Rievaulx Abbey And Robin Hood’s Bay

My grandparents’ and father’s 1935 summer holiday in Redcar allowed for a day trip opportunity to Rievaulx Abbey which sits about the halfway point in the fifty or so miles that separate the North East of England seaside resort from York.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Rievaulx Abbey, 1935.
© Always Worth Saying 2023, Going Postal

Founded in 1132, Rievaulx was the first Cistercian monastery to be established in the North of England. The abbey was created by twelve monks from Clairvaux Abbey and quickly grew in influence and wealth. It thrived thanks to its successful ventures in lead and iron ore mining, sheep rearing, and wool sales.

However, by the 15th century, the abbey’s practices had deviated from the strict Cistercian rules, which led to a decline. The abbey was eventually seized and dissolved in 1538 under Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Following this, the site was granted to a nobleman and used for iron manufacturing before being transformed into a country estate.

In the present day, the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey serve as a popular tourist attraction, managed by English Heritage. The significant history of the abbey, from its peak as a prominent monastery to its decline and revival as a subject for Romantic art, is documented thoroughly. Efforts made towards the preservation and conservation of this historic site are ongoing, with opportunities for public involvement. As for the name, it is Norman French and relates to its location within the valley (or vale) of the river Rye.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Rieveaulx in Romantic art.
Rievaulx Abbey, Yorkshire. Watercolor, graphite, paper, board,
Harold Broadfield Warren, 1859–1934
Public domain
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Rievaulx Abbey in the modern day.
© Google Street View 2023, Google.com

Today we can stand at the same spot at the entrance to the site, next to a wooden fence which may well have been in situ nearly nine decades ago when my grandparents and father visited. Likewise, a neighbouring bench may have seated my saddle-sore grandmother while resting after the trip from Redcar and taking a photo.

Astonishingly – or perhaps not given modern obsessions – these days a plaque beside the fence reads ‘Rivers are delicate ecosystems; slight changes in the environment can affect the life in and around it. By diverting the watercourse, the monks of Rievaulx affected the balance of water levels. Potentially increasing the impact of floods and droughts.’

They never have a day off, do they? Placed there by an organisation called ‘Natural Water’, one wonders what the chemical formula of unnatural water might be. You can have a look around here. And I’m not joking about the sign. Swivel to your right.

Robin Hood’s Bay

Also about 25 miles from Redcar but this time following the coast to beyond Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay lies in the ancient parish of Fylingdales. The name of the parish is believed to be derived from the Old English word ‘Fygela’ which meant ‘marshy ground’.

Robin Hood’s Bay is a quaint, scenic village rich in a history that goes back 3,000 years to the Bronze Age. Settled by Saxon peasants and Norsemen, the village’s name is shrouded in mystery, possibly tied to local legends, though there’s little solid evidence linking it to the legendary outlaw, Robin Hood.

In the 16th century, the village flourished, becoming even more significant than Whitby. The 18th century saw Robin Hood’s Bay emerge as a major smuggling hub, with its secluded cliffs, natural isolation and surrounding marshy ground providing perfect cover for smugglers.

The village’s narrow streets or gunnels, some such as ‘The Opening’ allowing barely one man to pass at a time, were also threatened by Press Gangs in the Victorian Era – groups that would force men into naval service. The mid-19th century saw a thriving fishing industry, which drew many to the village.

Today, Robin Hood’s Bay is known for its historic charm, with its steep streets, traditional pubs and museums. It also offers stunning views of a beautiful sandy beach. Nearby attractions include Fylingdales, St Stephen’s Old Church, the Captain Cook Memorial Museum and nearby Whitby Abbey.

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My father, Robin Hood’s Bay, 1935.
© Always Worth Saying 2023, Going Postal

At first glance, the picture doesn’t look like Robin Hood Bay but a satellite mapping trip up and down the coastline suggests it is. The double headland in the distance – as per La Tete De Chien we saw earlier in the series at Monte Carlo – is misleading with there being two headlands, a latter, taller one sitting in the distance. The ramp to the left of my father’s head is a giveaway too. Notice the bathing tents (or are they windbreaks?), also to the left.

