Old Coastguard Station

Old Coastguard Station


North Yorkshire has a varied coastal area with natural history and industrial archaeology interest. There is a diverse collection of coastal properties strung out along the Cleveland Way National Trail. the visitor can discover breathtaking views, the remains of industrial endeavours and a wildlife sanctuary.

Visit the Old Coastguard Station in Robin Hood's Bay village and Ravenscar Visitor Centre to discover more about activities, events, nature, local history, the coast and countryside. Shop for maps, books, souvenirs and gifts at the Old Coastguard Station; pick up a hot or cold drink and a snack at Ravenscar Visitor Centre. There is free entry to both.

*** – Cleveland Way – ***

Development of the Cleveland Way began in the 1930s when the Teesside Ramblers' Association pressed for the creation of a long distance path in the north-east of Yorkshire linking the Hambleton Drove Road, the Cleveland escarpment and footpaths on the Yorkshire coast. Subsequently, in 1953, a formal proposal to create the route was submitted to the North Riding of Yorkshire Council by the National Parks Commission. The trail was officially opened in 1969. It was the second official National Trail to be opened.

The trail can be walked in either direction linking the trailheads of Helmsley and Filey in a horseshoe configuration. The trail is waymarked along its length using the standard National Trail acorn symbol. The trail falls into two roughly equal sections. The inland section leads west from Helmsley, then north, then east around the west of the North York Moors National Park. It then leaves the National Park near Guisborough to meet the coast at Saltburn. It re-enters the National Park just north of Staithes; the coastal section follows the coast from Saltburn to Whitby, then leaves the National Park for the final time at Cloughton Wyke to reach Scarborough and Filey.

*** – Robin Hood's Bay – ***

Robin Hood's Bay is a small fishing village and a bay located in the North York Moors National Park, 5 miles (8 km) south of Whitby and 15 miles (24 km) north of Scarborough on the coast of North Yorkshire, England. Bay Town, its local name, is in the ancient chapelry of Fylingdales in the wapentake of Whitby Strand.

The origin of the name is uncertain, and it is doubtful if Robin Hood was ever in the vicinity of the village. An English ballad and legend tell a story of Robin Hood encountering French pirates who came to pillage the fishermen's boats and the northeast coast. The pirates surrendered and Robin Hood returned the loot to the poor people in the village that is now called Robin Hood's Bay.

By about 1000 the neighbouring hamlet of Raw and village of Thorpe (Fylingthorpe) in Fylingdales had been settled by Norwegians and Danes. After the Norman conquest in 1069 much land in Northern England, including Fylingdales, was laid waste. William the Conqueror gave Fylingdales to Tancred the Fleming who later sold it to the Abbot of Whitby. The settlements were about a mile inland at Raw but by about 1500 a settlement had grown up on the coast. "Robin Hoode Baye" was mentioned by Leland in 1536 who described it as,

  • "A fischer tounlet of 20 bootes with Dok or Bosom of a mile yn length."
  • In the period 1324–1346 there was an early reference to Robin Hood's Bay. Louis I, Count of Flanders, wrote a letter to King Edward III in which he complained that Flemish fishermen together with their boats and catches were taken by force to Robin Hood's Bay.

    In the 16th century Robin Hood's Bay was a more important port than Whitby, it is described by a tiny picture of tall houses and an anchor on old North Sea charts published by Waghenaer in 1586 and now in Rotterdam's Maritime Museum. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, Whitby Abbey and its lands became the property of King Henry VIII with King Street and King's Beck dating from this time.

    The town, which consists of a maze of tiny streets, has a tradition of smuggling, and there is reputed to be a network of subterranean passageways linking the houses. During the late 18th century smuggling was rife on the Yorkshire coast. Vessels from the continent brought contraband which was distributed by contacts on land and the operations were financed by syndicates who made profits without the risks taken by the seamen and the villagers. Tea, gin, rum, brandy and tobacco were among the contraband smuggled into Yorkshire from the Netherlands and France to avoid the duty.

    In 1773 two excise cutters, the Mermaid and the Eagle, were outgunned and chased out of the bay by three smuggling vessels, a schooner and two shallops. A pitched battle between smugglers and excise men took place in the dock over 200 casks of brandy and geneva (gin) and 15 bags of tea in 1779.

