Saltwick Bay – Fossils, Whales and Submarines

Saltwick Bay is a north-east facing bay on the Yorkshire Coast just a couple of miles south of Whitby. Outside of the summer season, it can be quite a lonely windswept place. Two large rock outcrops, both made of shale, protect the bay at either end. Black Nab to the east looks like a surfacing submarine with the Nab itself being the conning tower. When seen from Black Nab, Saltwick Nab at the western end of the bay looks like a sperm whale.

The Ordnance Survey map OL27, the North Yorkshire Moors – Eastern area covers this section of the coast. With this map you also get a code for use on your tablet, iOS or Android smartphone. Explorer maps are available in both the standard paper version and weatherproof ‘Active’ version.

As well as fantastic views out to sea, Saltwick Bay has a number of historical and geological features that make it a place you should visit.

The bay is a great place for fossil hunters, ammonites and belemnites are quite common in the shales. Be very careful though, especially at the base of the cliffs, as rockfalls are common. Loose fragments of shale fall regularly. However, if you look amongst the scree and shingle you might just find some fossils.

Saltwick Bay is dog-friendly all year round.

How to get to Saltwick Bay

If you are driving, start from Whitby Abbey and follow the minor road that goes southeast towards Hawsker. About a mile away from the Abbey is a left-hand turn with a sign to Whitby Holiday Park. This single track road leads to the clifftop camping and caravan site. Just before the road enters the site there is a verge on the left where you can park your car (free).

Running across the top of the cliffs is The Cleveland Way (Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay section). Use this to walk to the bay from Whitby.

Climb the 199 steps and walk past St Mary’s Church towards the Abbey. Cross the car park and keep the Abbey perimeter wall on your right. A Cleveland Way sign points left onto a path past the old coastguard lookout and cottages, which then leads onto the cliff-top. You can see the outline of Saltwick Nab ahead of you jutting out to sea. The trail shortly becomes a path through Whitby Holiday Park. Walk past the caravans and buildings and at the far end of the site is a fingerpost pointing out the steep path down to Saltwick Bay. The path can be quite muddy if there has been recent rain.

At low tide, it is possible to walk from Whitby to Saltwick Bay along the bottom of the cliffs. Be warned though, parts of this route are over slippery rocks. If you plan on going this way, check the tide times before you set out as you can get cut off by an incoming tide.


Sadly, there have been several shipwrecks in the bay. In October 1914, the SS Rohilla a hospital ship sank in the bay with the loss of 84 lives. The hospital ship was heading to Dunkirk to pick up wounded soldiers when it ran aground in atrocious weather conditions. The storm broke the ship’s back. Over a period of two and a half days, six lifeboats were involved in trying to rescue the 229 crew and medical staff on board.

The fishing trawler the Admiral Von Trump was wrecked here in 1976. It is a mystery as to why the boat ran aground a long way off her pre-planned course. The man who was at the helm of the ship at the time drowned. 

Photographing Saltwick Bay

Despite being very close to Whitby and the proximity of the holiday park on the cliff-top, you can often have the bay pretty much to yourself.

Saltwick Bay is very popular with photographers. If you visit in June or July, and the sunset coincides with a low tide, you’ll no doubt find a few of them down on the beach. For a few weeks in high summer it’s possible to watch both the sunset and sunrise from the bay. Even though this is the East Coast, Saltwick Bay runs west to east rather than north to south. The setting sun is quite spectacular as it sets behind Saltwick Nab emphasising the outline.

Sunrise is good too, you can get some great light looking towards Saltwick Nab.

When the tide is receding or low, there are lots of rockpools left in the bay. These can be great for capturing reflections of Black Nab or the sky

The wreck of an old fishing trawler near Black Nab, the Admiral Von Trump, adds foreground interest to many people’s photos.

Low tide is definitely the best time for taking photos, although intermediate tides can also work well. At high tide, there is very little beach. Be aware that you can get cut off at Black Nab by an incoming tide. Check the tide times before you set out.

It’s a fantastic place to photograph and because the weather is constantly changing and there are many different places to photograph from, it’s still possible to get a unique image.

Fossil hunting

Many fossils have been found at Saltwick Bay. Finds include ammonites, reptiles and shells. A lot of discoveries have been made along the foreshore. Ammonites can often be found in between rocks and boulders and reptile fossils in the cliff about a meter above beach level. The bay is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), so it is not permitted to hammer the bedrock.

As well as fossils you can often find pieces of the famous Whitby Jet in the bay.

In 1824 an almost complete skeleton was found of a fossil crocodile, Teleosaurus chapmani. This marine crocodile lived in the Jurassic era, the fossil now lives in the Whitby Museum.

The best times for fossil hunting is during winter storms. Please be careful and avoid getting close to the cliffs. They are constantly losing pieces, from small bits of shale to large boulders.

Alum Mining

The bay has a long history of alum mining. Alum was discovered in 1649 and shortly after, a mine was opened. Following the opening of the mine a harbour was built to avoid transporting the alum to Whitby for shipping out. Mining continued for over a hundred years until it finally ceased in 1791.

Reminders of alum mining can still be found in the bay, remnants of the harbour remain and there are patches of deep red shale which were excavated from the mine. These look very attractive if you catch them in a good light at sunrise or sunset.

Holiday Cottages help people find their perfect cottage in popular holiday destinations across the whole of the UK. Dog-friendly cottages, farmhouses or apartments, they have something to suit all budgets and requirements. Find your perfect holiday cottage in the Whitby area here.

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