4 days in North East Yorkshire. June 2021
Touring the UK in Buzzbee our campervan, we were seeking out places that might be quieter, and that were new to us. During the Covid lockdowns we had done lots of ‘armchair travelling’ with various different TV programmes, and noted down places that interested us. Which is why we visited Hartlepool!
Hartlepool is home to the National Museum of the Royal Navy, housing HMS Trincomalee in it's excellently restored dockyard and quayside. We arrived just in time for an informative, and noisy demonstration of gun firing and the power of gunpowder! A musket and small cannon were fired across the harbour. The small boat which appeared just as the cannon was fired got a bit of a shock, but luckily the cannonball was made of rope, not iron!
HMS Trincomalee is a 150 foot long Leda Class frigate, and the oldest warship in the UK still afloat. After a recent restoration project it looks incredible. The interior is well kitted out to give a sense of life on board, including model rats of course. This beautiful sailing ship was built in India in 1817, and the quality of timber used, and good workmanship means that 60% of the wooden structure is original. On its maiden voyage back to the UK, the ship picked up a recently widowed English woman, Eliza Bunt, and her 2 children, in Sri Lanka. She kept a diary of her 6 month journey, which gives a rare account of life onboard, including men being flogged, shortages of food and storms where the waves washed over the ship and her children were washed out of bed.
The harbourside has recreations of shops and victuallers of the period, plus an interesting museum, but the ship is the star. It was once renamed as the Foudroyant and one of our friends recognised it as a sail training ship she had spent time on in Portsmouth in the 1970’s!
A few miles down the road, in the heart of Teesside is the RSPB Saltholme reserve. Within distant view of chemical works, and the striking Stockton Transporter Bridge, this is an oasis of lakes and hides, with a good range of birds, and lots of imaginative trails and activities for children as well. Our highlights were Avocet chicks, nesting tree sparrows, Shoveler, Gadwall, Widgeon and a Mediterranean Gull. There was also a wildlife garden designed by Chris Beardshaw.
From here we skirted Middlesborough and were immediately into the glorious scenery of the North York Moors. Just a few miles south and we reached Serenity Campsite at Hinderwell, near Staithes. This is definitely one of our favourites! The facilities were excellent, with a good laundry room which also contained a kettle, Microwave fridge and freezer for tent campers, and a wifi and information room with comfy sofas! Add exceptionally friendly and helpful wardens and nice views, well it was great!
We had booked our pitch several months ago. Incredibly, friends of ours, who had no idea that we were coming here, had booked a week’s holiday on the same site, starting on the same day! So it was great to catch up with them, and we went for a meal at the Badger Hound Pub just opposite the site for an excellent meal. You do need to book ahead for busy times.
Next day we did a 7 mile circular walk from the site, visiting Runswick Bay, a former fishing village, Port Mulgrave and then following the coast path to Staithes, returning via the woodland path inland. The cliff top views were super, along a coast that had few remaining hints of a past where mining and fishing were key industries. We stopped for a picnic lunch in a spot with a lovely view of Staithes below and a young couple came and sat nearby. Some minutes later, the came to ask if we would take a photo of them as he had just proposed to her! And she said Yes! I duly took some photos, complete with engagement ring, with lots of congratulations of course.
Staithes is a lovely fishing village clinging to the cliffsides, with cobbled streets, lots of flowers, cafes and shops. It definitely deserves the description quaint, but you can tell life would have been hard here in years gone by. The cute little holiday cottages would once have been hard to heat homes for large families, battered by the weather, and wondering if the fishermen would arrive back at all. Now, many of them have interesting name signs and Air B’n’B stickers!
We climbed up out of Staithes, crossing the main road for a lovely woodland walk back to the site, and a lovely supper, sat outside to watch the sunset.
Monday saw us head to Saltburn, a charming clifftop town just a few miles from industrial Teesside, but hidden by a hill! Despite evidence of a Roman signal station being sited here, and a small but active smuggling community, Saltburn was a Victorian creation by entrepreneur Henry Pease. He brought the railway, and built many places that still stand today. He built grand hotels like the Zetland (now apartments), and the jewel streets, laid out in a grid, which, at his insistence, made sure every property had some kind of sea view. This is considered the first housing estate in England! There were also gardens and a spa in it’s heyday. Many buildings remain with Victorian features like balconies and canopies, and it is a charming town to wander around, and enjoy the many independent shops, artisan stores and cafes.
A highlight is the water powered Funicular railway, opened in 1884 to take people down to the pier, which in those days was 1,500 feet long. It was such a novelty that in the first 6 months, over 50,000 people came to walk on it! Sadly successive storms have reduced the pier to a more modest 450 feet, and the theatre has been lost. The huge beach stretches to Redcar for invigorating strolls, but only a few hardy souls were in swimming! Our route back involved a walk around Scaling Dam reservoir for some more bird spotting, and then back for supper.
We left the next day, and our last visit in the area was to lovely Mount Grace Priory, nestled in the western foothills of the moor. A Carthusian Priory, founded in 1398, it is quite well preserved, giving a real sense of the huge cloister around which were small houses, or cells, where the monks lived solitary lives.
Each cell had a living area, bedroom and garden, but most amazingly for its time, had a system of piped water and drainage to each cell, and a toilet with running water waste disposal! Nowadays, families of stoats occupy the drainage pipes, and are seen from time to time!
Alongside the Priory are gardens which have recently been renovated with the help of Chris Beardshaw, and they are stunning. Our visit was in June and the colour was amazing from peonies, lilies, candelabra primulas and others. A real delight to visit, and, with our English Heritage membership, free to get in. A delightful end to this section of our trip.