This month we take a trip to the quaint fishing village of Robin Hood's Bay in North Yorkshire
The story goes that Robin Hood went out fishing and came across some French pirates who had come to pillage his boat. He made them surrender and returned what they’d taken while plundering the northeast coast of England to the village now known as Robin Hood’s Bay.
It’s a picturesque village made up of a maze of tiny streets, once walked by sailors, fishermen, smugglers and press gangs. Beneath the village’s cosy cottages there is a network of subterranean tunnels which 18th-century smugglers used to transport contraband such as silk and alcohol.
Aside from its smuggling history, the village is known for its fossil-flung beach and moody moorland. If flora and fauna is your thing, Robin Hood’s Bay is the perfect base for exploring nature before coming back to enjoy its vibrant cafes, pubs and shops.
Farm raised further up the coast, the rural life, the coast and the North Yorkshire Moors seemingly seeped into my bones from birth. After 20 years living in London, having moved there at 23, time came to leave the rat race in search of a better quality of life, somewhere rural and familiar.
Here in Bay, everything is in one location—coast, cliff and beach, woodland, valley and stream, moor, dale and wilderness. So, we upped sticks and escaped to Bay.
"Time came to leave the rat race in search of a better quality of life, somewhere rural and familiar"
Even with all the wonderfully varied scenery to explore, one aspect stands above and underpins it all—the people of this fair community. Some have been here a generation or three and a few families trace their roots here back over 500 years and more. Semi-isolated from the outside world, the community spirit and connections are flexible and strong. Even with our tradition of independence, we locals are always nearby to lend a helping hand and contribute to the continuing local traditions and life where needed.
Robin Hood’s Bay began as a small fishing village 600 odd years ago. “Silver Darling” herring was the lifeblood of the village with pack horses transporting surpluses across the bleak, forbidding moors. By the 1700s, with rising taxes and duties on tea, brandy and gin, this isolated, free-spirit community took to “free trading” (smuggling) like ducks to water. It would come to have one on the richest incomes in the country. This independent, free-wheeling outlook on life still bubbles through today.
Robin Hood's Bay. Image courtesy of Robin Hood's Bay Walks.
Through Robin Hood’s Bay Walks I experience the freedom of rambling this beautiful scenery, creating photographic walking guides so you “never get lost again”. The Baytown Walks site deals with the guided Smugglers Tour and the local history of smuggling in the 1700s. This brings me so much fun, helping visitors, especially the younger ones, to understand, through local stories, how very different those seemingly wild, profitable times were.
I have far too many favourite locations, so I’ll name two for now. The Cleveland Way cliff path to Ravenscar is a sheer delight. A seal colony below and ever-changing scenery above, walking the magical boundary between land and sea. For a shorter walk, the old trod ways of Bedlington’s Lane and Bowman’s Lane lead you along the hidden paths of centuries past, protected by hedgerow and tree—pastoral bliss indeed.
Jane Tennant runs the Robin Hood’s Bay Bookshop—a small, family-run business that they have had for 13 years
I was born here. I grew up here, went to the village school and had a wonderful wild childhood exploring the beach and surrounding countryside. I went away to university and stayed away for about ten years before making my way back home. Even when I made a life elsewhere, Bay was always home.
Robin Hood’s Bay is one of those beautiful timeless places you come across which roots itself into your memories. The old narrow streets with crooked houses jumbled on top of each other lead to unexpected glimpses of hidden gardens or views of the sea. There’s a small museum in the old coroner’s rooms, lots of independent shops, cafes and pubs. And the beach is just paradise. There is sand for sandcastles—mostly wet but on neap tides it becomes powdery by the cliff base. The rock pools can be tiny, sandy and full of tiny flatfish or deep, rocky and weedy with crabs and fish. Fossils too can be found lying on the sand along with Whitby jet.
"Robin Hood’s Bay is one of those beautiful timeless places you come across which roots itself into your memories"
Bay is a real community. There are lots of families—enough for a school within walking distance. There are people who can trace local ancestors back hundreds of years and those who arrived a few months ago. There are arts clubs, the history society, the Women’s Institute, tennis and bowls club, cricket club, football club, folk club, walkers, dog walkers, cyclists, along with three different faith churches within the village. It’s easy to find your community and to feel at home here. There’s always a community event of some sort happening.
