Port Mulgrave - a hidden gem on the Yorkshire coast
- Credit: Luke Fletcher
Shhh…I’m not sure I should tell you about Port Mulgrave, it’s a secret.
We’ve explored so many beautiful places in the world. We’ve set out to find the places that only the locals know, find new adventures and places that feel like ‘ours’. Could it be possible then that this could exist so near, without having to travel so far? Could it be possible to find places that give us a sense of adventure and wonder?
Port Mulgrave is not easy to get to. Not quite Whitby, not quite Staithes and certainly not Sandsend. It’s not well signposted. Car parking is virtually non-existent and the roads leading in are narrow. It feels like a place that doesn’t want to be found, a place resisting being overwhelmed.
We arrived early. Low tide was at 7am so we arrived at 5.30am, quite the push on a sunny Saturday but perhaps the best decision once we saw the car park. If we could build a house somewhere, it would be on that car park. It may be a very small house that would fit on that car park but overlooking the bay, the cliffs and today’s offering of a beautiful turquoise sea, we were quick to settle our future lives in this stunning location. I suspect that it isn’t always so serene but today, the sun gods were shining on us.
As always, we hadn’t made the connection between such a commanding view and the next part of our journey which let’s just say, was not for the faint-hearted. In fact, the beach is now closed off with BIG warning signs, so as they say, don't try this...'
It’s always been a steep descent and downright treacherous in the wet, but a series of landslides, in particular the most recent one that dislodged the metal staircase, has meant that the journey down is far from easy.
Our access came from a makeshift rope and a precipitous mud track that lead you to the bay. We have a good head for heights as well as a reasonable level of fitness in making our attempt. Really, the only way to access the beach now is by boat.
Hard to believe then that this was once a thriving port. In the ‘Land of Iron’,
Port Mulgrave’s small but strong harbour made an ideal point to ship ironstone from its now-closed mine up to Jarrow. Once there, the iron ore was used in the blast furnaces of Tyneside to make steel for the shipyards. The miners’ cottages are still here, as is the mine owner’s house and what a view they would have had.
Now, what’s left of the harbour houses a small, fascinating community of fishing huts that are both simple and sometimes beautiful in their design. We picked our way through the jumble of structures and pieced together the evidence of such a resourceful population. The huts – like the cliffs – fight a constant battle with the elements and are at the mercy of what nature gives or takes away. They are in constant flux and differing states of repair. Evidence of change, repair and an evolving process of repair, creation and destruction are a constant pattern for the occupants.
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The more-simple of the huts are ‘just enough’ – a shell to live in or store equipment. Whereas some are created as a celebration of the environment, a homage to nature’s spoils with entrances made from driftwood and ‘gardens’ that would look more at home on the ocean floor.
As we strolled further through these fascinating dwellings, the irresistible breaking of gently rolling surf, the salty smell of seaweed and the trickling peeping call of oyster catchers lured us on and before long, we descended the small step onto the beach. The beach sits below a formidable fortress of towering cliffs that constantly rain shale and small rocks down. Evidence of larger landslides can be seen where huge areas of rock and mud have spilled out below the beach. Standing near the cliffs is a roulette and far from safe. These fast eroding slopes weather and slip, peel back and expose the layers of their ancient past. The constant change and renewal of the beach does however add to the potential of ‘treasure’ to be found.
Port Mulgrave is an amazing place to find fossils. Search long enough and you ‘get your eye in’. Patterns emerge from the beach and before long, you will be hard pushed not to see evidence of ancient life. Mainly ammonites and belemnites, if not in the loose rocks of the beach then in the gallery of the pavement that underlies the beach. The best finds are likely to have gone unfortunately as those in the know tread this path regularly in search of treasure however due to its difficult access and the hidden nature of the beach, it still holds much potential.
On a warm, sunny morning, grinding out exhausting steps with my hand on the rope, gasping for air, I curse our enthusiasm for collecting fossils as I tackle my own personal Everest. Who needs HIIT workouts when you can have your very own thigh burning, lung buster on your way back from a stunning beach expedition?
So the question remains, ‘Could it be possible to find places that give us a sense of adventure and wonder?’
Port Mulgrave is an elusive treasure with a fascinating past and an ever-evolving present. A more than tempting detour from the Cleveland Way National trail that follows the line of cliffs above. It doesn’t give up its secrets easily. Its hidden and now impossible to access nature means it will always retain its feeling of finding something that’s yours – that others have yet to find.
Access to Port Mulgrave beach is closed.
Staithes Coastguard: 'We continue to repeat our warnings that visitors to the coast should keep away from cliff edges and the base of cliffs due to continued erosion. Our guidance would be to stay away from the base of the cliff the same distance as the cliff height, and stay on designated coastal paths away from cliff edges'.