I have a question for you, and here it is. Where is the best beach on the Yorkshire Coast?
Now, you’d expect the answer to be somewhere a bit touristy like Scarborough, or Whitby, or Robin Hood’s Bay or maybe pretty little Runswick.
Somewhere with facilities for scoffing fish and chips, dodging seagulls and supping mugs of steamy tea.
Nah, step forward the most unlikely beachcombing hotspot in the area….. Skinningrove. Cattersty beach runs north from the jetty for several miles and is just gorgeous with its thick golden sands rising slowly to reedy dunes and backed by gull-specked cliffs.
But Skinningrove itself stubbornly refuses to embrace the notion of tourism.
Yes, there is the excellent Cleveland Ironstone Museum at the head of the village, but precious little else to cater for the legion of dog walkers exploring the seashore.
Yet maybe that is a good thing– the place is serene and convivial in a “we used to be busy” kind of a way.
I started this four to five-miler from Brotton, hopping off the bus at the Green Tree pub and heading downhill on the A174.
Turn left halfway down on a path marked Cattersty Gill and Nature Reserve.
Leave the litter-strewn woods behind and follow the wide track passing Gripps Farm on your right, then underpass the freight railway which serves the Steelworks at Skinningrove and the Boulby Potash mine.
Away to your left is the expansive Hunley Hall Golf Club, which was of course once farmland. Given
that global warming will soon turn much of Kent into desert and the small matter of finding a way to
prevent a rapidly increasing world population from starving to death, I got to wondering how long we can really afford to stop growing food, in favour of providing playgrounds for people to spear a little ball into prickly bushes for three hours, before going back to work to take it out on one of the interns.
Similarly, with gallons of Pinot Grigio being slurped in the clubhouse, is it right that great swathes of Europe and elsewhere are covered in grape vines rather than wheat?
But then I got to thinking about hops, malting barley and other beery ingredients and the moment soon passed.
The track curves right, then takes a sharp left in a little avenue of bushes and soon approaches the sea.
Go left through a gate, then right along the fence to turn right again on the Cleveland Way footpath on the cliff top.
At an information board which explains much of the history of the local area, the path drops steeply down flights of steps to the beach.
My walking poles were instrumental in getting my arthritic knees from top to bottom, but they have an interesting effect on passers-by, perhaps also due to me stopping to growl from time to time.
“Are you alright, mate?” is caring and understandable, but “Are you lost?” as if I’ve just escaped from a care home, is not likely to encourage a warm and lasting friendship.
Go through a gap in the Marram grass and take in this beautiful beach that you didn’t know existed.
It’s quiet and it’s genuinely lovely. Pass by the head of the jetty (built to serve the 19th Century iron trade) and, after passing some rather cute art installations celebrating the history of Skinningrove, head to the foot of the cliffs opposite, via a bridge over Kilton Beck.
Another information board Valley of Iron will tell you more about this former fishing village that was transformed by Iron, but almost died because there was nothing else when the industry moved on.
There is still a major steel employer on the west cliff top at Carlin How, but for years the most memorable legacy was the rust red Kilton Beck that blighted the town and the beach.
Ochre, overflowing from abandoned iron mines, devastated the beck and killed wildlife and was just a tad gruesome. Some years ago though, filtration processes and storage and settlement ponds were constructed and Kilton Beck is all neat and pretty once again.
Climb steeply up the steps next to the little road, pausing for breath at the top to take in the spectacular views back up the coast.
A mile further along the picturesque cliff top path, turn right at a signpost indicating Loftus.
This soon meets a metalled road at Hummersea Farm, in turn heading west for a mile to the centre of the town and the bus home.
In Loftus, I happily bumped in to one Clothylde Vergnes, a local artist with an unlocal name (guess what – she’s French!)
Her work, mainly in local landscapes in her unique and inimitable style, is beyond stunning.
Google her name, or pop in to Wold Pottery on Loftus High Street and prepare to be amazed.