“ Small Victorian seaside town. „
Memory is a notoriously fickle and unreliable thing - especially our memories of childhood. If pressed, I'm sure I would swear blind that my childhood summers were full of sunshine, of going out on my bike with my sister to catch tiddlers in the stream and having fabulous seaside holidays. I would claim that strawberries 'really' tasted of strawberries and that the school holidays flew by in a flurry of healthy activity. It's not true of course - it rained a lot, we sat around watching the telly, the bike rides surely didn't happen as often as I remember and the seaside holidays were more often spent in a caravan playing whist and rummy with my grandparents whilst Granddad claimed wistfully that the storm that was rocking the caravan was "only a clearing up shower". My brain knows that a week or two in Weston Super Mare was about mud and donkeys, bingo and slot machines and eating fish and chips. Only with many years behind me can I paint that idyllic image of gentle evenings on the beach or leaping around rock pools with a shrimping net. These things didn't happen - but if I was creating a fictional childhood to replace my mostly very satisfying non-fictional one, then I would be forced to airbrush out Weston Super Mare and the Isle of Wight and create a mock-history based on the coast of the North East of England. I'd switch the mud flats of Weston for the rock pools of Robin Hood's Bay, the bingo dens for the beach huts of Whitby and Weston's tragically burnt down old pier for the one at Saltburn-By-The-Sea. I fell in love this summer with the beaches of the north east.
After two nights in Robin Hood's Bay it was time to head north to our next hotel and we decided to drive along the coast road rather than head back inland. We checked the maps and decided to stop for some lunch in the small seaside town of Saltburn-By-The-Sea. The only thing I knew about Saltburn was that it has a fascinating old 'cliff lift' tramway which joins the upper town to the beach below. I'd seen photographs and was keen to try it for myself. Saltburn is in the county of North Yorkshire and is about 12 miles from Middlesborough, not far down the coast from Redcar. The town became popular in Victorian times when the fashion for sea bathing became popular and it retains many of the original features of its hey day.
We arrived at about 11.30 am and parked up in the car park at the southern end of the town. The public toilets had been closed due to some vandalism and this act of destruction (a bit of spray paint and lots of wet toilet paper, I presume) turned out to be 'the talk of the town' on that quiet Sunday morning. We left the car behind and headed for the beach, wary of the dark storm clouds threatening the calm of our day out.
Saltburn has an exceptional beach and I say that as someone who generally prefers a rocky coastline to acres of sand. For a sandy beach to impress me it has to be wide, extremely clean, and preferably have no people on it. I can cope with a few people walking their dogs and that's pretty much what we got at Saltburn; a handful of people taking a stroll and lots of dogs having a wonderful time. If you lived here you would have to get a dog. If I were the Mayor of the town (if they have one) I'd put it into the town's charter that dogs were compulsory since the beach seems to give them such excessive joy that it would be criminal not to exercise a pooch on the sand every day.
~Lift and Pier~
In some ways it's a shame that Saltburn's Cliff Lift gets so much attention when it should be the pier that's the star of the show. Saltburn Pier is a beautiful work of art and engineering although I couldn't help thinking that surely the point of a pier was to allow people to walk 'above' the water rather than just to the edge of the water. During our visit the tide was very firmly 'out' and the end of the pier didn't even reach the waves. Whilst this gave us the spectacular sandy beach, it did rather make the pier redundant as anything other than something of which to take photographs.
Piers are for walking on so that's what we did; from the shore end to the sea end and back again. Well you have to, don't you? The pier is in excellent condition and has been well maintained and is a fine example of its type. It's rather a simple pier because all the entertainments and arcade machines are at the shore end and there's nothing actually on the pier itself except a few benches. I expect to see fishermen on a pier but with the sea nowhere to be seen, they'd have been wasting their time. Whilst this isn't one of the grand piers more typical of the south coast, it still proudly boasts of winning Pier of the Year in 2009.
The head of the pier stands opposite the base of the Cliff Lift Tramway and both are decorated in cream paint with the beams picked out in red. The cliff lift is a so-called 'inclined tramway' which replaced an earlier 'hoist' which used to transport people up and down in a contraption not unlike a coal mine cage which was powered by hydraulics. Given the winds that can build in the North East coast, it must have been a terrifying thing to use. The Inclined tramway is a more reassuring beast and its tracks are fixed to the cliff side so it's much safer than its predecessor. Since 1884 it has carried passengers in two brightly painted carriages which travel up and down the tracks - one going up whilst the other comes down and each holds about a dozen people.
I believe we paid a pound or less for our trip. It really shouldn't be much more as it's quite a short distance which we could easily have walked, but the cliff lift has been recently renovated and they obviously need to generate some income from it. My husband and I paid for our ride, passing through an old turnstile and then settling into the carriage. My husband hates cable cars and other high swingy things and is regularly subjected to terrifying ordeals on our holidays but even he thought the cliff lift provided a comfortable and totally unterrifying journey. The mechanism is so smooth that you almost glide up the hillside. Whether you walk or take the lift, it's definitely worth heading up the cliff to get the best views of the beach below although I couldn't see too much at the top that would have lured us away from looking at the sea.
~Admire the view~
We headed along the cliff top until we found a path back down again and then walked back along the beach. Just as we were starting to think about finding something to eat it started to rain so we took shelter under a small pavilion with everyone else who could reach it. Most of them were gossiping about the vandalism at the car park toilets. The rain showed no sign of stopping so I borrowed my husband's coat and went back to a food stall and bought us some bread rolls filled with freshly fried fish and then we ate them on a bench when the rain had stopped.
In total we probably only spent a couple of hours in Saltburn but found it to be charming, pretty and to have a wonderful beach. I loved the pier, enjoyed the cliff lift and was very glad we'd broken our journey to have a look around. I can't imagine spending a week there, but a few hours were enough to make a good impression.