North Yorkshire coast: between the moor and the sea.
'I seem to have spent a good part of my life - probably too much- in just standing and staring' James Herriot
'The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes' Marcel Proust
How many times do you need to come back to the moors to just stand here and stare, before you get tired of them? This, I have yet to discover, since I have only been here twice and in one summer, when the sun is high in the sky and the fields smell of honey.
The moor is ever changing. July is the time of bell heather and cotton grass. Small patches of the bright pink and purple next to the woolly white heads blown in the wind like snow; these are the sudden bursts of colour in the vast sea of rust. If you come back here in late August , the moor has been transformed: the purple carpets stretch up to the horizon, the promise of early summer fully realised. It will change again and again, together with the seasons - dynamic, living landscape that defies definitions.
The moor is teaming with life. Merlins, skylarks and golden plovers live here, you can see an adder basking on the rock on a sunny day, or, if you are lucky, hear a call of the short-eared owl.
The moor is a place of contrasts. It has often been portrayed as a bleak, austere, forbidden place, but it proves to be a place of peace and a place of diversity, rich in textures, colours and sounds. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that nature always wears the colours of the spirit. And so the moor can be for us anything we want it to be - it is a place of imagination.
The moor is an ancient landscape. Its rocks 'remember' the dinosaurs and then the arrival of the first humans who stripped the land bare. There are burial mounds on the moor dating back to the Bronze Age and numerous stones and crosses, added later, as way or boundary markers in this featureless expanse. Despite apparent wilderness of the moors, people have always lived here. They have been managing this landscape for millennia, yet never quite succeeded to tame it.
The moor is a frontier: it is a place of struggle between civilisation and wilderness, a place of hidden forces, a place where wild things are... Thus , the legends abound of the mysterious events and transformations taking place on the moors: a witch in the shape of a hare, a spectral dog haunting lost travellers at night, the hobs that wander into quiet villages, offering their help with the housework. There is a cave near Runswick Bay, where a certain hob used to live, whose magical powers made him popular amongst the local fishermen, as he was able to cure children that suffered from the whooping cough.
Yorkshire coast is in every way as fascinating as the neighbouring moors. You can look for dinosaur footprints here and you are likely to find them, as fossils of these large reptiles are a common feature of these rugged, constantly eroding cliffs.
The picturesque villages hidden among those cliffs have a long history of settlement (Robin Hood's Bay remembers the Romans, The Saxons and the Normans, whilst Staithes used to be the Vikings' landing place), but apparently they are also haunted by ghosts. You can go on a 'ghost walk' in Robin Hood's Bay and also in Whitby, the town that, incidentally, was a personal favourite of a famous vampire...
It's hard not to fall in love with the Yorkshire coast, its quiet fishing villages, which, despite the many visitors in the summer, still retain the feel of being cut away from the world. Hugging the cliffs like the colony of nesting birds, they are the organic part of the shore. And beautiful they are, too. White stone houses with red-tiled roofs, narrow passageways and the tiny gardens, they are a joy to explore. At a low tide, you can walk beneath the cliffs from Robin Hood's Bay to Ravenscar, exploring the sea floor and the little rock pools created by receding water.
Coastal towns and villages, their history and character, have been shaped by the sea. In fact, until the roads were built, the only way to access them, was from the sea. Both Staithes and Robin Hood's Bay, like many others, were and remain fishing villages, also renowned in its time for smuggling. Whitby's harbour saw Captain James Cook departing on his long voyages to the antipodes and two of his ships, 'Endeavour' and 'Resolution', were built in this town.
The sea share many characteristics with the moor. As a seemingly endless landscape, it has a similar magnetic power: you could stand and stare at it for hours. It also has been a place of the outcast, the pirate and the visionary. It is beautiful and dangerous, it has its moods and its tides.
How does the time flow in these coastal towns, in the landscape so vast, so changeable, yet eternal and indestructible?
Trapped between the sea and the moor, are they guarded by one against the other? One thing is certain: even if they look out towards the sea, they are mindful of the moor behind them.