A Favourite Place: Robin Hood's Bay

We can travel the far-reaches of the globe, from the beautiful cities of Paris and Prague, to the savannahs of Kenya, but often there is nothing more beautiful than the intriguing eccentricity and ancient charm of an English fishing village. 

The beautiful and bohemian Robin Hood’s Bay nestles on the North Yorkshire coastline, in a narrow ravine between Whitby and Scarborough, where it enjoys outstanding, uninterrupted, and dramatic views across the sea to Bay Ness on the north, and the cliffs of Ravenscar to the south.

Speculation has been rife for centuries as to the origins of its name ‘Robin Hood’s Bay’ but, like the area itself, much of the conjecture is based in folklore and legend, and the answer remains a mystery to this day. 

Many say that Robin Hood himself kept boats in the village, ready to make his escape to the continent. Stories also abound that he fled there and disguised himself as a fisherman to avoid arrest, however, this is unlikely as fishing was not established in the Bay until the 15th century, a long time before Robin Hood and his merry men arrived in Sherwood Forest. 

According to one of the Bay’s local artists, Dennis Slee, the origins of the name are ancient and obscure. He recounts a romantic story that Robin Hood fired an arrow from the Viking point of Ravenscar, aiming at the moon, but that this arrow landed in the Bay. 

Despite all of this romantic supposition, it would appear there is no documentation to suggest that Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest ever actually visited the Bay. Local opinion seems to be that the name originated from a number of legends which have become entwined over the centuries.                                   

Robin Hood’s Bay must be experienced on foot. You should tread carefully down the often tricky descent which leads to the sea. Explore further as narrow cobbled steps lead to alleyways and side streets, and tempt you to veer from your path. 

Walking down towards the bay, entering deeper into the village and further from the car park at the top, you can almost believe you are entering another world, the troubles and stresses of the 21st century are left behind you.  

Robin Hood’s Bay has an atmosphere which is quite magical and if, as a child, you were ever a reader of Enid Blyton’s The Enchanted Wood and The Magic Faraway Tree series, you can conjure up the images which those stories brought to you. Walking down the main street with its quaint cottage doors, one can imagine Dame Washalot or Goldie the fairy lurking behind them. 

On reaching the dock-side, you can revel in the spectacular views over the wide bay and walk along the sandy beach, where in all weathers you will find the ice-cream man bravely selling his wares as the tides begin to edge ever closer.

There is a spirituality about Robin Hood’s Bay which is, no doubt, the reason why many artisans are compelled to the area, either to work, find inspiration, or to make their home there. The bay has a thriving artistic community and talent which includes; jet polishing, carving, sculpting, painting, textile design, drawing, and jewellery making.

A number of the local artists have their own galleries in the village, or sell their work in one of the many tempting gift shops. 

Heather Gatt is an artist who has been working in Batik for 25 years. She lives in Robin Hoods Bay and often finds inspiration on the beach and cobbled streets.

Janet Moodie has also been inspired by Robin Hoods Bay. She says of her work: “The Moors and the coastline have been my inspiration all my life, from being a child all through my college years.”

The Bay is also famous for its musical talent. The Robin Hood’s Bay Folk Club meets every Friday evening, and local band ‘Coldshot’ enjoy a jamming session in one of the bay’s friendliest hostelries, The Dolphin Hotel most Mondays. 

As well as its home-grown talent, the folklore and legend of the Bay has helped spread its fame far and wide, with writers and artists from around the world visiting for inspiration. 

Martha Grimes, who was described by Patricia Cornwell as: “one of the finest voices of our time", used Robin Hoods Bay for the setting of her crime novel “The Old Fox Deceiv’d”. The Bay is described in the first paragraph of the novel:

“She came out of the fog, her face painted half-white, half-black, walking down Grape Lane. It was early January and the sea-roke drove in from the east, turning the cobbled street into a smokey tunnel that curved down to the water. The bay was open to the full force of gales, and the scythelike curve of Grape Lane acted as a conduit for the winds from the sea. Far off the fog siren known as the Whitby Bull gave its four mournful blasts.”                                 

Robin Hood’s Bay was once described by Thomas Hinderwell, a local historian, in 1798 as having a ‘grotesque appearance’. But it cannot, without a doubt, be described that way today. Even so far back as 1847, a tourist wrote in a local guide that: 

“No place of human abode can be conceived more wild in its appearance than this village, where the tidy little edifices of the fishermen are perched, like the nests of gulls, among the cliffs.” 

Undoubtedly, the enchanting and dramatic Robin Hood’s Bay has much to offer each of its visitors. It will charm with its mystery and beauty, free artistic and literary spirits, whilst offering beautiful walks, an outstanding sandy beach and stunning scenery. Once visited I guarantee you cannot help but fall in love with this delightful place. And do not be surprised if Robin Hood’s Bay becomes your spiritual home.

* Painting of Robin Hood's Bay by Owen Bowen, 1920.