of the area. Designed by Middlesbrough-born, Skelton resident William Harling, it depicts three ironstone miners. The one on the left is loading a rock laden with iron into a truck and the one on the right is searching for the best place to drill a hole for dynamite, while the one in the centre is using a long pole to locate the keystone. The keystone secures the dangerous loose rock released by the explosion in place.

Spirit of East Cleveland : Ironstone miners sculpture by William Harling
Spirit of East Cleveland : Ironstone miners sculpture by William Harling © David Simpson

Many of the mining settlements in Cleveland developed from earlier hamlets, villages and farms. South of Skelton places have a mix of Viking and Anglo-Saxon village names. They include Stanghow, Moorsholm and Boosbeck which respectively translate as ‘Pole Hill’, ‘Moor Island’ (or moor houses) and ‘cow shed stream’, while Lingdale means ‘heather dale’

Along the coast from Saltburn to Staithes there are few places situated on the actual coast (the two exceptions being Skinningrove and Boulby) and instead the towns and villages of this area which grew due to mining development are mostly inland and strung out along the A174.

Along this route, Skelton, in the west, is followed by Brotton; Carlin How; then neighbouring Skinningrove stretching to the coast and followed by Loftus along with a neighbouring place called Liverton Mines and then finally Easington. Here the A174 veers towards the coast at Boulby before heading into the delightful little coastal village of Staithes.

Brotton is thought to be from ‘Broc-ton’ the ‘brook settlement’. There are certainly streams in wooded valleys just west of Brotton but the Yorkshire term for a stream is ‘beck’, which is of course a Viking word.

Carlin How has a rather curious Norse name which means ‘old woman mound’ or even ‘witch’s hill’ though it is possibly a nickname for a Viking settler. There was also once a spring called Kerlinkelde – ‘old woman spring’ mentioned here but its site has not been identified.

Skinningrove is a Norse name meaning the ‘tanner’s pit’, from the Old Norse word ‘skinnari’. Leather hides were of course the skin of cattle. There is an extensive steel plant near the coast at Skinningrove and there has been a steelworks here since 1880.

Hidden in the woods of the countryside at Kilton just south of Skinningrove is the site of a Norman castle of around 1190 that belonged to the De Brus family and later the De Thweng and Lumley families. It was already in a ruinous condition by the 1530s.

Loftus © David Simpson

Loftus has a name from the Old Norse Lopthusum, meaning ‘houses with lofts’ and has retained its old name despite the attempts of Victorian Ordnance Survey maps to Anglicise this to Lofthouse.

Liverton, to the south, is named from a stream (like the ‘liver’ in Liverpool) and like Liverpool could be either an Anglo-Saxon or Viking name. The first part of the name is most likely from the Viking word ‘lifr’ meaning ‘thick or muddy pool’. Incidentally, there was extensive Viking settlement in the Liverpool area and especially in the neighbouring Wirral south of the Mersey. This was associated with Scandinavian settlement there following the eviction of Vikings from their colony in Dublin. Interestingly the ‘tran’ of Tranmire about three and a half miles south east of Liverton near the Scaling dam is from a Norse word ‘trani’ meaning ‘crane’ – or heron-like bird. Tranmire is the marsh or ‘mire of the crane’. Tranmere on the Wirral, also Norse in origin, is from ‘Tran-melr’ meaning ‘sandbank of the crane’.

Just east of Liverton in the wooded valley of the Handale Beck are two farms at Handale, a hamlet that was once the site of a Cistercian priory founded in 1133 by Roger De Percy, an early member of the famed Percy family. Handale Priory was sometimes known in early times as Grindale Priory. Handale means ‘rock valley’ or rocky valley from an Old English (Anglo-Saxon) word ‘han’ meaning rock.

In local legend, part of the Handale woodland known as Scaw’s Wood was named from a youth called Scaw who killed a worm or fire-breathing serpent that preyed on the young women of the Loftus district. Protected by armour, Scaw challenged the beast at its lair, apparently a nearby cave, where despite the unbearable heat of the serpent’s breath, he plunged his sword into the worm’s mouth. Defeating the Handale Worm, the young man apparently discovered the daughter of an earl held captive in its cave, whom he would subsequently wed.

Easington in Cleveland
Easington in Cleveland © David Simpson

Easington, along the A174 Whitby Road to the east of Loftus is a definite Anglo-Saxon name meaning Esa’s farm. It is sometimes referred to as Easington in Cleveland to distinguish it from its County Durham counterpart, which has the same meaning.

All Saints Church in Cleveland’s Easington is mostly nineteenth century but has some earlier features, notably a Norman chancel. Three examples of Viking age religious sculpture called ‘hogbacks’ have been found at this church.

