“That’s an eater”, said Sean Hutchinson, as he pulled a vibrantly-coloured lobster from his son Luke’s pot.
It’s Thursday afternoon, my birthday. The great heatwave of ‘13 is still in full flow and we have been invited to spend a day in the shoes (or wellies) of the ‘Real Staithes’ family.
It’s possible that no one knows this area of coastline, from Staithes to Port Mulgrave, better than Sean Hutchinson. But now the lifelong fisherman and lifeboat volunteer is inviting all-comers to learn more about this stretch of coast which his small tribe call home.
It’s an especially low spring tide, the 1895 wreck of the S.S. Waldridge is visible, and 16-year-old Luke has just helped us haul one of his lobster pots ashore,with the large catch inside - today has just become an extremely bad day for one tasty crustacean.
From this pot, the lobster will be taken around the corner to Port Mulgrave to a pot of another kind, where a community of fishermen and boat owners keep shacks on the beach all year round. We won’t eat this lobster, as Sean can’t catch anything from his pots for financial gain, but he’ll tuck into it while we eat other local lobsters.
Sean has fished all over the world, but has lived in Staithes since he was 13. Since then he has become an integral part of the close-knit community and he intersperses the walk with tales of youthful adventures, fishing encounters and dramatic lifeboat rescues.
He speaks with the surety of a man at home in his environment. He knows the name of every rock and pebble, and has a tale to accompany each inlet or geological formation.
His teenage sons are as in tune with the landscape as their parents, and at one point - the exact location I swore not to reveal - Luke points out a set of waves he claims are the best left-hand breakers for surfing in the country. He also proves his usefulness by hand-picking a lobster out of its hole in a rock pool without getting nipped.
But it isn’t just shellfish that is encountered and tasted on this stroll. We are encouraged to nibble on a selection of the seaweeds that adorn our coast. It’s a little known fact that the Staithes coast is a hotbed for Sea Lettuce, otherwise known as Nori - the seaweed of choice among sushi chefs.
Wellies are great for keeping you dry when paddling, but uncomfortable on long walks and so, in the baking hot sun, it comes as a relief when we sit down to the feast that has been laid on at the chalet.
Accompanying the lobster, which Sean showed us novices how to eat, were other locally-collected foodstuffs such as kelp crisps, winkles (the pork scratchings of their day), crab, and Tricia’s own lobster egg butter.
There’s no guilt to accompany this carbon neutral meal. In Sean’s eyes the biomass levels of the North Sea are not only strong, they’re flourishing. And, perhaps because he has the Whitby Gazette’s fishing reporter in tow, or just because he feels so strongly about it, he isn’t shy on sharing his opinions about those who would put restrictions on fishing. “It’s all vibrant, it’s all alive, it’s all positive,” he said. “It really bugs me to turn round and hear all these negatives - something has got to be dying before you hear about it.”
As if to prove the point, Sean shouts “Quick, look”, and points out to sea, to where a minke whale can clearly be seen - the first he has ever spotted with the naked eye from the shore.
Real Staithes also host another seashore event, led by Sean’s wife, Tricia. On the Ancient Paint Palette course you learn how to make paint from the very landscape - although the empress purple sourced from the shells of dog whelks is a little beyond their means. In fact, it is local tradition that the whelks are poisonous, a falsehood presumably started by some local thane who wanted to protect his whelk stocks, which can cost a small fortune when processed.
From paint production, to the alum mining which reshaped these cliffs, to the potash mine at Boulby, what is most evident as you stroll along the shore is that this is a living, breathing, industrial landscape. “Mining is a totally acceptable part of the Yorkshire coast. That’s why it’s called the Iron Coast,” said Sean.
Round here it’s also known as the Jurassic Coast, and part of the day includes fossil hunting and searching for the region’s famous jet, which literally falls out of the cliff. The small black stones can be found on the shoreline, and jet is distinguishable from other black rock as it leaves a brown mark when rubbed on a stone. Sadly, the only black lump I discovered turned out to be rubber.
The jet search reaffirms the recurring theme of the day - that this beautiful coast isn’t a piece of artwork, to be cordoned off and only touched under sterile conditions. Instead it is, and has always been, a centre for industry of all kinds, where the locals have the right to earn an honest living from their landscape.
Back at the shack, and the family have tidied up their belongings, but they’ll be back tomorrow. For the Hutchinsons, this isn’t a gimmick. For one day they have invited us into their lives for a precious look at the real Hutchinson family, the real coastline, the Real Staithes.
For more information about upcoming events visit www.realstaithes.co.uk