Scenic stroll by the Esk

A view down the River Esk from the iron girder bridge in Ruswarp.
A view down the River Esk from the iron girder bridge in Ruswarp.

The River Esk rises in the Cleveland Hills, flows down to the North Sea, and is well known to all as it enters Whitby’s harbour. This lovely short walk reveals an amazing construction that must have resulted in a dramatic change to the lives of Whitby residents.

It was the construction of the Esk viaduct that began on October 17, 1882. It was to carry the Scarborough to Whitby railway line over the River Esk. This project took just two years to complete. The first locomotive crossed it on October 24, 1884.

Observe a field of buttercups a blaze of gold

Choose a clear, dry day and head off to Ruswarp, regarded as a suburb of Whitby. It’s a pretty village on the lower banks of the River Esk. A beautiful stretch of scenery awaits you.

Start from Ruswarp’s prominent Church of St Bartholomew, with parking facilities below, near the public conveniences. The church first opened in 1869, but was unfortunately closed when we visited.

Walk down to the road junction, and below the bus shelter and telephone kiosk, seek Brother William on the green and flowerbed. This handsome sculpture was hand-crafted from oak by Tommy Craggs. It was donated by Whitby in Bloom.

“A corn mill has stood on the bank of the River Esk at Ruswarp since medieval times. The mill was owned and operated by the monks of Whitby Abbey. One of the millers was Brother William, and he’s depicted in the carving, walking to his work along the Monks Trod.”

Follow the main road to the road-bridge, passing Ruswarp’s C of E Primary School. Then opposite the Bridge Inn is the old school house near the station.

The railway station was built around 1850 in Tudor style, and is now converted to a private house. It remains of importance for its history and architecture. Cross the railway line and iron girder bridge which carves the road over the River Esk. Turn left immediately.

Continue along Larpool Lane with glimpses of the tidal river. Cross the little road-bridge spanning the beck. Any trout?

Immediately beyond is Cock Mill – a listed building. Watch out for grey squirrels here. Ascending the steep, winding lane you pass Squirrels’ Acres – a well-named residence.

Watch out for traffic on the bends during busy holiday time! Crowning the hilltop is Glenfield, built in 1998, and Crowdy Hall commanding extensive views.

Just ahead is a road-bridge where you leave Larpool Lane to ascend steps to the left up the embankment, and access the dis-used railway track and restored viaduct to the left. Halt here to read details regarding the viaduct’s remarkable feat of engineering:

“It was designed by CA Rowlandson of the firm Charles Fox and Sons. Sited 125ft above the riverbed, the scenery either side is amazing. Herons may be on the mud bank stalking prey.

The length is 915ft with a slight curve at the far end onto a cinder track. The weight is estimated to be about 25,700 tons, being constructed with around five million bricks. It’s supported by 12 piers. The 13 arches each have an average span of 60ft. The largest span over the centre of the river is 64ft. Where the river is tidal, three piers have been built ‘askew’ so they do not deflect the course of the river at that point. Cost? In 1884 it cost about £40,000. Beeching’s axe fell in the 1960s. This viaduct and the railway fell into disuse and deteriorated. It now provides ideal walking or cycling pursuits in all weathers. There are elevated viewpoints beyond the parapet!”

Walk the length of the viaduct and continue along the cinder track. You soon pass beneath a red-bricked bridge. Beyond, pass under a road-bridge and keep to the cinder track to pass Whitby’s Community College off left. Don’t deviate, but seek steep descending steps with metal rails to your right. Here is your exit from the track into Southend Gardens (just a road – no gardens!). Here turn right away from the ‘tunnel’. This leads to the A171 and A169 Pickering road. Turn right up the roadside verge footpath as far as the traffic lights and crossroads. Veer right with the footpath to take the pedestrian crossing, and veering briefly right you’ll find a signed public footpath to Ruswarp – one mile.

Follow the flagged footpath between fencing and walling. Enter the kissing gate to your right. More pavers follow, and you leave by another kissing gate and go left as arrowed.

Allotments feature to your left, and then a buttercup meadow to your right.

A short descent, as the path veers right to the ‘site’ of a seat at the junction of pathways. The seat has gone, alas. The three-finger post indicates routes, so take the one to Ruswarp. With rails to the left, descend the footpath straight ahead, down a few steps and along paving between scrubland and a water meadow. Stop to admire a fine view to the viaduct, and a ‘new’, solitary home to your left.

Enter a kissing gate, and with a field of buttercups a blaze of gold to your right, observe the railway line almost parallel to your route, just to the left. The steam train to Grosmont went by as we watched.

Walking and entrances to private gardens guide you to Ruswarp Lane. Entering this lane, to your immediate right is the Old Hall. Erected during the reign of King James I (1603-1625) by Nicholas Beeshell, it’s the oldest residence in Ruswarp. Nicholas Beeshell was a wealthy merchant and ship owner. You may choose to dine at the Old Hall Hotel.

Your return is to your left by AP Jackson Butcher, and the Old Post Office. Cottages either side the road lead to St Bartholomew’s Church.

Distance: Approximately 3.5-4 miles. Allow two hours leisurely walking.

Note: There are some steep sections en route but easy walking.

Refreshment: The Bridge Inn, near Ruswarp’s railway station underfoot; the Old Hall Hotel, Ruswarp. I suggest a picnic en route!