Boulby Cliffs

Historically associated with Easington in medieval times, Boulby was the farm belonging to a Viking called Bolli. The Cleveland coastal cliffs at Boulby stretching towards Staithes are 679 feet high, making them the highest on the whole eastern coast of England. Their rugged recesses once provided shelter for smugglers who were especially active on the Cleveland coast during the eighteenth century.

Boulby cliffs
Boulby cliffs © David Simpson

The tower of the nearby church was one of the places where illicit kegs of wine, gin and whisky were once hid. Smuggling was a highly profitable business and was once a common activity on the coasts of Northumberland, Durham and North Yorkshire.

The naturally secluded shelters of Cleveland’s cliff land coast once frequented by the smugglers may have been used in even earlier times by Viking long ships.

From the mid 1400s Boulby and Easington were in the hands of the Conyers family who held them until the 1660s. It was at that time the site of an alum works, which was an early ‘chemical industry’, alum being a fixative used in the dyeing process. In ancient Neolithic times the Boulby area seems to have been the home to a salt making industry – salt making being an important innovation of that era as it enabled the preservation of meat.

Boulby is noted for its mining, being the site of an ironstone mine in the nineteenth century and today known for the mining of potash (as well as rock salt) at what is one of the deepest mines – of any kind – in the whole of Europe.

Staithes © David Simpson

Staithes : Captain Cook’s Coast

Staithes is situated in a deep narrow ravine formed by the Roxby Beck which is virtually a little river here that cuts its way through the steep coastal cliffs ten miles north of Whitby. It is undoubtedly one of the prettiest coastal villages in England. Originally it was settled by the Vikings who gave the village its name which means ‘The Landing Place’ but romantics argue that the village owes its origins to a French shipwreck whose survivors settled ashore.

Staithes scenes
Staithes scenes © David Simpson

Staithes is very popular with visitors who come primarily for the scenery and escape. Visitors must park on the outskirts of Staithes and descend into the village on foot. Perhaps some also come in search of the headless ghost of a young girl who reputedly haunts the coast hereabouts.

Staithes © David Simpson

Many visitors to Staithes just love the picture postcard setting of the village but some may be on the trail of Captain James Cook who worked at Staithes as a boy when he was apprenticed to a local grocer. It was here at Staithes that he acquired the love of the sea that set him on course for his long and eventful career. Indeed upon leaving Staithes, Cook headed straight for Whitby and from 1775 he worked for a Whitby shipowner employed on colliers shipping coals from the River Tyne to London.

Staithes © David Simpson

Cook’s knowledge of the sea went from strength to strength and upon joining the navy he quickly progressed to the rank of Captain. In his voyages as captain many important discoveries of new land were made in journeys that took him to Australia, New Zealand, Alaska, Tahiti and Hawaii, where he eventually lost his life on the 14th February 1779 after a disagreement between local tribesmen and members of his crew.

Staithes © David Simpson

Staithes village is rather like a tiny coastal town with lots of higgledy-piggledy houses and rooftops at different levels climbing up the cliff sides from the natural harbour formed by the ravine of the Roxby Beck. It is a place full of character with the houses in the village having names such as Blue Jacket House; Singing Waters and Toffee Crackle House, rather than using street numbers.

Cowbar Nab, Staithes
Cowbar Nab, Staithes © David Simpson

Such is the picturesque nature of Staithes that in the nineteenth century it was famed for hosting its own artist’s colony known as the Staithes Group which consisted of 25 artists who regularly assembled in the village.

Roxby and Grinkle Park

About a mile and a half inland from Staithes are the little villages of Borrowby and Roxby. Roxby means ‘Rauthr’s Farm’ and lies just east of the wooded valley of the Roxby Beck. A further mile and half upstream in the neighbouring wooded valley of the Easington Beck (a Roxby Beck tributary) is the Grinkle Park Hotel.

The name Grinkle is thought to be a variation of Grindale – ‘Green Valley’ and Grindale was indeed an old, alternative name for the priory at Handale. Like many areas of East Cleveland, Grinkle was an iron stone mining area.

Charles Mark Palmer

The estate of Grinkle Park, situated in woodland above the Easington Beck, was home to a small mansion house and estate that was purchased by the Jarrow shipbuilder and iron company owner, Charles Mark Palmer in 1865. The old house was demolished in 1881 and a new one – now the hotel – was built by Alfred Waterhouse as Palmer’s home. It became a hotel in 1947.

Hinderwell © David Simpson

Port Mulgrave and Hinderwell

Charles Palmer opened an ironstone mine to the south of Staithes – the Mulgrave Mine – and developed a port called Port Mulgrave for shipping ironstone to his Jarrow works, though in later times iron was extracted at blast furnaces on Teesside.

