Norman Ackroyd captures the Yorkshire coast from Saltburn to Flamborough

Royal academician Norman Ackroyd sketching the Yorkshire coast

Royal academician Norman Ackroyd sketching the Yorkshire coast - Credit: Archant

Royal academician Norman Ackroyd charters boat from Whitby

The glorious eeriness of Whitby

The glorious eeriness of Whitby - Credit: Archant

Yorkshire’s dramatic coastline has a colourful character that’s difficult to capture. Its personality changes from bay to bay, sometimes welcoming, sometimes hazardous, but always fascinating. So much so that printmaker and Royal academician Norman Ackroyd chartered a fishing boat from Whitby in an attempt to etch the county’s beautiful but uncompromising coastline from Flamborough to Saltburn.

The result is a suite of 10 stunning prints, currently on display at Zillah Bell Gallery in Kirkgate, Thirsk, until Saturday January 24th.

Among his subjects are Crab Rocks at Bempton, the epicentre of an extensive gannet colony that’s expanded massively in the last three decades; Whitby, which inspired Bram Stoker to pen Dracula and shipbuilders to create Captain Cook’s famous crafts Endeavour, Resolution, Adventure and Discovery; and Saltwick Nab, an isolated, man-made rocky outpost, isolated from its parent cliff as the result of extensive alum mining.

This is the first time that Norman, the son of a Leeds butcher and famous for his atmospheric etchings of the breathtaking British coastline, has explored the outer edges of his home county.

‘The coastal cliffs of Yorkshire are deceptively beautiful,’ he said. ‘But a closer look reveals a long spiritual, industrial and often violent history.’

He managed to take a closer look by chartering Specksioneer, a twin-masted motor yacht built in Holland in 1965, which regularly sails out of Whitby on whale-watching trips.

He was accompanied by his son, Simeon, framer Les Prince, John Bell and Sarah Greenslade from Zillah Bell, and photographer Joceleyne van den Bossche. Together they undertook a three-day adventure. On day one, they sailed from Whitby past Robin Hood’s Bay to Flamborough Head, then on to the gannetry at Bempton and Scarborough Castle.

They joined the dawn chorus on day two for an early morning trip to Saltburn, where Norman captured the play of the light on the cliffs. And finally, on day three, the party ventured up the River Esk.

The result of this unusual expedition is a suite of etchings that somehow manages to capture the colour and vivacity of the Yorkshire coastline in muted, underplayed tones. Indeed, the artist himself was so pleased with the work that he’s since gone on to create larger interpretations of some of the pieces.

Norman Ackroyd’s exhibition From Saltburn to Flamborough is on show at Zillah Bell Gallery, Thirsk, until January 24th. The gallery is open from 10am-5pm (closed for an hour from 1pm), Monday to Saturday. For details, visit or call 01845 522479.

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Portrait of the artist

:: Norman Ackroyd is the son of a butcher whose shop was in Hunslet, Leeds.

:: He studied at Leeds College of Art from 1956-61, and the Royal College of Art in London from 1961-64.

:: He has had many solo exhibitions, both in Britain and internationally.

:: His public commissions include etched metal panels for the British Embassy in Moscow, Lloyds Bank, British Airways and Cambridge University.

:: Ackroyd mainly works in aquatints, where an inked plate, etched with acid, transfers images to paper through a printing press.