Robin Hood’s Bay Bookshop in the heart of the old village on Chapel Street, in what was the butcher’s shop for over 100 years. It’s full of shelves packed with books of all genres and ages. Whatever you’re interested in there’s a good chance we have something relating to it. We stock a few new local books, but the vast majority are good quality second hand books.
Jane loves the beach
I do everything from buying and selling the books to cleaning, categorising and endless reorganising. My mum loves creating the window displays so we always have a fun Christmas window display for example. I love books. I have always loved reading and collecting books. And working here I combine my love and knowledge of books. Every day is different, the people who visit are lovely and when I’m sorting fresh books out it’s a complete lottery as to what there is. I have to be strict with myself not to take the beautiful books home! One or two slip through the net sometimes though.
I love the beach. I love how it’s never the same. It changes with the tide, the weather, the season. Who you share it with changes how you see it as well. I love bringing my friends down as you see it anew with their fresh eyes. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of a walk on the beach.
James Lambeth and his wife Freya own and run Brambles Bistro, where James cooks and Freya is the face of the bistro
We moved to Robin Hood’s Bay in December of 2021—so we have lived here for around 18 months, and the Bistro has been open for a little over a year.
For my wife Freya, the area holds a special place in her heart. She spent many a childhood holiday visiting Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay, and the surrounding villages, as a big family group. They explored the area getting lost on long hikes, interspersed with drinks in pubs and barbecues. For her, there's a sense of nostalgia.
I had never been to Robin Hood’s Bay before we viewed the bistro, which had been closed and empty for a couple of years, but I came away after that first viewing understanding why Freya loved this place—and knowing that we had to buy it! We put our house on the market the next day, and soon after, we were in.
"It’s a picturesque village carved into the cliffside by sailors and smugglers long since gone"
We love having space to relax on the beach and get on the water, or to spend time eating and drinking around the village. It’s a picturesque village nestled on rugged coastline, carved into the cliffside by sailors and smugglers long since gone. The winding streets lead to charming cottages, and quaint shops, pubs, and restaurants, that evoke a sense of old-world charm. We love being centred right here, part of a wonderful and welcoming community, and with easy access to all of the wonders of the Yorkshire Coast. We love to get out on walks and explore the local area, and there’s great cycle routes too.
The sense of community in Bay is strong—much more so than in the city, where we used to live. We know our neighbours well, and all care about each other’s wellbeing, making the village feel like a true home and a special place to be part of. There’s a real genuine buzz of community, with locals chatting in the street, amidst the buzz of a vibrant tourist trade.
There are around 50 of us who live in Lower Bay year-round, many of whom are regulars in the bistro. We feel that we’ve been welcomed into the community really well, and it’s as if we have been here for years.
There’s a big sense of freedom from modern pressures in the village. It has such a timeless feel with the lack of cars, the cobbled streets, the dim glow of the Victorian streetlights, and the old stone buildings. Much of the village dates back to the early 1600s.
Brambles Bistro is a cosy and casual steakhouse bistro, nestled in the bottom of the dock, right in the heart of Robin Hood’s Bay. The local area influences our menu—we’re proud to use local suppliers for our produce. All our beef comes from farms right here in the North Yorkshire Moors, our fish are from Whitby, our breads are baked fresh locally, and we forage locally for seasonal ingredients. We use local coffee, beer and gin suppliers, so you’ll be able to eat and drink a real flavour of the area.
We’re proud to say that we employ locally—our team all live in the village, and we’re providing much-needed, well-paid and rewarding jobs to local young adults, which means they don’t have to travel for work. You’ll be greeted warmly when you visit. Our team are great at giving top tips about the local area or helping to find lost cottages!
My favourite place in Robin Hood’s Bay is right here, in the dock. On a warm summer’s evening, we take a bottle of wine down to the shore and sit looking out over the sea. Last night the sea was dead flat, totally calm, with light wisps of mist rolling in across to the right. We sat there with a glass of wine, losing ourselves in the view, and in the distance, a pod of dolphins came jumping out of the water, playing in the clear water. We have a local seal population too, so there’s plenty of wildlife to see right here on our shore.
If you’re up early enough, you can see beautiful sunrises over the bay. As the first light of dawn breaks over the horizon, the sky transforms into a beautiful canvas of colours—and the sun sends golden rays of light dancing over the water.
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