Donning those muddy boots to raise cash for Whitby’s wildlife

Ducks at Sandsend
Ducks at Sandsend

A slightly different reason for donning the muddy boots this month. While trawling through Facebook (hoping to find tips from them on how to avoid tax), I noticed that the Whitby Wildlife Sanctuary was planning a sponsored walk to raise funds for their refuge on the outskirts of town.

So, I joined up, badgered a few mates to donate a shilling or two, and made my way to the whale’s jawbones. There were meant to be half a dozen of us gathering here to walk to Runswick Bay, and on my arrival I approached a likely looking group.

Yacht in Sandsend bay

Yacht in Sandsend bay

“Hullo! Are you waiting to do the sponsored walk for Whitby Wildlife?” This was met with a grimace and a grunted “Wuh?”

Another group with rucksacks and hefty boots replied with a terse “uh?” so I took a place on a vacant bench and waited. Shortly, Alexandra Farmer the Chief Exec, cook, bottle washer and unpaid lackey at the sanctuary, bounded over to greet me. Sadly, the other walkers had dropped out for a variety of reasons, so the two of us set off along the West Cliff on our eight-mile hike to Runswick.

At low tide, it is easily possible to do the first stretch to Sandsend along the beach. But, the tide was well in and lapping the shore, so we followed the Cleveland Way along the pavement and path dropping down to a seaside gulley, before veering inland under the golfers footbridge and up onto Sandsend Road.

Walk on through Sandsend, and at Wits End Café at the foot of Lythe bank, go into the car park then up a flight of steps on the left, to turn right onto the track bed of the old railway line.

Runswick Bay

Runswick Bay

Alexandra moved with her family to Broomfields Farm (opposite the Industrial Estate), after living in various parts of the world including the Far East and Bermuda. She says her love of wildlife and particularly her desire to intervene, probably came from rescuing migratory crabs dodging traffic in Bermuda. She also says that Whitby is easily the best place she has lived (and I suspect the fish and chips are better).

The old railway track continues for a mile or more, until reaching the bricked up tunnel that guided steam trains to Kettleness 60 years ago.

A long climb up steps adjacent to the tunnel left us both gulping for air and water, but at the top the path is largely flat as it snakes around the cliff edge with fields on your left and a long drop on your right. On a very clear day up here, you used to be able to see smoke from the Redcar steelworks, way in the distance. Well, not any more. Though you may be able to spot pigs flying in formation as you consider that the Government is doing “everything in its power to help those who have lost their jobs.”

I could write forever about politics, but with dodgy blood pressure, I should probably shut up and concentrate on the fabulous work of the Whitby Wildlife Sanctuary. Alex has rescued, rehabilitated and released hundreds of seabirds, garden birds and hedgehogs.

A rescued caterpillar

A rescued caterpillar

There have been other species too, including a slow worm, squirrels and recently one of those flying pigs. (Oops, sorry. There I go again. The pig was actually found snuffling around the roadside verge north of Scarborough).

There have been cases which have attracted lots of publicity too. Readers may remember the seagull that was deliberately plastered in red paint, allegedly by hilarious pair of pranksters whose two brain cells had malfunctioned. Well, if you didn’t know, I can report that the gull received months of care and attention and was successfully released back into the wild. Apparently it is still a bit pink, so don’t worry – you haven’t had one too many.

The path curls around Kettleness old station, then soon drops very steeply down to a wet and slippery stretch leading onto the beach at Runswick Bay. The village at the far end is proper pretty and has a café and pub (which might be closed in winter to be honest), and a very steep road climbing back up to the bus stop.

Alex and I enjoyed a pint in the newly refurbished and much improved Runswick Bay Hotel. Well I did – in fact I enjoyed three. Alex just concentrated on gasping for air after that big climb and then had to dash off to answer more rescue calls.

Columnist Stuart Bell with Alexandra Farmer of Whitby Wildlife Sanctuary

Columnist Stuart Bell with Alexandra Farmer of Whitby Wildlife Sanctuary

You can still sponsor us for that specific walk at www.gofundme.com/walkforwildlife.

Alternatively, check out the website www.whitbywildlife.co.uk or the sanctuary’s Facebook page – Whitby Wildlife Sanctuary – where Alex posts some lovely videos of successful releases of animals that would not have made it without her. It’s inspiring stuff.

A map of November's walk

A map of November's walk