    Fishing and farming were the original occupations followed by generations of Bay folk. Fishing reached its peak in the mid 19th century, fishermen used the coble for line fishing in winter and a larger boat for herring fishing. Fish was loaded into panniers and men and women walked or rode over the moorland tracks to Pickering or York. Many houses in the village were built between 1650 and 1750 and whole families were involved in the fishing industry. Many families owned or part owned cobles. Later some owned oceangoing craft.

    A plaque in the town records that a brig named "Visiter" ran aground in Robin Hood's Bay on 18 January 1881 during a violent storm. In order to save the crew, the lifeboat from Whitby was pulled 6 miles overland by 18 horses, with the 7 feet deep snowdrifts present at the time cleared by 200 men. The road down to the sea through Robin Hood's Bay village was narrow and had awkward bends, and men had to go ahead demolishing garden walls and uprooting bushes to make a way for the lifeboat carriage. It was launched two hours after leaving Whitby, with the crew of the Visiter rescued on the second attempt.

    This brig may well be; “only sail noticeable was a foreign schooner with all sails set, which was seemingly going westwards.” [Which also ran aground in the bay]; an excerpt from Dracula by Bram Stoker written in 1897, where amongst other occurrences; “an immense dog sprang up on deck from below” and went ashore. From the book it appears other paranormal activities happened in the small fishing village.

    The main legitimate activity had always been fishing, but this started to decline in the late 19th century. These days most of its income comes from tourism. Robin Hood's Bay is also famous for the large number of fossils which may be found on its beach.

    *** – Old Coastguard Station – ***

    Nestling on the slipway at Robin Hoods Bay, the Old Coastguard Station is a building with a long and intriguing history. The structure you can see today is perhaps not exactly what you might think. Records show that in the early 1800’s the building then on the site was a public house, later converted into 3 tenements. In March 1829, the recently established Coastguard service took over the building, originally with the aim of combatting smuggling on the Yorkshire coast. They stayed until moving to other premises in the early 1900’s.

    The building once again reverted to accommodation and in 1910 is recorded as being used for holiday lets. In May 1912 Leeds and Sheffield universities hired the building which became known as the Yorkshire Universities Marine Laboratory. It was rented for £8 per annum until it was purchased for £220 in 1922. The agreement with Sheffield University ended in 1928 but Leeds University’s ownership continued.

    In the 1960’s a grant from the Wellcome Trust enabled the university to demolish the old building and rebuild in a more modern style. One of the features of the purpose-built lab was an 8,000 gallon seawater tank in the basement. From the mid 1960’s to its closure in 1982, the lab was principally used as a research establishment. Read more about the marine lab here. The building was sold and used as a private management training centre until the late 1990’s when the National Trust bought it with money from the Neptune Coastline Campaign and bequests from benefactors.

    The structure was demolished and rebuilt with an exterior shell as true as possible to the original 1800’s design. With the aid of a grant from the North York Moors National Park Authority, it was constructed as an interpretative visitor and education centre, along with a holiday flat on the top floor. The Old Coastguard Station opened to the public in September 2000. Since then the centre’s team has welcomed over 600,000 visitors and 35,000 education group visitors.

    In 2011 the ground floor exhibition room was renovated to inspire visitors to discover all aspects of life at the edge of the sea including wildlife, geology, tide and wave action as well as human history. A new rock pool tank and hands-on interactive models were installed. Today visitors can also find information about the role of the National Trust locally and other places to visit nearby. Efforts continue to keep displays up to date, reflecting an ever-changing coastline. The centre is open year-round with free entry for everyone.

    *** – Ravenscar – ***

    Ravenscar is a coastal village in the Scarborough district of North Yorkshire, England. It is within the civil parish of Staintondale and the North York Moors National Park, and is 10 miles (16 km) north of Scarborough. A National Trail, the 110-mile (180 km) Cleveland Way, passes through Ravenscar, which is also the eastern terminus of the Lyke Wake Walk. The official end of the Walk is at a point where the path meets the coast road.

