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Fabulous views and a unique industrial heritage.
Minimum time 2h00
Distance 11.25 miles (18.1km)
Suggested map OS Explorer OL27 North York Moors - Eastern
Start/finish roadside parking on way into Ravenscar; grid ref: NZ 980015
Trails/tracks almost entirely on well-surfaced old railway track; short street sections at Ravenscar and Robin Hood's Bay
Landscape steep cliffs and coastal slopes, woodland and farmland, sea views
Public toilets at start
Tourist information Whitby, tel 01947 602674
Bike hire Trailways, Hawsker (about 3 miles from Robin Hood's Bay, on the railway route), tel 01947 820207
Recommended pub The Laurel Inn, Robin Hood's Bay
Notes Busy roads and car park in Robin Hood's Bay village (possible to turn round before this)Write a review of this bike ride
© Automobile Association 2008. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
1 Descend the road until it bends sharply right. Turn left, past the National Trust Coastal Centre, on to an obvious descending concrete track. A rougher section needs care, but lasts less than 100yds (91m). Swing left through a gate on to the old railway trackbed and a much easier surface.
2 The track now runs below the scarred face of the alum workings, with some ups and downs that clearly don't match the original rail contours exactly. After this, take care crossing a steep concrete track that runs down to a farm.
3 Pass under an arched bridge. Note more quarried cliffs up on the left, while looking down to the right - if the tide is not too high - there are extensive rocky platforms in the bay, with conspicuous parallel strata. There's a short cutting and the sea views are blocked by tall gorse and broom, then it becomes more open again as the track swings gradually inland. A tall embankment crosses a steep wooded valley. Go under a bridge and make a sharp left turn on to a lane.
4 Go up 20yds (18m) and then sharp right to the continuation of the track. Keep right at a fork and the track resumes its steady gentle descent, then starts to turn uphill for the first time. As you come into the open after a tunnel of trees, the direct way ahead is again blocked (unless you're Evel Knievel!). Slant down left, cross a lane, and then climb back up on to the continuing trackbed.
5 Pass a cricket ground, the back of a caravan site, then a farm. Cross the rough farm track and keep straight on, through a gate where the surface changes to tarmac, on the outskirts of Robin Hood's Bay. Go through another gate and drop down to a road. Turn right down this for 100yds (91m) then left on a lane signposted to Station Workshops. At the top of the rise is the old station building and just beyond it a large car park. (It is, of course, possible to descend the road all the way into the village of Robin Hood's Bay, but it's a very steep climb back. An alternative is to lock the bikes at the car park and go down on foot.)
6 Continue alongside the car park, drop down to a road, turn left and almost instantly right (very nearly straight across) on to Mount Pleasant. Follow this to its end then bear left up a short gravelled ride to regain the railway path. Continue for about 0.5 mile (800m). There are good views back now over Robin Hood's Bay to the cliffs near Ravenscar. Look for a National Trust sign for Ness Bay. There is open access on foot so you could leave the bikes and walk down to the headland, a great picnic spot. This makes as good a turn-round point as any, though the track continues into Hawsker and on to Whitby.
Just after the start of the railway track proper, you pass through an area of partly overgrown spoil heaps with quarried faces above. For around two centuries, up to the Victorian era, this was an internationally important source of alum (potassium aluminium sulphate). This chemical, known since at least Roman times, had many uses, notably in the fixing of dyes. The shale rock in the cliffs was rich in aluminium sulphate and it is reckoned that over a million tons of rock were removed. The manufacturing process was centred on the alum works. The best source of potassium was seaweed; however, to complete the reaction, ammonia was required, and the best source of this was human urine! Much of this was shipped all the way from London and off-loaded on the rocky shores directly below - a trade with some unique hazards. It is said that proud sea-captains were reluctant to admit that they carried this undignified cargo, but if they were found out the cry would go up, 'You're taking the piss!' It's as good an explanation as any for the origins of the phrase. You can find out more about the alum industry at the Coastal Centre in Ravenscar.
The former railway line between Whitby and Scarborough can now be followed, in its entirety, on two wheels. The full distance is 20 miles (32.2km) one way, so this ride picks out probably the finest section, looping around Robin Hood's Bay. It is a little confusing that the name of the bay and the much-photographed village are exactly the same, but the ride gives great views of the former and a chance to visit the latter.