Yorkshire coastal walk - Staithes to Port Mulgrave

PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 August 2019

Staithes is the starting point for Charlottes appy walk  (c) Tony Bartholomew  /  Turnstone Media

Staithes is the starting point for Charlottes appy walk (c) Tony Bartholomew / Turnstone Media

© Tony Bartholomew / Turnstone Media

Charlotte Oliver enjoys a coastal walk from Staithes to Port Mulgrave and gets a helping hand from some so-knowledgeable apps

Charlotte Oliver identifies plants using different phone apps on a walk around woodland and on the coast at Staithes. (c) Tony BartholomewCharlotte Oliver identifies plants using different phone apps on a walk around woodland and on the coast at Staithes. (c) Tony Bartholomew

Most of us know that we should be spending less time staring at screens, and more time in the fresh air among nature.

But can technology actually enhance our enjoyment and understanding of the great outdoors? As somebody with infinitely more enthusiasm than skill when it comes to identifying flora and fauna, I was delighted to learn that smartphone apps are available to do precisely this.

And so, I chose to head for the Yorkshire coast to see what I could learn. With the help of the Ordinance Survey Maps app, I found a circular walk around Staithes and Port Mulgrave that takes in both coastline and woodland.

You can spot many species of birds on the Yorkshire coast (c) Tony BartholomewYou can spot many species of birds on the Yorkshire coast (c) Tony Bartholomew

1. Setting off from the car park by the Outdoor Centre in Staithes, I strode down into the picturesque fishing village, with its sash-windowed stone cottages bright with buoys and boat-shaped planters. No app was needed to recognise the seagulls perching along roof ridges. However, the BirdGuidePro app helpfully informed me that their common name is actually the herring gull; they are typically 60cm long, have a wingspan of 144cm and live for about 12 years.

2. At the Cod & Lobster pub, I turned on to Church Street and walked the steep uphill climb to join the Cleveland Way. My legwork was amply rewarded at the top by breath-taking views of the coast and countryside.

3. Continuing along to Port Mulgrave, the path drifts dramatically close to the edge of the cliff top, and it was here that I noticed a flurry of birdlife halfway down the layered cliff face. With no idea about what kind of bird I was watching, I opted for BirdGuidePro's deduction method of identification. By answering a series of questions about appearance and location, the app told me that this was a colony of razorbills, with their busy flapping and strangely curved appearance. I also learned that they use their wings to propel themselves through water in the hunt for fish. Walking on through grassland, I was thrilled to make out a large fairy ring of toadstools. After another round of simple questions, the FungusGuideUK app worked out that this was made up of tawny grisettes, a common British fungus. The questions forced me to observe even the tiniest of details, which I'm quite sure I would normally have overlooked. What the app doesn't mention though, is how magical it is, even as an adult, to see a perfect circle of them growing quietly together!

4. From Port Mulgrave, the route crosses the main road and drops down into woodland. After the noise of the traffic, all seemed very quiet until my ears gradually tuned into the wonderfully sweet sound of birdsong. But what could I hear? The ChirpOMatic app is effortless to use, allowing you to directly record a short burst of song which is quickly analysed before revealing the identity of the singer. Using this, I discovered my serenade was being created by many different species including a song thrush, a chaffinch, a yellowhammer and, somewhat less tunefully, a pheasant (whose song is accurately described by the app as 'kurruk'). Flashes of glowing purple in the undergrowth reminded me that I had yet to try the WildflowerID app. Following the now familiar pattern of questions, this time about petals, leaves and colour, I discovered that my walk was lined with meadow crane's-bill. A beautiful floral version of a poached egg turned out to be a dog rose, and I finally learned that a red campion is, in fact, a very pretty shade of pink. The Woodland Trust's Tree Identification app was next up, and I worked through the different questions to spot an alder from its leaves, bark and fruit. Again, the joy of this was that I looked far more carefully at a tree than I have ever done, and appreciated incredible details.

5. Leaving the wood, I turned right up the hill towards the main road and then left, down the steep hill towards Staithes once more. By this time I was very ready for a little refreshment, so I opened up the ClosestCup app and found that I was within a pebble's throw of the delightful Dotty's Tearooms. This is a joyful café where Earl Grey tea comes in beautiful vintage china teapots and cheese scones are the size of herring gulls. As I watched the world go by I realised that, despite having my mobile to hand throughout the walk, I hadn't once thought of checking emails or messages. I had been utterly absorbed by the natural world and had learned lots of things along the way. So, next time I head out for a walk in the wilds, I certainly won't be leaving my screen behind, and I would heartily recommend you to do the same! u

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