Staithes - the hidden gem on the Yorkshire coast
PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 July 2018
Credit: ian woolcock / Alamy Stock Photo
Unlike some places on the Yorkshire coast, idyllic Staithes retains an air of unspoilt mystery, says Tony Greenway
I don’t know why it’s so surprising to find an American working in an olde worlde sweet shop in Staithes. But it is. Even more surprising is that Jon Kilpatrick, who originally comes from Minnesota, USA, didn’t know much about this lovely North Yorkshire seaside village until he moved here 18 months ago. Jon’s wife, Jane, was born and raised in Staithes (‘as was her mum and her mum’s mum,’ he says) but when she first showed him a picture of its higgledy-piggledy, picturesque streets and snickets, he thought it was, to borrow a phrase, fake news. ‘I said to her “Come on! That’s NOT a real place! That’s a movie set”’ he remembers.
As Jon later discovered, Staithes is real all right. I can vouch for its authenticity, too. I’ve just walked down the ridiculously steep hill into the old village (visitors have to park their cars at the top) and my legs are screaming at me. Goodness knows what they’ll be like on the climb back up. Still, having to stop every now and then to catch your breath gives you more time to admire that spectacular sea view and those incredible, rugged, soaring cliffs.
Jon works at Betsy & Bo, one of the first shops you come to at the foot of the hill, which, for years, was Staithes’ general store. Jon and Jane also run the Roraima B&B at the top end of the village; a house built in the 1890s by the local sea captain John Trattles, and named after his steamship, the SS Roraima.
One thing’s for sure: Staithes is no Minneapolis. After living in the American Midwest for so long, moving to the Yorkshire coast must have been a massive culture shock for Jon. ‘Well, I hesitate to use the word shock,” he says. ‘It is drastically different but it’s a difference that I love. I like the sense of knowing people and I like walking around the shops. I love the pace of life here.’ The only thing Jon has trouble with, he admits, are the local accents which can sometimes be on the impenetrable side. I’m not from around these parts, either, so I sympathise with that.
The owner of Betsy & Bo is south Londoner Luke Wooster, who named the shop after his two children. Staithes is a seasonal place, says Luke but he knows it well after having spent many holidays here. He now lives in the village with his family and wanted to create the kind of shop you wouldn’t ordinarily expect to find in this kind of seaside location.
He’s certainly done that. At the back are a general store and deli, selling everything from cheeses and charcuterie to sourdough and gin, all from local producers where possible; plus a small room that Luke plans to renovate and turn into a dining area. Upstairs, Luke’s team tempers artisan chocolate on a massive marble table and then sell it in the sweet shop below. Back in the sweet shop, with its myriad jars full of colourful candies, I buy a quarter of strawberry sherbets, taste-test a handmade salted caramel chocolate and wonder why I don’t come to Staithes more often.
My last visit was about 10 years ago. It’s so charmingly pretty that I haven’t a clue why it’s taken me so long time to return but David Linley, who runs The Endeavour B&B in the old village, thinks it’s surprising I’ve been at all. ‘When I first came here five years ago, eight out of 10 of my guests had never been to Staithes,’ he says. These days that figure has fallen, but not by much. ‘Now it’s around seven out of 10 guests. People tell me they’ve heard of Staithes but a good percentage of them have never been.’ Why? That’s more of a mystery. Perhaps Whitby is the end of the earth for some folk, reasons David.
Maybe if the world famous Staithes Group of artists had remained in the area, the village might have become touristier, like some parts of Cornwall are today. The artists worked in the village in the late 1800s and very early 1900s. The group’s most famous member, Dame Laura Knight, co-founded the Staithes Art Club but went to Cornwall in 1907 with her husband, Harold. ‘There they discovered the same type of fishing villages and the same kind of light and never came back,’ says David. ‘Had they remained, Staithes might be more of a Whitby or a Robin Hood’s Bay.’ Even so, the village still keeps its connection with art and artists, thanks to its collection of galleries, plus its Festival of Arts and Heritage, held every September. The Staithes Gallery holds regular residential painting weekends and artist Paul Czainski, who has property in Staithes and whose celebrity clients include Roman Abramovich and Mick Jagger, has created an ‘Illusion Trail’ of trompe l’oeil paintings around the village.
Staithes’ relative obscurity means it has stayed unspoilt. That gives it a real, solid community feel. Gratifyingly, there are more boats in the harbour now than there were five years ago. Visitors can go out on small fishing crafts with local guides or take wildlife tours, including whale-watching trips, before a meal at one of Staithes’ pubs.
They can also visit the Captain Cook and Staithes Heritage Centre — a particularly apt thing to do this month with The Captain Cook Festival taking place along the coast in Whitby (July 6th-8th). As a teenager, Cook worked at a grocer’s in Staithes, and the venue includes a life-size street scene of his time in the village. ‘We’ve managed to convince one of the tall ships going to Whitby to moor off Staithes on the Thursday night prior to the festival,’ says David.
Clearly, Staithes gets under your skin. From his desk, David can look out of his window and, through a small ginnel, see a sliver of sea. He loves that view, restricted though it is, and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. ‘As you come over the hill and see the sea, the whole of your inside lifts up,’ he says. ‘The coast has a magical effect.’ u