On the smugglers’ trail

WINTER GLOW: Looking from Coble Landing to a sunlit Filey Brigg.
WINTER GLOW: Looking from Coble Landing to a sunlit Filey Brigg.

by Maureen Robinson

Scarborough has an abundance of attractions, now including the Maritime Heritage Centre on Eastborough, and a smugglers’ sculpture almost opposite on Merchant’s Row. Just at the back of Sandside stands the Three Mariners Inn, a former smuggling inn! For well over a century smuggling flourished. This week, our drive takes you to popular scenes of smuggling along the east coast.

Leaving Scarborough by the A165 to Bridlington, you shortly reach a roundabout near Cayton Bay. Cayton Sands provide a delightful beach and water-skiing, as well as being the scene of many a landing of smuggled goods.

Two miles later, take the A1039 to follow directions to Filey and the sea-front, with a great sweep of coast some six miles in length.

At the north end, near the lifeboat station is Coble Landing. In Tudor times it’s said Filey had three pirates and Bridlington seven, whilst Scarborough boasted 22! In Yorkshire, between 1700-1850, smuggling constituted part of everyday life. Contraband was often transferred from ‘luggers’ into sturdy flat-bottomed fishing vessels called ‘cobles’ – hence the name Coble Landing at Filey.

Re-joining the A165 you may seek a left turning to Hunmanby Gap (three quarters of a mile) which was a well-known landing place for smuggled goods.

Beyond Reighton, from road junctions at the roundabout, take the B1229 towards Flamborough, maybe deviating into Speeton off left, to view the small farming community which seems to have blissfully escaped the passage of time. Following Main Street towards the beach and cliffs, one is captivated by the ‘mere’. Wandering down the gravelled path towards the car park and church, one ponders the scene of by-gone days. The lovely isolated St Leonard’s Church, built in Saxon times, is said to be one of the smallest in the country. It was once a secret hide-out for smuggled goods brought from the shore along donkey tracks up the cliff. You can if you wish follow the footpath over meadows and stiles to the edge of the cliff to capture the atmosphere. Spectacular views are revealed across Reighton Sands, and the sweeping bay to Filey Brigg.

Next, returning to the B1229 your route continues via Buckton and Bempton villages, with the option of deviating left from Bempton a the White Horse, to view the RSPB Reserve. This is well worth a visit, attracting thousands of birds during the nesting season as well as thousands of enthusiastic ornithologists. Much quieter during the winter season but always bright and breezy!

Continue towards Flamborough, turning left on the B1229 as signed 2.5 miles. Beyond the 30mph limit, go left along Carter Lane and from the road junctions and war memorial turn left again to follow Woodcock Road.

[The striking Viking Hotel and Thornwick Bay Cafe, provide a lane to Thornwick Bay, but sadly the parking area is cordoned off now.] So – ignore this, and keep directly ahead to North Landing. Here, the cliffs have all the attributes of perfect smuggling coves and firm sandy shores. These are surrounded and protected by chalk headlands, providing numerous natural caves. Many have reputations of their use in smuggling days, and it’s a sheer delight to explore them with care.

You must visit North Landing for some impressive scenery and two or three cobles drawn up along the beach. If you like walking, from the car park either take the left footpath along the cliff-top towards Thornwick Bay (2.5 miles) or go right to enjoy the bracing scenic route to the lighthouse on the headland (1.75 miles).

Where a row of cliff-top seats feature, do read the information board regarding fishing - cobles, crabs and lobsters etc. The Carvel Bar is open in season.

Leaving North Landing, return along your outward route to the war memorial in Flamborough village, and this time proceed along Tower Street and then Lighthouse Road for further exploration.

Flamborough Head towers 400ft above the North Sea. There are two lighthouses - the old chalk tower built 1669 viewed to your left, and the current one built in 1806 which have helped many a vessel through stormy weather. Lighthouse towers, including a visit to the lamp room at the top, provide spectacular views when operating during the summer season.

Now it’s time to visit South Landing, so it’s back along Lighthouse Road, but only as far as the crossroads. Don’t miss the turning left along South Sea Road as signed to South Landing.

A very pleasant lane leads to a treat for wildlife fans. There you’ll find a new marine education centre said to be the first of its kind for the Yorkshire coast.

The Living Seas Centre occupies the site of the former Boathouse Cafe, destroyed by a fire in 2009. An extensive re-development was completed early in 2013. Recreational and educational events take place in season to raise awareness of local wildlife.

The Living Seas Centre is highlighted by artistic decorations of marine life and crab pots etc displayed on the white walling.

From the car park you can descend the lane on foot to South Landing and its lifeboat station, or discover a delightful sculpture trail depicting Flamborough’s heritage, which is below the car park. It’s only about a mile in length, and is most interesting and revealing.

Our drive returns to Scarborough from here, but the smuggling coast continues! A broad beach of pebbles and chalk extends to Bridlington, with its harbour nestling in the lee of Flamborough Head. Bridlington Bay was well-used by smuggling vessels. There’s a fine broad beach just north of the town ideal for landing goods. Sewerby too was a busy market town offering outlets for the smuggled goods. You may wish to extend your route in that direction, or savour those delights for later in the season!

Distance: 40 miles to North Landing return (excluding deviations).