Port Mulgrave occupied an area called Rosedale but this was renamed to avoid confusion with another Rosedale in the North York Moors above Pickering. He would later open the Grinkle ironstone mine as the Mulgrave supplies ran out.

Hinderwell © David Simpson

Inland, close to Port Mulgrave is the pretty village of Hinderwell, with a name that means ‘Hilda’s Well’ from the Northumbrian saint, St Hilda, who was of course connected with Whitby and Hartlepool. Hinderwell’s church has Norman origins but most of what survives is eighteenth and nineteenth century. The actual well of St Hilda is in the churchyard.

The bay, Runswick Bay
The bay, Runswick Bay © David Simpson

Runswick Bay to Goldsborough

A mile and a half down the coast from Port Mulgrave is the pretty coastal village of Runswick Bay with its red-roofed houses overlooking the bay of the same name. In medieval times it was called Reneswyk and could be the creek of a Norseman called Hreinn or perhaps the creek of an Anglo-Saxon called Rægen.

In fact the original coastal cliff village, or at least an earlier village of Runswick Bay fell into the sea when the cliff collapsed in 1682, though fortunately its fisher-folk residents survived, as knowing their fate, they had evacuated the houses.

Runswick Bay
Runswick Bay © David Simpson

A mile or two inland are more places with Viking names, Ellerby ‘Ælfward’s farm’ and Mickleby ‘the big farm’. South of Mickleby, Ugthorpe was the little farm of Ugi while East and West Barnby to the east of Mickleby were possibly the ‘farms of Bjarni’.

Kettleness lies at the south end of Runswick Bay’s actual bay where there is a prominent ‘ness’ or headland, to which a Norse word ‘Cetel’ meaning cauldron or pot has been added. Most of the old village of Kettleness fell into the sea, in a cliff collapse of 1829.

Runswick Bay looking towards the headland of Kettleness
Runswick Bay looking towards the headland of Kettleness © David Simpson

About half a mile inland from Kettleness is the little village of Goldsborough, the fortified place of a Viking called Golda. Half way between the two places at a curiously named site called Scratch Alley are the earthworks of a Roman signal station. Like the signal station at Huntcliff near Saltburn, archaeology shows signs of a battle or murder of some kind.

Goldsborough © David Simpson

The church of St Mary at Goldsborough dates from Norman times and in 1859 it was the discovery site of a large pre-Conquest Viking age hoard dating from around 1050 (the date of the most recent item in the hoard). Hoard objects included brooches and coins in a lead chest with some of the items dating back as early as 700AD.

Lythe, Mulgrave and Sandsend

Inland, just over over a mile south east of Goldsborough and to the east of the Barnbys is the village of Lythe with its prominent church dedicated to St Oswald just outside the village. Lythe is an Old Norse word for ‘slope’, the same word that appears in the names of Upleatham and Kirkleatham to the north near Redcar.

Lythe © David Simpson

One of the most impressive collections of Viking funerary stone sculptures called hogbacks, interlaced with dragons and other motifs have been found at Lythe and since 2008 they have formed  a permanent exhibition at the church.

Curiously, amongst the collection are two earlier Anglo-Saxon stone sculptures, dating from the eighth century, suggesting there was an Anglo-Saxon church or religious settlement on the site. The present church is mostly a restoration of 1910 incorporating some elements of the earlier Norman and medieval church.

Lythe church
Lythe church © David Simpson

Just south of Lythe, near the edge of the woodland valley of the Sandsend Beck is a stately house called Mulgrave Castle which dates from the eighteenth century and built for Catherine Darnley, Duchess of Buckingham. Her husband was John, the First Duke of Buckingham and Normanby. It is a private estate with extensive grounds and gardens.

Hidden in the woods nearby are the extensive ruins of the earlier Mulgrave Castle, centred around a ruined keep of about 1300. The castle dates back to Norman times when it was the property of the Fossard family. The name Mulgrave, incidentally, means ‘Mulli’s Valley’.

Downstream from Mulgrave Castle and about a mile along the A174 to the east of Lythe is the coastal village of Sandsend where the heavily wooded valleys of the Sandsend and East Row Becks meet the sea. Here there is an extensive beach extending along the coast for about a mile to the western outskirts of Whitby. It was to the outskirts of Whitby that the old boundary of the Yorkshire district of Cleveland historically stretched.

Cleveland and the Leven | Whitby 

Scarborough | Ryedale

Middlesbrough Around Middlesbrough

Yarm and Eaglescliffe

Stockton-on-Tees | Hartlepool

 Billingham Norton

YouTube : Viking history of the River Tees



North East England History and Culture