The quaint coastal hamlet of Staithes near Whitby has a small harbour and is full of character. Traditional fishing cobbles still work out of the harbour setting crab and lobster pots. The village is full of charm and seems lost in time.
The harbour area is great to explore on foot and is a real jumble of white-washed cottages, arranged in no particular order. There are lots of alleyways and stepped ginnels to explore. There aren’t many house numbers in the village, most just have names, much to the angst of the Post Office. Many of the cottages were originally named after boats and cobbles which sailed from the village. So you’ll find Rose of England, Blue Jacket House, Star of Hope, Confidence Cottage, and even True Love. As you explore you’re sure to find Dog Loop, one of the narrowest streets in England, its entrance can only be negotiated if you stand sideways.
Reach Staithes via a narrow valley that runs down to a small harbour surrounded by high cliffs. Protecting the harbour from the open sea is a large breakwater and protective wall of boulders, From the top of the hill near the entrance to the village, streets of closely packed houses wind down to the harbour. A maze of alleys with names such as Slippery Hill and Gun Gutter separate the streets.
Stay safe while you’re exploring. In bad weather, waves break over the piers. Check the tides before going onto the foreshore as the tide can cut you off well before high tide. There is soft mud in the harbour. Finally, for dog owners, if your dog swims out too far don’t go out after them. Instead, move to a place they can get to safely and call them back.
Staithes is located about 10 miles north of Whitby, just off the A174 to Saltburn. There are two carparks at the top of the village, no parking is available in the lower half of the village. Bear in mind that the walk down to the harbour and the lower village is quite steep, especially on the way back! The private carpark is cheaper than the Scarborough Council operated one, but its machines only accept cash. There are toilets here and also down at the harbour where there are some shops, a cafe and a pub.
If you visit outside of the holiday season Staithes can seem a bit like a ghost village. Many of the houses are now holiday lets or second homes. Despite this, it still retains the character of a fishing village.
Back in the mid-1740s about 50 fishing cobbles sailed daily from Staithes, at the time when James Cook was a haberdasher’s apprentice. In the 19th century, fish from Staithes would fill a train with cod, haddock and mackerel. Now only a few cobles still fish regularly.
The village has attracted artists and painters since the nineteenth century. It’s still popular today, with those hoping to capture something of its unique atmosphere. Just like St. Ives on the coast of Cornwall, the clear sea air helps to create a unique light which artists hope to capture on their canvas.
The Cod and Lobster pub has bourne the brunt of many severe storms over the years. In 1953 the sea even breached the windows washing bottles of beer out to sea. Many of these washed up on the beach several days later, much to the delight of beachcombers.
James Cook was based in Staithes as an apprentice working for a draper in 1744. However, the current Captain Cook Cottage has nothing to do with James Cook. The cottage where he worked was washed away, along with 11 other cottages in 1745.
The old Whitby to Middlesborough railway closed in 1958. The piers of the viaduct that held up the railway over the top of the valley are still visible.
The huge rock and clay outcrop, Cowbar Nab, shelters the harbour and is home to a colony of kittiwakes and other seabirds. Walk over the footbridge that crosses Staithes beck and walk back up Cowbar Bank for some excellent views of the village. The harbour framed by the cliffs and the houses bunched behind couldn’t be more photogenic.
The walk down the footpath from the carpark at the top of the village also offers lovely views over the rooftops down to the harbour and sea. The best view, in my opinion, is from Mount Pleasant, about halfway down.
Walk from the harbour along Church Street and pick up the Cleveland Way footpath. Once you’ve climbed to the clifftop there are stunning views of the village. This view is definitely the highlight of the walk from Runswick Bay to Staithes. Be careful not to stand too close to the cliff edge.
If you want a different view of Staithes, walk down onto the beach and out onto the eastern harbour wall.
If you are interested in Geology it is possible at low tide, to walk along the shore ledges all the way to Old Nab. See the Southampton University website for more details. Please read the safety notices before exploring this area and definitely wear a hard hat.
Walks from Staithes
The Cleveland Way footpath passes through Staithes, Saltburn is about 8 miles north on the route. In the other direction, Runswick Bay is about 4 miles south, further south still are Sandsend and Whitby. There is a regular bus service from Whitby, Sandsend, Runswick Bay and Saltburn to Staithes.
If you want a nice half days walk, start at the Cod and Lobster and walk along Church Street. Leave the village by following the Cleveland Way south to Old Nab and Port Mulgrave. You can return to Staithes via Hinderwell and the small hamlet of Dalehouse. Download a guide for free from the North Yorkshire Moors website.
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