    Ravenscar was the location of a late 4th century Roman signal station, part of a chain that extended along the Yorkshire coast. To the north of the village is the old Peak alum works, now a National Trust site, but once an important part of the dyeing industry. The last alum works at Ravenscar closed down in 1871 after the invention of a synthetic dye fixer. At the edge of the village is a disused windmill, Peak Mill, which dates from 1858.

    At the turn of the 19th–20th century, plans were made to turn the village into a holiday resort to rival nearby Scarborough. Roads were laid out, some houses were built and sewers were laid. Because of the long trek to its rocky beach, Ravenscar never achieved popularity, and the development was left unfinished – a town with sewers and streets but no houses. The village was served by Ravenscar railway station between 1885 and 1965.

    In 1540, a farm known as Peak House owned by the Beswick family occupied the site of a 5th-century Roman fort. In 1774 Raven Hall was built on the site for Captain William Childs of London, a captain in the King's Regiment of Light Dragoons, who came to Yorkshire with the army and became the owner of the Alum Works at Ravenscar. On his death in 1829 the hall passed to his daughter Ann Willis, whose family (headed by Dr Francis Willis) had become wealthy from treating George III and other royalty for their medical conditions.

    Ann's son, the eccentric Rev Dr Richard Willis, built the gardens and battlements which surround the house. In 1845 the property passed into the hands of William Hammond of London. Hammond became a prominent local benefactor, building the village church and the windmill. He became a director of the Scarborough to Whitby railway line, insisting that it passed through his property via a tunnel and that Ravenscar should have a station. On his widow's death in 1890 the estate was sold to the Peak Estate Company for development as a holiday resort. The house was extended for use as a hotel from 1895, and its golf course opened in 1898. It was sold by auction in 1911 after the company went bankrupt, and after several changes of ownership and use as a billet in wartime it was acquired by the present owners, who are associated with Classic Hotels.

    *** – Alum – ***

    At first glance the stunning views on the Yorkshire Coast seem like a rugged natural landscape created by time and tide. In fact, human history is as significant as natural history in the shaping of this beautiful coastline.

    In the 16th-century alum was essential in the textile industry as a fixative for dyes. Initially imported from Italy where there was a Papal monopoly on the industry, the supply to Great Britain was cut off during the Reformation. In response to this need Thomas Challoner set up Britains first Alum works in Guisborough. He recognised that the fossils found around the Yorkshire coast were similar to those found in the Alum quarries in Europe. As the industry grew, sites along the coast were favoured as access to the shales and subsequent transportation was much easier.

    Alum was extracted from quarried shales through a large scale and complicated process which took months to complete. The process involved extracting then burning huge piles of shale for 9 months, before transferring it to leaching pits to extract an aluminium sulphate liquor. This was sent along channels to the alum works where human urine was added.

    At the peak of alum production the industry required 200 tonnes of urine every year, equivalent to the produce of 1,000 people. The demand was such that it was imported from London and Newcastle, buckets were left on street corners for collection and reportedly public toilets were built in Hull in order to supply the alum works. This unsavoury liquor was left until the alum crystals settled out, ready to be removed. An intriguing method was employed to judge when the optimum amount of alum had been extracted from the liquor when it was ready an egg could be floated in the solution.

    The last Alum works on the Yorkshire Coast closed in 1871. This was due to the invention of manufacturing synthetic alum in 1855, then subsequently the creation of aniline dyes which contained their own fixative.

    There are many sites along the Yorkshire Coast which bear evidence of the alum industry. These include Loftus Alum Quarries where the cliff profile is drastically changed by extraction and huge shale tips remain. Further South are the Ravenscar Alum Works, which are well preserved and enable visitors to visualise the processes which took place.

    *** – Fossil Hunting – ***

    On the Yorkshire coast rocks from the Jurassic period (dating back 150-200 million years ago) are exposed for all to see, in a series of spectacular cliffs and bays. This continuous exposure of rock has made the Yorkshire coast popular with geologists for generations. It was here, in the early days of geology, that many secrets of the earth’s history were discovered. Rocks on the Yorkshire coast tend to become younger as you go from north to south down the coast.

