Intentionally, we’ve alighted the bus at Ruswarp Church of which stop you can see behind the phone box. Free to use conveniences are available just around the corner heading back the way we travelled.
If you are wondering whereabouts Ruswarp’s St Bartholomew’s Church is, we thought we would point it out to you just in case you missed it. Hopefully the bus shelter doesn’t obscure the view!
Ruswarp to Whitby North Yorkshire Moors Railway Walk
Ruswarp was originally called Risewarp which at the time meant silted land overgrown with brushwood.
We are going to walk towards the large green bridge you have probably noticed by now, and opposite the fittingly named Bridge Inn you will see Ruswarp’s railway station. The railway station, although on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, isn’t a calling point for the preserved line. This is because the line is also the scenic Esk Valley line that runs between Middlesbrough and Whitby. The station opened in 1847 and it is 33 miles back to Middlesbrough from here.
On the furthest side of the line, you’ll see a sign post and gate that takes you rail side to Whitby. The walk is only around a mile long because Ruswarp and Whitby are literally joined at the hip. Therefore this is kind of a nice way to approach one of Yorkshire’s most popular resorts.
Today the path sides are a vibrant yellow of which much of it is due to the flowering gorse bushes. These evergreens have comfier like needles with bright yellow flowers in the season and can be found commonly around the country.
We encounter unexpectedly, not a steam train, but a heritage diesel locomotive known as a Class 25. These locomotives were built between 1961 and 1967 and by and large were intended for freight. However, some were fitted out for passenger services as time progressed. They could be found almost everywhere on the rail network.
This is a great walk to do, albeit a short one. On your left you have the pleasure of one of Britain’s largest preserved railways and on your right you have the River Esk. Of course we will be following the River Esk to its emptying into the North Sea at Whitby.
The River Esk is formed by three streams on the North York Moors at Westerdale Moor that merge, known as the Esklets. As the water is clean, it supports an enormous array of wildlife including spawning salmon. Sometimes you are fortunate enough to see them leaping at Ruswarp. If you are considering a smoked salmon picnic, sadly there is a restriction on fishing here to preserve fish stocks.
Only around the corner your attention meets one of the many examples of Victorian engineering, Larpool Viaduct that consists of around 5 million bricks. Construction began in 1882 and took two years to build. It’s purpose was to carry the Yorkshire Coast line, single track, over the Esk Valley line, the River Esk and over the valley itself. The Yorkshire Coast line, or originally the Scarborough and Whitby Railway, was one of the unfortunate lines that closed, and it is now known as Cinders Path and you can walk across the viaduct. You’ll notice that the two island’s in the centre of the Esk are on a twist to match the water flow of the River. The base of the supports also have arches within them making the viaduct even more impressive and ornamental.
When you pass underneath the viaduct you are somewhat in awe at its size, especially when you compare it to the size of the houses on the opposite river bank. There won’t be many salmon leaping over this viaduct that’s for sure.
We consider the Victorian’s to be world-class engineers during the period, and indeed they were. However, not all viaducts were completely safe. For example, Danby Dale viaduct became an accident black spot especially when the viaduct collapsed with a train upon it. In any case, they never just built a box, they built a box with eye catching features and intrigue. Not only were they great engineers of the time, but they were skilled artists as well.
Whitby, North Yorkshire
Moments from Larpool Viaduct you will see Whitby just ahead. The first landmark you’ll more than likely see is the high level road bridge carrying the A171 as well as St Mary’s Church over looking Whitby. The walk however, takes you alongside Whitby Marina and it’s not too long before you witness fishing boats, yachts and other vessels. Of course, the Esk from Ruswarp is now tidal which is why today the water level is quite low. Eventually you will see Whitby Railway Station with the former engine shed left of it just ahead and a pedestrian crossing across the line. However, we are going to follow the road towards Whitby Marina and beside the car park.
