Village that never was

The Alum Mine site at Ravenscar
The Alum Mine site at Ravenscar

by Maureen Robinson

Ravenscar is the village that never was, and like any ghost town there are relics of a community that never actually existed! Such relics are preserved in the railway station, the road network, and empty plots of land. Smugglers sought the shelter provided by the cliffs, with many tunnels remaining hidden even to this day.

Sited midway between Scarborough and Whitby, the tiny community is perched on a great headland south of Robin Hood’s Bay. The views are quite breath-taking! Photographers and artists seek inspiration here.

To access Ravenscar, take the A171 Whitby road as far as Cloughton village, then for a pleasanter drive than the main road, fork right to pass Cober Hill. Passing through Staintondale you reach the disused Beacon Windmill at a road junction. There, turn right as signed to Ravenscar. Ravenhall Road leads directly to the gates of the Raven Hall Hotel. Park as most convenient alongside Ravenhall Road.

Start. Walk towards the hotel, and maybe decide to have morning coffee there before commencing exploration. One couldn’t wish for more picturesque surroundings overlooking Robin Hood’s Bay. Raven Hall has 100 acres of award-winning grounds and battlements, and a variety of sports to enjoy from golf to bowls should you need to burn off excess energy! When the Hall was built in 1774 it was simply Raven Hall. King George III came here to recuperate from his bouts of melancholia and madness.

The Romans built a signal station here. Its foundations, and an inscribed stone were unearthed when Raven Hall’s own foundations were being laid. It would be used to relay warnings of Anglo-Saxon invaders to military bases.

Next, as you face the hotel gates turn left to the National Trust Coastal Centre, to acquaint yourself with its environs. Informative leaflets and displays illustrate Ravenscar’s features.

The Scarborough to Whitby railway seen nearby, had its line closed in 1965 and is now a public walkway. It forms part of the national cycle network and the moor to sea cycle route linking Scarborough, Pickering and Whitby.

Notice the Ravenscar brick, with the name ‘Ravenscar’ cast in each brick produced at the works. You’ll be surprised to discover which buildings in Scarborough were constructed of such bricks.

Marvel at the story of ‘alum’ and the part played by seaweed and public urine collected for the process! Alum crystals acted as a mordant and made dyes stick to fabric.

You’ll be amazed at the cannon which played an important part in the alum industry. Such cannons were used to defend the alum trade. The one displayed was found at the Peak Alum Works. It was presented to the National Trust in memory of the late Eric and Annie Harrison. They were the former owners of Low Peak Farm, the site of the Peak Alum Works.

Leaving the National Trust Centre, mount a few steps and turn right heading northwards. Where the rough track begins, seek any old ‘Ravenscar’ bricks and if you fork left you can follow the cinder rail-track for as far as you wish, and then return along your outgoing route, or along the Cleveland Way to admire the rugged coastline and prominent siting of the Raven Hall Hotel. The Cleveland Way hugs the perimeter of meadows, and eventually a sign indicates that Robin Hood’s Bay is 2.5 miles behind you, and Ravenscar one mile ahead. However, you may wish to make a short deviation left to Peak Alum Works.

The National Trust revealed remains of alum workings near the cliff edge at Low Peak Farm. At the time, we viewed remains of huge grinding stones, warehouses, chimney, culverts, lime kilns and winding gear, and much much more. All the spoil heaps you have observed are from the alum quarries. Peak Alum Quarry and Brow Alum Quarry are dis-used, but the spoil heaps of shale had a distinct odour. They are now becoming colonised by heather etc.

If you wish to see the old railway station, leaving Raven Hall Hotel, this time turn left along Station Road. You may see remnants of old forsaken boundaries of properties and lanes etc which never developed.

You’ll love exploring the old railway station which has been restored, and I’m sure you’ll be longing for a snack at the little cafe nearby.

Then, if there’s a good low tide, do take a look at the beach. Apparently there’s a fault-line running from Boulby to Scarborough along the coast. This is most clearly seen at Ravenscar. At low tide one may see the rocky shoreline as a series of concentric curves.

They are formed from alternating layers of hard and soft rock. These have been eroded by waves over millions of years.

Having engaged an exciting day out, either return along your outward going route, or take a side lane from Ravenscar to deviate via Rudda Farm over Staintondale Moor to the Falcon Inn. Turning left along the A171 returns you to Scarborough.

Total distance by private transport 18 miles approximately.

Refreshment: Raven Hall Hotel and Ravenscar Station.