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The Fishing Port of Staithes

Free Photos, Staithes, North Yorkshire

Article By: Dave Roberts

First Published: May 2009. Updated: 10 August 2011.

Recommended by one of our forum members, I first visited Staithes back in May 2009 which is when all but the first of the images in this article were shot, my journey took me through Sandsend and Runswick Bay (picturesque villages which I called in to en route). As I neared Staithes I noticed a steep hill rising up away from the village towards Saltburn and figured it would be worth heading up the road first, to see if it provided an elevated view of the coast. Indeed it did, the pretty farm house with a storm gathering over the North Sea as a backdrop, a must do photo opportunity.

As I arrived in Staithes my photographic instinct was immediately aroused by the imposing high cliffs which I assume are the result of the river (beck) cutting its course to the North Sea. There are narrow alley ways, and typical fisherman's cottage style terraced houses lining the streets. These features along with the cobbled streets reminded me of Robin Hood's Bay, yet Staithes seems much more real, less polished, down to earth, or even working and the dull light of that cloudy day seeming to match the scenery.

Staithes was once a major local fishing port, like Robin Hood's Bay and many other fishing ports along the Yorkshire Coast, they now rely on tourism as the main income. Although the little fishing boats and lobster pots along the harbour, point to a continuing trade with the sea.

As I walked down and into the village, I passed by a little cottage with what looked like a headstone leaning against the front wall of the property. At first glance it just appeared strange and almost as though it had probably just been left there many years ago and nobody had bothered to move it. As I stood looking and pondering my thoughts an elderly gentlemen, who was either knowledgeable or a signed up member of the 'Staithes Rumour Service', informed me that is was a sign to smugglers of old, that the property was a safe house with a good hiding place inside. So I took a photo, I'll let you sit in judgement of if or not the smugglers of old story holds water, or if the local duty officer would also be aware of such a signal. But the chap was genuinely friendly and that's good enough for me.

There are several slipways around Staithes but the one that caught my eye was an old cobbled affair, leading directly into the Roxby Beck. The beck apparently fills with water at high tide and along it's length there are small fishing boats attached to their moorings by long, thick ropes. All adding to the quaintness of the place.

My last photo on this visit is looking over some lobster pots to the village, just out of view was a storm which was building up out at sea, it was just starting to hit the coast and I could feel the first specks of rain arriving amongst the landlubbers (me). Time to head for shelter, I took refuge in the life boat station just behind me, only just in time as in moments it was literally pouring with rain. I vowed to return as the high cliffs offered vantage points over the village which would likely offer some great photo opportunities. Now in August 2011 (over 2 years later) I returned and visited the cliffs overlooking the village, just in time to capture the first image on this page of the lights on in Staithes.

A big thank you goes out to Dave J Morgan for recommending this location in the forums.

From Wikipedia

Staithes is a seaside village in North Yorkshire, England. Roxby Beck (a small river) running through Staithes is the border between the Borough of Scarborough and neighbouring Redcar and Cleveland. Formerly one of the largest and most productive fishing centres in England by the North Sea, Staithes is now largely a tourist destination thanks to its picturesque appearance.

History of Staithes

At the turn of the 20th century, there were eighty full time fishing boats putting out from Staithes (or Steers as it is known by the locals); a hundred years later there is only one. Still a father and son fishing operation, three generations of the Hanson family currently work the lone full time fishing boat. There is a long tradition of using the coble (a traditional locally made fishing vessel) in Staithes.


Staithes is noted for its sheltered harbour, bounded by high cliffs and two long breakwaters. A mile to the north, Boulby Cliff is the highest cliff in England. For a brief period Boulby Cliff was mined for alum, a mineral used to improve the strength and permanency of colour when dying cloth. This mining was relatively short lived as a cheaper method was developed soon after the boom in alum mining. The ruined remnants of the mines can still be seen from the cliff top when walking the Cleveland Way between Staithes and Skinningrove.

Staithes has long been a destination for geologists researching the ancient Jurassic (Lias), often fossiliferous strata in the enormous cliffs surrounding the village. In the early nineties a rare fossil of a seagoing dinosaur was discovered after a rockfall in the cliffs between Staithes and Port Mulgrave to the south. This fossil has been the focus of an ongoing project to remove the ancient bones of the creature. Port Mulgrave remains one of the best places on the northern coast to find fossils of ammonites and many visitors spend hours cracking open the shaly rocks on the shoreline in the hope of finding a perfect specimen.

Besides its human residents, known to other nearby villages as "Ringers", it has a very large population of gulls and other seabirds nesting in the cliffs. Visitors frequently complain of being unable to sleep at night because of the cries of these birds.

The permanent population of the village has dwindled due to more than half of the cottages being owned by "outsiders", mostly from big cities such as Leeds and York and now increasingly further afield. During the winter, when there are fewer visitors, it can seem like a ghost town. This is a particularly nice time to visit if you are able to brave the stormy weather blowing in from the wild North Sea. Though less than half of the cottages in the old village are occupied by Ringers, the traditions of the village have not yet died: many of the local women still wear Staithes bonnets (some can still be bought today in the Gift Shop in Staithes!) for the annual nightgown parade, and the Staithes Fisher Men's Choir is still going strong. There is active local participation in the local RNLI Lifeboat crew, with the Porritt Family providing many of the past and present crew members.

Art in Staithes

The beauty of the village has always lent itself to art as shown by the village's long history of well acknowledged painters. The village was home to a small group of twenty to thirty artists known as the "Staithes Group" or the "Northern Impressionists". The group contained renowned artists such as Edward E. Anderson, Joseph R. Bagshawe, Thomas Barrett and James W. Booth and was inspired by other impressionists such as Monet, Cezanne and Renoir. Dame Laura Knight became the most famous member of the Staithes Group; she and her husband and fellow painter Harold Knight kept a studio in the village.

Links to Captain James Cook

In 1745-1746, Staithes's most famous son (born in Marton near Middlesbrough), the young James Cook worked in Staithes as a grocer's apprentice where he first gained his passion for the sea. He later moved to nearby Whitby where he joined the Royal Navy. William Sanderson's shop, where Cook worked, was destroyed by the sea, but parts were recovered and incorporated into "Captain Cook's Cottage". This has been the residency of a local Staithes family for several generations.

From the Staithes Town Website:

Any stranger to the town of Staithes is going to be astounded by how much history such a small place can have. Staithes is famous for its past fishing industry and hundreds of years of mineral production, an industry that continues to the present day. The Boulby Potash mine being one of the deepest in the United Kingdom and one of the tidiest being located, as is Staithes, within the North York Moors National Park.

Staithes was also home to many hero's. From Captain James Cook, to those with their names recorded in stone on the War Memorial and those who today at the sound of the maroon take the Staithes Lifeboat to sea as their ancestors have done for the last 100 years.

Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staithes

Staithes Town Website: http://www.staithes-town.info/





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