    Around 200 million years ago, at the beginning of the period we now call the Jurassic, this region was covered by sea. An extensive ocean covered the whole of Europe and was home to a great variety of marine life. Many of these creatures are preserved in the mudstones and thin limestones that were deposited on the ocean floor. Ammonites are common and occasionally the bones of one of the great marine reptiles that swam in these seas are found.

    The ocean receded from this area by the time of the Middle Jurassic, around 170 million years ago. The region became a coastal area with deltas, scrub and forest. The sandstones and mudstones formed in this period contain plant remains and the traces of land animals as well as marine fossils. Dinosaurs left their mark here too in the form of footprints and the occasional bone.

    The sea invaded this area again in the Upper Jurassic period, around 150 million years ago. This was a warm, shallow sea. Most of the fossils from this time are of animals living on the sea bed preserved in gritstones, limestones and clays. From Scarborough a series of faults pushes rocks of the Middle and Upper Jurassic next to each other creating headlands and bays such as those at Filey.

    The landscape of the Yorkshire Coast has been shaped over millions of years. Some of the processes are extremely slow – take the formation of rock from sand deposited at the bottom of the sea for example. It takes time. However, some processes are surprisingly fast. The rocks of the coast bear evidence of landslips, underwater slumps and other changes that happened millions of years ago but took only a matter of days to have their effect. These changes have not stopped – the sea is still battering away the coastline while sand is being brought by rain and rivers and laid on the sea bed. Geology goes on working.

    Hunting for fossils can be fun and enormously satisfying, if you follow a few simple guidelines to ensure that you stay safe.

  • The cliffs on the Yorkshire coast are prone to erosion and rock falls. The frequency of these can increase following periods of extreme weather, including heavy rain, cold, heat and very dry spells. Stay a safe distance from the base of cliffs at all times.
  • The best time to search for fossils is following a storm, usually in the autumn or winter. Heavy seas break up rocks and wash new material onto the beach. There's no need to hammer at cliffs, hunt amongst the stones and shingle along and below the high tide mark. Once you get your eye in, you'll spot plenty of finds.
  • Do not risk tides. Always check tide times before you visit a location. Leave as the tide starts to come in.

    *** – Old Saltburn to Warsett Hill walk – ***

    Starting in the Victorian seaside town of Saltburn-by-the-Sea, this walk has many interesting features. Though the area may seem like a natural landscape when enjoying the coastal wildlife, man has had a significant impact on it. Enjoy fantastic coastal wildflowers such as the pyramidal orchid.

    During the late 19th century much of the area was mined for iron stone. Some fascinating remains from these industrial days can still be seen at Warsett Hill. For those who prefer man's more artistic creations, there are sculptures along the way too. Described as Moderate, the walk will take at least one and a half hours and is 4.5 miles long. This is a dog-friendly walk.

    Start: Saltburn sea front car park.

  • 1. Cross the road from the car park to the sea front. Turn right and follow the road.
  • Saltburn. Before setting off for the walk be sure to check out Saltburn's award winning pier and cliff lift. The pier was opened in 1869 and was the first on Cleveland's coast. The cliff lift was added in 1884 and used an ingenious system of counter-balancing water tanks to transport visitors up and down the cliff.
  • 2. Just after the Ship Inn turn left at the National Trust sign. Climb the steps and follow the Cleveland way for 2 miles (3.2km).
  • Coastal wildlife. In summer the grassland at Old Saltburn is a riot of colour as wildflowers bloom. Different species can be seen on the coastal slope where the grassland is free from man's influence. The cliffs at Huntcliff are home to breeding seabirds such as the kittiwakes and fulmars.
  • 3. Continue for about 220yd (200m) after the information panel about the Guibal fanhouse. Bear right over the stile and cross the field to the railway crossing.
  • Guibal Fan house. To some it's a concrete eyesore, to others a monument to our industrial past. Either way, it was certainly an impressive feat of engineering for its time. When operational it contained a huge 30ft (9m) fan that pulled stale air from the mine below, providing a safer environment for the workers.
  • 4. Carefully cross the stiles and railway. Cross two fields to the summit of Warsett Hill. At the top of the second field bear left to find the stile.
  • Warsett Hill. At the summit of the hill take a well earned rest and enjoy the fabulous panoramic views of the coast and surrounding area.
  • 5. Bear left at the triangulation pillar and cross the stile. Bear right following the fence down the hill. Where the path splits, bear left accross the field to the railway crossing.
  • 6. Carefully cross the stiles and railway. Head straight on, on the track.
  • 7. At the intersection of paths by the cottage continue straight on.
  • 8. Where the track bends round to the left by the farm, continue straight on onto the path.
  • 9. Bear left before the row of cottages following the cycle route 1 sign. At the road, retrace your steps to return to the car park.
  • End: Saltburn sea front car park. You made it!

