Hops and Skips

Staithes, England: Yorkshire’s Quiet, Idyllic Coastal Village

There’s a note in my iPhone dated September 11, 2018, and all it says is “Staithes, England.” I must’ve run across a photo of this quaint coastal village and saved its name for future reference, ready to add to an itinerary in case I would someday be planning a trip to northern England. That’s not an uncommon practice for me; my Pinterest travel board is full of random locations I’ve added based on photo alone—the travel equivalent of judging a book by its cover. It’s rare that the opportunity actually arises to visit one of the many destinations I’ve marked on my “to visit” list, but the stars aligned on this one. In planning the itinerary for our 10 days in England, I made sure Staithes was on the list; it’s only a 2-hour drive south from our planned starting point of Alnwick.

Getting to and around Staithes

Staithes is a small village nestled into the cliffs of the North Yorkshire coast, just north of the more populous town of Whitby. (For non-aficionados of British geography, like me, it’s closer to Edinburgh than London, and it’s best local airports are Leeds, Manchester, or Newcastle.) Staithes developed in the 15th century as a landing port and, in the following centuries, grew as a fishing village. Today, it’s popular as a tourist town; much of the real estate is holiday lets or vacation homes, and, from what we overheard, its seasonal visitors seem to be pretty regular, considering it a home away from home. Overall, though, the vibe of Staithes is definitely on the quiet side.

It’s highly inadvisable to drive a car down into Staithes proper; it’s not even really allowed, in fact. As you turn off the A174 and reach the fork in the road at the Captain Cook Inn, the road downhill warns there’s no visitor parking in the old village. Park at the Bank Top car park, venture downhill, and you’ll quickly see why! The cobbled road is narrow, curving sharply with little cushion from the surrounding buildings. Pedestrians amble in and out of shops using the road as an extended sidewalk. On our arrival, a large day-visitor group was trudging back up the hill to their group bus. I hoped we wouldn’t have to take that trek often; we were in vacation mode, and Staithes appeared to have just enough to keep us occupied for a 3-day stay.

Things to do in Staithes

For some travelers, a day trip to Staithes would be quite enough; there’s not much for extensive sightseeing. Compared to the much larger Whitby and more visited Robin’s Hood Bay, it almost seems off-the-beaten-path. But Staithes is also the kind of place you can settle into and let the daily rhythms of life carry you along. It’s the whole ambiance you want to soak in and experience because it’s different and slower than your everyday. That’s just the kind of destination we seek nowadays, one where we gain some familiarity crossing paths with the same people and same buildings. Approach Staithes with a little curiosity and there’s much to discover.

| Relax at Harbor Beach.

If you follow High Street all the way to the end, you’ll find yourself at sea level, surrounded by towering cliffs. Here is the village harbor, offering a scenic view that changes with the tides. When the tide is in, local fishing boats bob on the water’s surface, and the beach is a popular spot for dogs; when the tide is out, the boats remain beached in the sand, and the entire harbor is free of water. Our girls played in the sand for hours while dogs played fetch, groups picnicked, and others soaked in the sun with their nose a book.

| Grab a bite (or pint or pot) at the Cod & Lobster.

It’s the quintessential coastal experience—grab a pint and sit overlooking the water. I’m not sure how long the Cod & Lobster has been in business here at the edge of the harbor, but legend has it (according to its website), the building has thrice succumbed to the rough waters, the last in 1953. If I’ve learned one thing while in this country, it’s that if a building houses a pub, it’s always been a pub. We once sat with a pint on the promenade as the girls played in the sand 300 yards away; another morning, we had early tea and hot chocolate while a neighbor ordered a pint. This place is the best.

| Wander the alleys via Barrass Square.

The buildings of Staithes are like jigsaw pieces layered upon one another, and the best way to explore is to get lost in the maze of alleys and hills that weave between them. (Highly recommend doing so at dusk when the day visitors are gone and the streets are quiet but for the birds.) Veer off High Street at Barrass Square—the double staircase just up from the Cod & Lobster—and climb the narrow paths between homes. Climb high enough to catch sight of the ocean above the village rooftops.

| Squeeze through Dog Loup.