Economy in Whitby
It’s certainly no secret that Whitby’s economy was at one time predominantly sea fishing including whaling. Today, Whitby is still has a working harbour. However, during Georgian times, Whitby was known for another commodity, that being spa water. The three springs aroused interest and became popular for their medicinal and tonic qualities. This produced lodging places in the town and by the time of the railway’s arrival in 1839, brought Whitby into tourism. The railway at this time connected Whitby to York, linking the town to a greater rail network there. Wooden sea faring vessels were built in Whitby but by the time the iron ships were being built along the River Tees in the 19th century, smaller towns decreased their production. The wooden boat building in Whitby is reflected in a statue beside the Esk. However, there is a ship maintenance yard on the opposite east bank.
Within the car park there are free to use public conveniences as well as the new site for the Tourist Information Office. On the opposite side of the road you will notice the supermarket which at one time was the site of a goods shed. Of course, that leads us to Whitby Railway Station. The station buildings were designed by George Townsend Andrews and built in 1845. The goods shed was bombed during the second world war. On the inside is the original map of the North Eastern rail network as it was then. The bus station where the Coastliner departs is to the right of the station front.
By now you are more than likely desperate for refreshments and there is a cafe situated at the railway station. Alternatively, you might want to take advantage of the many eateries throughout the town, especially if you have a taste for fish and chips. As we are about to take a brisk walk to explore Whitby, you can be forgiven for indulging oneself. As far as public conveniences are concerned, they can be found on either bank of the Esk but typically require loose change or a debit card.
However, we are going to begin our tour of Whitby by first exploring the west bank. As the coastline faces northwards at Whitby, there is a west and east side to the town. Therefore the town is in two halves linked by the swing bridge.
Whitby Swing Bridge
The present swing bridge in Whitby is indeed an historic structure, but it’s certainly not the first bridge to exist here, as a crossing has existed for centuries. In 1351, a grant was made by Edward III allowing the collection of a toll to maintain the bridge. It wasn’t until 1629 an agreement was made to replace a wooden crossing in favour of a bridge consisting of moving parts. The bridge we see today however was built in 1835 and designed by J Mitchell Moncrieff who later became president of the Institution of Structural Engineers. It was opened by the daughter of the Viscount of Helmsley. The bridge is obviously a swing bridge, and is was built because the previous bridge had restrictions on the size of vessel passing through it. It originally carried the A171 but in 1980 another high level bridge was opened instead to avoid congestion.
However, we’re not going to cross this bridge just yet because we’re going to start our tour on the west bank. The west side of the Esk takes us through a shopping area with eateries as well as amusements further along. Again almost as famous as Whitby is The Magpie which serves excellent fish and chips. You’ll note that in the height of the season fish and chips are very popular so much so that queues begin to form.
On the right hand side, you’ll more than likely see the RNLI and Whitby’s lifeboat. This is the current working lifeboat station, but further along on the west bank you’ll see a lifeboat museum and gift shop open to the public. It certainly isn’t easy to miss because you will see the large navy blue and white lifeboat tucked neatly inside.
Whitby Whale Jaw Bones
Making our way up some steps to the top brings us to Whitby’s whale bones that form an archway over the footpath, almost like a church doorway. In the 18th and 19th centuries whaling was a very lucrative business and thriving in Whitby. However, it was oftentimes very dangerous, capsizing boats and men being killed as a result. These 20ft jaw bones capture Whitby’s strong connection with whaling in a single monument. Commercial whaling was banned in 1986 under the IWC’s moratorium.
Captain James Cook Monument Whitby
Speaking of monuments, you’ve probably noticed the statue of Captain James Cook over looking the Esk’s entry into the north sea. He was very much the explorer born in 1728 until 1779. He sailed thousands of miles in 3 voyages, and even created detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to these voyages. In a few moments we’ll pass the mock up of the HMS Endeavour, the famous vessel in which he sailed, as well as the Captain Cook Museum on the east bank. He was actually from a village called Marton and relocated to Whitby. Before coming to Whitby, he worked as a shop boy in Staithes, until he became associated with the Walker family who were prominent ship owners in the coal trade. The HMS Endeavour, the real one, ran aground in the Barrier Reef.
