Why you should visit Robin Hood's Bay
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 June 2018
Think that there’s not much going on in Robin Hood’s Bay? Think again. It has a growing energy and a great community vibe, says Tony Greenway
If Robin Hood’s Bay didn’t already exist, Disney would have to invent it. Impossibly picturesque and madly idyllic, it looks and feels like a location from a Famous Five story: all twisty lanes and cobbled streets spilling down to the sea, sudden snickets and unexpected alleyways, pantiled rooftops and squawking gulls. I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t immediately fallen in love with the place and dreamt about buying a holiday cottage there. As soon as you leave, you start thinking about a time when you can go back.
It’s certainly given me a lot of happy memories: sitting on the tiny terrace of the Swell Cafe – now the Secret Seaview – sipping a coffee; digging around in the rock pools with my kids; having a pint at the Bay Hotel and eating fish and chips on a bench by the seawall. I’m even faintly nostalgic about that (rather dangerous) time when, after sitting on the beach for a while, I looked behind me to find that I’d been cut off by the tide and was now stranded on an island of sand surrounded by water. I had to take off my shoes and socks, roll up my chinos and wade back to cheers from locals.
Yep, I’ve soaked up the atmosphere (not to mention my trousers) many a time in Robin Hood’s Bay. What I’ve never done, though, is go to an event there. That’s because I’d always assumed that in a small village there wasn’t that much going on; which is where I was wrong.
Luke and Sam Pearson are the husband-and-wife owners of Tea, Toast and Post, a cafe that’s so called because it’s located in the old village Post Office. Since it opened in 2015, Tea, Toast and Post has developed a reputation as a terrific live music venue, putting on gigs by local musicians and cult artists. That includes acclaimed folk musician Eliza Carthy; guitarist Matt Deighton who’s played with Paul Weller and Oasis; US singer-songwriter Simone Felice, and Pete Williams from Dexys Midnight Runners.
You’re definitely not going to mistake Robin Hood’s Bay for York, Sheffield, Harrogate or Leeds. So how do the Pearsons do it? ‘We just ask,’ says Luke. ‘Shy boys don’t get sweeties. These people have become good friends of ours along the way because they really enjoy playing here.’
It’s apt that the Pearsons have settled in Robin Hood’s Bay because Whitby-born Luke has a family connection with the place. ‘My great uncle was a baker here and is buried in the churchyard,’ he says. ‘When I speak to people about him and his children, they say: “Oh yes: was that him!?” They all have memories.’ But they would: it’s a place where everyone knows everyone else.
Sarah Scott is another business owner with a plan to draw in people from the local community and beyond. She took over the Swell Cafe in 2017, changing its name to the Secret Seaview. Earlier this year she launched Comedy in the Dark in the converted Wesleyan Methodist Chapel above the cafe bar, where comedians told jokes to the audience with the lights switched off. It was so successful she held another comedy night in May called the Comedy Splashdown – this time with the lights on, but with comedians wielding water pistols to soak hecklers.
Both events were staged in collaboration with Landfall, the team behind the Deershed Festival near Thirsk. ‘The festival director of the Deershed has links to the Bay, so we wanted to stage something here that would work for the people of the village, help the local economy and highlight just how amazing Robin Hood’s Bay is,’ says Megan Evans, creative director of Landfall.
The chapel seats 160 people and has not been used for 10 years. But that’s changing. ‘It’s the best kept secret in Robin Hood’s Bay,’ says Sarah Scott. ‘Steve Huison, the actor from the Full Monty, is using it to perform a European cabaret in September. I’m using it for weddings, too, and trying to make people aware that there’s this fantastic, quirky venue here.’ Landfall is now looking to put on a weekend of events in various venues in the Bay, hopefully in the autumn.
This is not to say there wasn’t a strong community vibe in Robin Hood’s Bay before Luke, Sam and Sarah came along. The Robin Hood’s Bay Folk Club meets every Friday evening in the Ye Dolphin Inn; and Steve Phillips (from the Notting Hillbillies) and his band play regular sessions at the Grosvenor Hotel on Tuesdays (Luke Pearson sometimes joins them as guest vocalist; and there’s often live music on a Saturday, too). And, of course, there’s the Bay’s annual Victorian Weekend (December 7th-9th).
There are also things to do in connection with the Bay’s smuggling history. For example, Paul Johnston, the founder of Baytown Beers & Spirits, produces a range of locally produced drinks inspired by tales of 17th century smuggling, and has introduced tours which highlight secret hideaways and old smuggling families from the village. ‘I researched smuggling stories and ended up giving our beers names with a smuggling theme, such as Press Gang’s Arrival,’ he says. ‘Then I was asked to take people around the Bay, telling them the stories I’d discovered. It adds to people’s visit and gives them a backstory. It’s a bit of fun – but it works.’ Johnston has now introduced a new tour which reveals a 15-mile smugglers’ route across the North York Moors. Plus, Yorkshire Trails, in partnership with the North York Moors National Park, has launched a self-guided smuggling trail which is available to buy from outlets in the village and Whitby, as well as online.
For Johnston, Robin Hood’s Bay is, quite simply, the perfect location. ‘I like walking,’ he says. ‘After two minutes I’m out of my house and in the fields, or on the moors or cliffs. Also, the people here are very friendly – and it’s safe. It’s a superb rural environment with lovely views. And from a community perspective, there’s as much or as little as you want. If you’re interested in the theatre there’s the Baytown Players; there’s a bowls club, and groups that go out for trips to shows and theatres. You’ll never be lonely here if you don’t want to be.’