Part way up the headland is a haphazard row of buildings behind which was tucked the Scarborough and Whitby railway line. This operated from 1885 to 1965 and was engineered by Sir Charles Fox and Son. A scenic route along the North Yorkshire coast, It was initially operated by the North Eastern Railway, which was acquired by the London and North Eastern Railway in 1923. The railway was opened in July 1885 and ran for 21 miles between Scarborough and Whitby.

Eight distinctive stations served the needs of the local population. However, the line was closed in 1965 as part of the Beeching Axe, a government policy to reduce the cost of running British Railways. The station buildings were sold into private ownership and repurposed after its closure. The route is now a multi-use path known as ‘The Cinder Track’ and has become a popular walking and cycling trail through the North Yorkshire coast.

In 1935 the LNER was offering excursions from Leeds by any train every day for 10/3 and also weekdays at 8:10 and Sundays at 9:25 for 8/- which sounds a lot for those of us whose other grandfather was a £3 a week footplateman!

Referring to an old edition of Bradshaws shows five trains a day nicely spaced out with the route being traversed in about an hour and ten minutes. Robin Hood’s Bay was 19 minutes from Whitby and 51 minutes from Scarborough.

Note, in the days when places the size of Whitby had more than one railway station, trains on the S&W called at Whitby West Cliff, not Whitby Town. The old station has survived. Cheekily called Beeching Mews, it has been ‘repurposed’ to residential properties and is surrounded by hideous new builds. You can have a look around here.


Talk of Fylingdales may lead the hiker, or river flow eco fanatic, to think of the village of the same name three miles inland from Robin Hood’s Bay on the drought-riddled/flood-prone A171.

However, Puffins’ attention will be drawn four miles further into the North Yorkshire Moors National Park (as the rocket flies) to RAF Flyingdales.

RAF Fylingdales is a Royal Air Force station located on Snod Hill in the North York Moors. Established in 1962, its primary function is to serve as a radar base as part of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS). The station’s radar system, which operates in the UHF frequency range, is designed to provide warning of a ballistic missile attack and track orbiting objects, including spy satellites used by other countries.

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Moorland view to RAF Fylingdales.
Moorland view to RAF Fylingdales,
Pauline E
Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

The station also serves as the Satellite Warning Service for the UK. It is one of three radar stations in the American BMEWS chain and was declared operational in 1963. During the Cold War, it served as a NATO listening post. RAF Fylingdales shares its data with the United States and has a liaison officer from the United States Space Force. The information gathered by the radar is used for decision-making by both the US and UK.

Woodsmith Mine

Another interesting piece of even more modern real estate sits at Woodsmith Mine, a deep potash and polyhalite mine located about four miles away from RAF Fylingdales. Said to be the deepest mine in Europe, with shafts dropping 4,900 ft, it is projected to have a lifespan of 100 years. It’s output is used in fertilisers.

Under construction as I write, despite the Anglo American plc project’s economic benefits, objections arose due to its location in the national park. The company assures that all major infrastructure will be sunk below ground and that when the mine is completed, no mining equipment will be visible.

The extracted mineral will be transported via a 23-mile-long tunnel to a handling facility at Wilton on Tees and then to a new bulk terminal at Redcar for export.


Puffins whose appetite has been wetted can catch a glimpse of both the modern and bygone ages at Gosmont three stops before Whitby on the remaining Esk Valley rail line from Middlesborough to Whitby Town. There we find the northern terminus of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, a preserved line which runs for 24 miles south to Pickering. En route, we not only get a trackside glimpse of England in the 1930s but, perched on the horizon, of the radar at Fylingdales.

© Always Worth Saying 2023