Robin Hood’s Bay and the Old Coastguard Station

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ACCESS to Robin Hood’s Bay is along A171 Scarborough to Whitby road, turning off as signed to Fylingthorpe 1.5 miles and Robin Hoods Bay two miles. From Fylingthorpe, park near St Oswald’s Church and follow the maps route along Thorpe Lane, to turn first right along Laburnum Avenue to meet Bay Bank dropping down to the sea. Two alternative routes are found from The Victoria Hotel.

Robin Hood’s Bay is one of the most charming places on our Yorkshire coast, being built almost vertically on a steep and lofty cliff-side. From the top of Bay Bank you gaze over a jumble of russet-red roofs and tall chimneys.

Descending, you’ll find the main street twists and turns precipitously between quaint old cottages and gift shops. Fascinating ginnels, flights of steps and mysterious alleyways and yards lend an infectious charm that calls you back again and again. All too soon the main street terminates almost on the shore, with the Old Coastguard Station close by to your right. [If your feet get wet - you’ve just passed it!]

Pause on the dock, and from the cobbled slipway ponder exploring the rocks at low tide to seek treasures in the entrancing rock pools. Hunt spiny sea urchins among the leathery golden fronds of oar weed. See the limpets and encrusting barnacles that speckle the rocks in thousands.

These are rivalled by periwinkles and dog whelks. Deep pools are home to jelly-like blobs of sea anemones, and slippery butterfish. Hiding beneath rocks are crabs lurking in crevices and glowing starfish of purple-red and yellow-orange. They cling on by hundreds of tiny tube feet.

The cliffs are said to be rich in fossils. A search usually reveals a coiled ammonite, and even - with luck a prehistoric monster!

However, as you enter the coastguard station, which was officially opened by Bill Oddie several years ago, you’ll marvel at its history and recent renovation.

For many years Bay Town as it became known, reaped a considerable harvest from fishing, hosting a fleet of over 170 sailing ships owned by local families.

As well as fishing, smuggling went on and most of the houses had false cupboards and handy gaps in the walls. It’s said that an item of contraband could enter a house at the foot of the Bay and reach the top, passing through many houses without ever seeing daylight!

The Coastguard Station encompasses 200 years of history.

During the early 19th century it was used primarily for the sighting of ships in distress and also to prevent smuggling. The Prince Regent first formed the coastguard service in 1822 when its members were often tough ex-naval men loyal to the authorities, but bribery was not unknown. Half the spirits that were consumed in this country at that time, entered without payment of duty. Smugglers were numerous, and most of the locals were in league with them.

It wasn’t until 1856 that coastguards were made responsible for defending our shores. Many coastguards served in the First World War and were lost in the sinking of warships. Their keen observations and recordings often prevented what might have proved a major disaster.

The year 1972 marked the 150th anniversary of the coastguard station, but by 1920 it had become the property of Leeds University as a Marine Laboratory. For many years the Marine Research Laboratory was down on the quayside here. Myself and fellow students devoted happy hours discovering the mysteries of life in the rock pools during 1957. Evenings were spent mounting a identifying delicate specimens of seaweed.

Though this building caused much controversy when it was erected on the site of the old coastguard cottages, I was sorry to learn of its closure, but university economics were responsible for the loss.

To conform to the local style it had a pantile roof, dormer windows and a dummy chimney to improve its appearance. The sea swirled against the walls and during gales at high tide, spray lashed against the windows.

As we entered the new concept of conservation, we marvelled at the reconstruction of the laboratory which existed until 1970. Taken over by the National Trust in 1998, the new-look coastguard station had a modern air of colour and light. The ground floor had walls reflecting the blue sea and symbolic orange of the sands. Wonderful displays related to the history, people, ecology, geology and interesting bird-life of Robin Hood’s Bay. One could gaze out to sea through a telescope or binoculars much as a coastguard would have done. There was the opportunity of peering into an aquarium of marine life using a periscope to view under-water creatures.

Hands on experiences created waves, or one estimated wind-force and travelled through 50 million years to see how the cliffs had eroded during the passage of time.

There were shells and fossils, and casts of dinosaurs’ footprints, green, red and yellow-brown algae related to zones on the seashore.

We mounted stairs to a floor display depicting the compass points, and another flight of stairs to the attic. There we emerged in a delightful flat with a real marine flavour. Just the spot for a holiday away from it all. It could be booked for a couple, and every booking helped finance the concern.

The theme behind the Coastguard Station’s Information Centre seemed to be:- “Look out, look into, and then look after our wonderful heritage”.

With the re-opening of this centre in February 2011, do go along and see what further changes have taken place this winter.

Opening times as displayed outside Coastguard Station)

February 1-14, weekends only, 10am to 4pm

February 15-21, daily from 10am to 4pm

February 22 to March 28, weekends only 10am to 4pm

March 29 to July 25, Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm

July 26 to September 5, open daily, 10am to 5pm

For more details please ring 01947 885900