    Robin Hood's Bay

    Robin Hood's Bay


    *** – Raven's View easy walk – ***

    Soak up the views as you discover Ravenscar, past and present, on this short walk. With optional loops, it’s up to you how far you explore. Classified as Easy, the walk will take forty-five minutes to one and a half hours and is between 1.4 and 2.3 miles long, dependent on your chosen route. This is a dog-friendly walk.

    Start: Ravenscar Visitor Centre.

  • 1. Leave Ravenscar Visitor Centre and head towards the Raven Hall Hotel entrance. Turn to your left just before you enter the hotel grounds and follow the track downwards. Your first views of the coastline will open up before you.
  • 2. Continue following the track downwards as you cross the golf course and enter into the more sheltered and wooded National Trust land. Spring and summer are the best times of year to keep your eyes and ears open for butterflies and birds. Watch your step as Adders can be found basking in warm sunny spots.
  • 3. A little further and on your left are a few steps that will take you to our freshwater pond viewing platform. Spring, summer and autumn will see the pond alive with water plants, frogs and insects. Look out for damselflies darting across the water’s surface.
  • 4. Pass on by Bluebell Wood, full of colourful bluebells in spring, a lush vibrant green in summer and deep rich hues in autumn.
  • 5. Either carry on down towards the Alum Works loop or turn left and head upwards through Bluebell Wood for a slow cool shady stroll following the Cleveland Way.
  • 6. As the footpath levels out another path joins from the right. This path will lead you on the Brick Works loop and take you to the double railway bridge. This is a must for those interested in history and railways.
  • 7. You are now heading up a gentle incline back towards Ravenscar Visitor Centre. This stretch is a tranquil and soul nourishing final leg of your walk. Take your time to look back and absorb those views across Robin Hoods Bay.
  • End: Ravenscar Visitor Centre. You made it!

    Please click here for a series of downloadable walks from the North York Moors National Park team which showcases some special stretches of the Yorkshire Coast.


    *** – Facilities – ***


  • • Shop and exhibition at the Old Coastguard Station.
  • • Also shop and exhibition at Ravenscar Coastal Centre.
  • • Dogs welcome on leads.
  • • Parking - 546 yards, up steep bank for Old Coastguard Station (pay and display), not National Trust, charge including members. Free roadside parking at Ravenscar.
  • Family:-

  • • Learning - suitable for school groups. Education room/centre. Hand-on activities (at Old Coastguard Station).
  • • Visitor centre.
  • Access:-

  • • Grounds - diverse terrain; cliff top paths, uneven surfaces and steep gradients in places. Please ring 01723 870423 for more details.
  • • Building - steps to entrance; portable ramp available. Ground floor fully accessible. Access to first floor via lift. Ravenscar Visitor Centre: steps to entrance.
  • • In the event of adverse weather conditions e.g. snow and ice, please take extra care. Be aware, woodlands may become hazardous in high winds.
  • • Read the National Trust's full access statement (PDF) here.


    Location : near Ravenscar, North Yorkshire

    Transport: Saltburn, Whitby, Scarborough, Filey (National Rail) all give access to the coast. Bus routes : Served by regular local services

    Opening Times Coast: All day, everyday.

    Opening Times Visitor Centre: Daily, 10.00 to 17.00; Winter weekends only.

    Opening Times Coastguard Station: Daily, 10.00 to 17.00; Winter weekends only.

    Tickets Old Coastguard Station: Adults £1.00;   Children £0.50.

    Tel. : 01723 870423