One of the pleasures in visiting Whitby is to explore its streets and steps and alleyways and to be surprised by the constantly changing views of its tightly packed houses, the dominating outline of its famous abbey and its busy harbour. However the views are just as entrancing from a distance, whether from the coastal footpath or the Esk Valley.
Distance: 7 miles
Time: 4 hours
Conditions: well signed paths and bridleways, some mud in Stainsacre valley
Refreshments: Stainsacre, Whitby, Saltwick
OS Explorer Map OL27
Originally published: 11 March 2011
This 7 mile walk starts in Hawsker, the first village along the Scarborough road, before following a section of a former railway line or, as an alternative, the valley of the Stainsacre Beck. It then takes the Esk Valley Walk into the town centre. The return is by the famous 199 steps to the abbey before completing the walk by an exhilarating 2 miles along the coastal footpath to the lighthouse at High Whitby.
We start from outside Hawsker's severe looking All Saints parish church, (GR 923084), on the lane leading from High Hawsker to the abbey. Follow Summerfield Lane past the church gate and in some 400 yards cross straight over the A 171, signed to Stainsacre. In about 50 paces look out for a path on the left which gives access to the trackbed of the former Scarborough to Whitby line, closed some 50 years ago and now converted into a walkway and cycle route. Turn right and follow the track for 2 miles to the Larpool Viaduct over the Esk. It's a straightforward easy walk with views across the fields to the abbey and the houses on the fringe of Whitby.
I have also mapped a parallel route which takes you into the narrow isolated valley of Stainsacre Beck. Leave the rail track in about 300 yards by the first path on the left. This takes you into Stainsacre village. In 100 yards and just beyond a bus shelter go right on a path which passes Lion Cottage and then bears right to the far corner of the first field. It then continues through tree to a concrete track which you leave immediately, left. A muddy track then drops to a ford and footbridge over the beck.
On the far side the track curves to the right to the edge of the wood. Do not be tempted by a well made stone trod which branches off right on this short section. At the end of the trees go right, following a lane down to the hamlet of Cock Mill which is mentioned in medieval records. Leave the lane by bearing right after passing Cockmill Hall. In a few yards a path on the left passes Waterfall Cottage and continues down to a welcome seat close to the confluence of Stainsacre and Rigg Mill Becks.
Do not cross a footbridge on the left but continue ahead on a well worn stone trod or causeway which soon joins the lane from Whitby to Ruswarp. Turn right, uphill and past Crowdy Hall to rejoin the rail track by a flight of steps on the left. The best view of the spectacular Larpool Viaduct is from the Oaklands housing estate to the left. The 915ft long viaduct was opened in 1884. Its red brick pillars tower over the river. The present Whitby to Middlesbrough line, incidentally one of the oldest in the country, opened in 1835, runs far below by the Esk and was connected to the viaduct by a steeply graded branch on the far side of the river.
Our walk continues across the viaduct to join the Esk Valley Walk in about 200 yards. Turn right along it across the fenced playing fields of Caedmon School. There are excellent views views ahead of Whitby town and harbour. Turn right at the A 171 and cross the road in another 100 yards just before the road crosses the Esk by a high viaduct. A path descends the steep bank on the other side of the road. At the bottom bear right to a level crossing over the railway and continue by the riverside around a huge car park into Whitby.
The town's many attractions need no description but before you reach the bridge look out over the inner harbour for a tall Georgian 60 light 'bottle' window which rises from above the front door to the full height of the building. It's a good indication of the town's prosperity in the 18th century when it had some of the busiest shipyards in the country. The window is the major feature of the house which is next door to the excellent Captain Cook museum on Grape Lane.
At this period the drawbridge of 1766 across the harbour must have been very busy. It was replaced in 1825 by a swivel bridge and supplanted in 1909 by the present structure. Unless you are in a hurry it's a pleasure to watch the action when the bridge is opened for harbour traffic.
After crossing the bridge take Church Street, the second lane on the left.The town's oldest street, it takes you past many of the early inn yards and the town hall of 1788 and leads to the 199 steps. The medieval steps and parallel donkey track were the start of the main route from Whitby to Hawsker and the south. Today of course they are climbed for the views and to visit the abbey and St Mary's parish church, the latter described by Pevsner in his 'North Riding' as "a wonderful jumble of medieval and Georgian and the interior as hard to believe and impossible not to love". It merits a visit if you have time.
Our walk continues for a few yards along the road from the top of the steps before turning left on the coastal footpath which we follow for 2 miles. The path follows every indentation of the high cliffs for the first mile to Saltwick Nab and Bay. Here alum and jet workings from the 18th and 19th centuries add to the scene.
Beyond the caravan site the path climbs steadily to the 300ft cliffs of High Whitby. Here you pass the building which once housed the Whitby Foghorn, nicknamed the Whitby Bull. Reputedly on a calm day it could be heard at Flamborough some 20 miles to the south. Just beyond is the lighthouse built in 1858.
Turn right on the lighthouse access lane and in another 250 yards, at Ling Hill Farm, go left on a bridleway which climbs to Beacon Hill where there are extensive views along the coast in both directions. Now descend to Whitby Laithes Farm. Follow the farm track, right for 20 or so paces before going left on a bridleway which crosses two fields to Hawsker Lane. Turn left.