If you have brought your own lunch, this is a perfect spot to sit and enjoy it because there are many benches with a sea view. This vantage point not only looks over the west and east piers, but also gives you views of the abbey and St Mary’s Church on the east bank. From a photographers point of view, you can also attain some interesting photos here. You will also notice Whitby Pavillion just a little further along the cliff side, and you can also access the beach here. Obviously, we cannot capture scenes of the beach in the interests of child protection. There are beaches on both banks but the west side has the largest.
Taking a short descent back to the Esk side road we were on earlier, we can now walk towards the west pier. In fact, it can walk all the way up to the end to receive an almost panoramic view of Whitby.
West and East Lighthouses Whitby
You’ll notice the lighthouses on both piers which the west is open to the public. The west lighthouse was constructed in 1831. You’ll notice that it has a stone tower with a wooden section on top. It stands at 46ft and has a viewing range of just under 6 miles. As you would expect, it is grade ii listed. You’ll also note the wind direction at the top.
Sadly, we cannot take you to the east lighthouse owing to maintenance. However, this lighthouse was built in 1855 and is shorter at 56ft. Its focal height is 46ft and has a range of 5 miles.
On the West pier you can walk all the way to the end for a view over the North Sea. It’s nice to stop for a moment and take in some of that fresh sea air.
As a rule, I will give you some safety information as I will today. When you encounter seagulls, it is necessary not to feed them. This isn’t because they are vastly overweight, but because they can get somewhat volatile when it comes to food. In fact, they have been known to attack individuals with food in their hands. However, there is still no need to fast.
However, we’ve covered two landmarks, now let’s discover a few more by crossing one of the landmarks we’ve addressed.
At the opposite side of the Swing Bridge you will notice an information board relating to the history of the bridge in the last 100 years under the shadow of a polar bear above Holland and Barrett.
Grape Lane Whitby
Opposite you will find a narrow street being Grape Lane. You’ll discover some interesting artisan shops in the same vicinity including Whitby Jet, Persian Rugs and a lot more. These shops and their position give you a feeling of deep local and cultural history. Just further along on the right you will observe the Captain Cook Memorial Museum open to the public. If you enjoy history and museums it is worth a look inside.
The museum is in a fitting location because just a short walk around the corner along Church Street you will notice that you get a good view of the HMS Endeavour, or at least the mock Endeavour.
If you continue further along Church Street for a short while, you will come across the Seamen’s Hospital which are now apartments. This seamen’s medical retreat dating back from 1670 has some interesting ornamental features such as this sailor, canons, and vessel. A large manor once existed along this road that belonged to the Yeoman family for many years.
Ascent to Whitby Abbey
However, heading back again you towards the bend to the swing bridge you will notice an alley way. We want to follow this path up the bank because it is an easy route to the Abbey. At first it may not look it I grant you, but when you compare it to the 199 steps alternative it will give you a sigh of relief when we come to walk down them.
When you reach the signpost head towards the Abbey Car Park as this will take you around the circumference of the abbey’s grounds, giving you a complete view of the structure. When you reach the car park, there is an entrance to the Abbey should you want to go in. There are also some public conveniences should need them.
The site of Whitby Abbey dates way back to AD 657 when Abbess Hild founded a monastery for both men and women, which was somewhat controversial at the time. The land was donated by King Oswiu and it became one of the most important religious centres in Anglo-Saxon times. A landmark meeting was held here to decided the date of Easter. The issue was that the direction of the English church hit an impasse when they had to decide to follow the Celtic or Roman Christian tradition. However, by the time of the 9th century, the monastery was abandoned owing to Danish raids, but the longevity of the abbey did not end here. This is because the Benedictine monk Rienfrid reestablished a community once again in 1078.
