I can think of no walk more spectacular than the Cleveland Way from Ravenscar’s Raven Hall Hotel to Robin Hood’s Bay. This week, for those who wish to extend their walk, I suggest a stroll along the beach to meet some of the natural inhabitants of the seashore.
Approaching Robin Hood’s Bay, the receding tide exposes corrugated rocky ledges or scaurs. Aim for a good, low tide allowing ample time to explore the lower levels, before ascending to the upper zones.
Car drivers may prefer to drive directly to Robin Hood’s Bay and park in Station car park. Start from the monument at the top of Bay Bank, and descend steeply to the Lower Bay. Here’s a picturesque old fishing village on the Heritage Coast of the North York Moors. Wander the twisting, narrow cobbled streets and alleyways walked by sailors, fishermen and smugglers hundreds of years ago.
Reaching the dock, as the tide goes out you’ll see the rocks curving out to sea. These ‘scaurs’ are composed of Jurassic rock and many fossils are found. The rock pools provide great interest for all.
At the dock you must visit the Old Coastguard Station with its exciting displays. They will whet your appetite for more!
Take care not to slip on the green algae called ribbon weed as you stroll down to low tide levels. There you can gaze on a ‘forest’ of tangle weed, where stipes (or stalks) of oar-weed rise like serpents, then dip golden-brown leathery fronds into the water. Search the fronds, and you may find the small, translucent blue-rayed limpet clinging to the surface.
In summers past, I well recall the sea-urchin man with his stall of shells beside the slipway. Their globular, spiny forms reminded me of hedgehogs delicately tinted in shades of pink-purple. Such exploitation has contributed to their depletion over the years. Search at lowest spring tides and wade in gulleys, or peer beneath stones to glimpse their beauty. Some spines are modified for defence whilst others resemble tweezers. On the underside is the mouth, with five-pointed teeth tightly closed. These can browse green algae, and even bite off those white encrustaceans of acorn barnacles for food.
Periwinkles strew rocky ledges, and greyish white dog whelks cling to vertical surfaces. Beneath overhanging rocks are sponges. Crumbly patches of bread-crumb sponge of a mouldy yellow-green colour, resemble a flat pancake, or sad old sponge cake.
Sea creatures abound. The common starfish, like living stars cling to the ‘roof’ of their retreats, or wedge their contorted bodies into crevices.
The starfish is carnivorous and mussels are its favourite food – the two clamped shells being prised apart. It extrudes its own stomach through the centrally-placed mouth underside. This is inserted between the mussel shells and digestive juices secreted around the soft body. Fluid is sucked into its mouth, and waste products discarded from the dorsal disc via a tiny pore.
Brittle stars are related, but are so fragile that if handled roughly they break or split their central disc.
The sea anemones possibly fascinate me most. They resemble blobs of firm red jelly. As the tide comes in, or they’re submerged, their waving tentacles resemble flower petals. Poke one, and the tentacles withdraw into the central mouth cavity.
Beadlet anemones are the most common, clinging to rock crevices. Blue ‘beads’ or ‘warts’ encircle the base of tentacles. Insert a finger into the central mouth and feel them cling. Feed them with tiny scraps of fish or raw meat, and watch them push the food into the hollow body cavity. The tentacles are armed with stinging cells for paralysing their prey.
Peering beneath curtains of seaweed overhanging rock ledges, or large rocks, you may hear the grating of crabs’ claws.
Use a metal crab hook to draw the occupant from its niche. It may be an edible crab with pinkish-brown shell and huge black-tipped pincers.
Upper, exposed rocks at high tide level may be devoid of seaweed, but covered in acorn barnacles and limpets. They appear lifeless at low tide, yet as the tide returns, their greyish white shells, like ridged cones open and extend ‘legs’ like feathery tentacles. These fan the water at 120 times a minute to grasp micro-organisms from the sea.
Nearby will be the conical shells of limpets, like small stone tents or Chinese hats. These cling tightly onto rocks using a strong, rounded foot as a suction pad, providing resistance to rough wave action. Only a strong penknife, or oystercatcher’s beak may remove one.
At one end of the broad, muscular foot is the tiny head and mouth. It has a finely-toothed radula or tongue with which it’s able to rasp away seaweeds and spores growing on the rocks.
Follow the water’s edge for as far as you’re able, and marvel at the treasures of the sea.
Distance: Ravenscar to Robin Hood’s Bay almost four miles each way.
Robin Hood’s Bay car park and seashore stroll is one mile plus each way.
Refreshment: Inns, cafes and restaurants in Robin Hood’s Bay.