Just past the Cod & Lobster, High Street curves to the right to become Church Street. On the right, you’ll find Dog Loup, an alley between two buildings that connects High Street to Gun Gutter Street. At just 18 inches wide, it’s purportedly the country’s narrowest “road.” I read somewhere about rambunctious children of yore escaping trouble through the village’s numerous alleyways, of which Dog Loup was the ultimate safety net.

| Enjoy breakfast at Dotty’s Vintage Tearoom.

In a village with limited dining options, Dotty’s became a regular part of our mornings. (The Cod & Lobster is open bright and early for drinks but no food.) At Dotty’s, we developed a second-breakfast ritual, enjoying late morning tea and toasties. It’s open until late afternoon and has some nice outdoor seating that offers a great sidewalk view of passing pedestrians. The women who worked there were just lovely, offering sweeties to the girls every time we visited. There are also two upstairs rooms available as a B&B that come with sea views and a full cooked breakfast. 

| Drink a pint at The Royal George.

Right across from Dotty’s, The Royal George is the other pub in the old village and also serves as a B&B. It’s open from lunch til late night which is a big draw in an otherwise quiet village (not that we took advantage of its late hours, though). There are a few small sidewalk tables to enjoy an afternoon pint as well as a beer garden in the back. Be sure to ask about kitchen hours, though, because food is not served all day. (I think this must be a pretty universal non-US thing…)

| Peruse local art.

In the two decades straddling the turn of the 20th century, Staithes was home to a group of painters known as the Staithes Group. These 30-40 artists lived in the village and were inspired by French Impressionism as a way of depicting local contemporary life. (Not a surprise Staithes was an inspirational landscape.) Today, the Staithes Gallery and Staithes Studios are two galleries located on High Street featuring works by contemporary artists who’ve found inspiration in the area.

| Indulge in a sweet treat at Cobbles.

Right on the major curve of High Street sits Cobbles, a cafe with an assortment of offerings. You can grab a pizza or panini, coffee or tea, pastries or ice cream, or a treat for the dog, too. There’s a larger (by Staithes’ standards) outdoor seating area, as well as indoor and upstairs options. We grabbed the kids an ice cream cone at the peak of afternoon sun and walked down to the Royal George where we, the adults, enjoyed our treat of the brewed variety.

| Shop at The Kessen Bowl and Betsy & Bo.

If you’re staying on holiday in Staithes, it’s worth visiting these two spots for convenience items instead of trekking all the way up the hill to the Co-op.The Kessen Bowl is next to Cobbles in what was once the Staithes Post Office. Here you can buy gifts, toys, and trinkets, as well as some groceries and household items. Across the street, Betsy & Bo is a sweets shop that also carries bread, wine, cheese, and other groceries.

| Explore the ocean via Cowbar Nab.

To the left of Cobbles, there’s a gap between buildings with a path that heads down a path and across the small bridge over Staithes Beck. Crossing this leads to the north side of Staithes, which consists primarily of cottages and RNLI Lifeboat Station. At the end of this road, a path leads to Cowbar Nab. the jetty that protects the northern end of the harbor. The weather for us was calm and beautiful, offering a peaceful walk by the water, but I imagine it could get rather wet if the ocean was rough. You can catch a distant view of Staithes which looks so small in comparison to how immersive it feels when you’re in the midst of it.

| Catch a scenic overlook of the whole village.

If you continue the walk up this northside hill, you can find the overlook that offers the most beautiful view of the village. Climb the hill past where the cottages end on your right, and to the left you’ll find a dirt path that heads away from the road towards a couple houses. On the fence to the left of the path you’ll see a trail marker with an arrow. Don’t worry, this is a public path! Climb the steps that run alongside a property fence, and you’ll reach a small landing that offers a magnificent view.

| Discover history at the Staithes Museum and Heritage Center.

Back on the village side and further up High Street, make a visit to the Staithes Museum in the old Methodist Chapel. This heritage center is full of artifacts and memorabilia of Staithes’ natural, marine, industrial, and contemporary past. (Did I mention the village has a connection to the famed Captain James Cook?) The museum is free to visit and also has a shop featuring crafts and goods made by local artisans. 

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