Many abbey’s today you will have noticed are ruins. This is because of the dissolution of the monasteries under the reign of Henry VIII. This is sometimes referred to the suppression of the monasteries. It is considered that Henry VIII wanted to disband the monasteries so that funds could be dedicated for military purposes and some argue simply for the crown. Whitby Abbey was suppressed by Henry VIII in 1539, which is why we see only ruins today. Not to help matters, during the Great War both the Abbey along with Scarborough Castle endured bombardment. Like York Minster, what is left of the structure is an example of Gothic architecture. When you look at the structure, try to imagine in your mind’s eye what it must have looked like in its heyday.
Eventually around the opposite side you will receive some fantastic views of the North Sea over a lawned area. Following the path brings you to Whitby Abbey House and another entrance to Whitby Abbey. Whitby Abbey house is a grand house with gardens dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. It was formerly the Manor House in Whitby. The oldest section is found at the south side as it is thought it was built by some of the Abbey’s ruins. It is at the former site of the Abbotts house.
St Mary’s Church Whitby
Narrowly avoiding an ice-cream, we come to the rear of St Mary’s Church. Taking the path towards the church we can see more of this impressive structure dating back from 1110. The church is an Anglican Parish church serving the town and open to the public. Inside you will see the three decker pulpit from the 1700’s. It also has art from the 19th century which are accessible to view using the staircases. It’s world famous as it is also a setting in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the abbey features in this works too. Although the church is Norman, it has been added to and changed since 1110.
On your way past, you also notice a large cross known as Caedmon’s Cross prior to your descent down the 199 steps, who was an early English poet from Northumbria.
199 Steps at Whitby
Yes you did hear me right, we are going to descend the 199 steps. Granted, going down the steps is better for one’s breathing but not exactly. You see there are some breath-taking views over the town and harbour, so either way your pulse begins to race. It’s a nice vista across the mouth and throat of the River Esk as the waters disappear into the North Sea.
We might not necessarily think of a series of steps to be a landmark, but in actual fact they are because they can be seen from an incredible distance. From the west bank top you can witness people climbing the steps slowly and requiring a defibrillator when they reach the top. If anyone tells you they had a pleasant walk to the top of the 199 steps they are obviously not telling the truth. In any case, it is best to walk down them because it is easier and also you receive some fantastic views as you’re heading downwards. On your left you will see one of the narrow shopping streets in the old town. However, don’t be drawn away from the fisherman’s cottages that can be found on the right hand side that leads to the east pier. These cosy cottages stand facing each other over the cobbled street between. However, we’re going to turn left and walk down the cobbled street which almost feels like The Shambles in York.
It won’t take you too long to find a jewellers in the old town because of something else that Whitby is famous for, that being jet. Jet was very popular especially with Victorians, and this gemstone is also popular today. In fact, Whitby has a jet museum just further along the same street. Jet is actually a precursor to coal and like coal it has an organic origin. In fact its a high pressure decomposition of wood and jet has two forms, hard jet and soft jet. The word jet is the English version of the French word for the same material.
Old Town Hall Whitby
Not far from Whitby Jet Museum is the old town hall and market square. Again it is a grade ii listed building, and it has an interesting clock tower. There are also public conveniences here if you need them. However, it is not the building that old refers to, but rather the old town on the east bank. The building is also old dating back to 1788. It replaced the decaying town hall on that was once on the west bank. It has an interesting wooden clock tower.
HMS Endeavour/Bark Endeavour/Earl of Pembroke Vessel
Crossing the Swing Bridge once again, we can head back towards the station and to board our Coastliner bus at the Bus station. However, before we do, lets just take a closer look at one last exhibit. The HMS Endeavour was also known as the HM Bark Endeavour and was launched in 1764 as a cargo boat designed to carry coal, actually under the name of Earl of Pembroke. The ship was renamed after the Navy acquired her for science voyages. It was in 1770 that the Endeavour became the first ship to reach Australia. The ship ran aground on the Barrier Reef so Cook had to throw her guns overboard in order to lighten her, narrowly avoiding disaster.
This mock of the Endeavour which is open to the public, was berthed at Stockton on Tees for some time before arriving in Whitby in 2018.
The Coastliner can be boarded at the bus station for the best scenic views in Britain! Until next time!