Wednesday, 14 July 2010


South of both Robin Hood's Bay and Boggle Hole is this headland, topped by the small village of Ravenscar. In the 4th century AD, the Romans had a stone signal tower here which formed part of a chain extending along the Yorkshire coast. In later centuries, it is rumoured, a secret tunnel was built between the shore and the cellar of the Smugglers Rock Guesthouse, so that contraband could be smuggled past the watchful eyes of the excise men. If this were true, the tunnel would be half a mile long and climb a total of 600 feet.

The village grew significantly when a railway was laid between Whitby and Scarborough, and a Victorian entrepreneur decided that Ravenscar would be the ideal location for a new town. A few houses were built, but interest was negligible and the company folded in 1913.

Ravenscar's greatest claim to fame was a world class industry which thrived for more than 200 years, from 1640 to 1862 and involved creating a chemical called alum from the local shale. In order for this process to occur, the rock had to be burned for months, steeped in water to extract the sulphates of iron and then doused in human urine! Urine was collected from jars which locals left out on their doorsteps, but Ravenscar was only a small settlement and the inhabitants struggled to produce the quantities required for the reaction. To meet the need, urine was imported from London and Hull! Gross :D

The site of the alum works just inland of Ravenscar have been preserved as a geological trail.

Today, the station is closed, the railway is a bridlepath and the main visitors to the village are walkers, both those enjoying a stroll in the local countryside and also the longer distance walkers travelling the Cleveland Way, which passes through from north to south, or the Lyke Wake Walk; a 40 mile challenge beginning just north of Osmotherley and making a full crossing of the North Yorkshire Moors before ending at the road on the western edge of Ravenscar village.


  1. An interesting way to deal with human waste. Pity London was still grubby.

  2. Do many people make that walk? Is it a hard trek or something that ordinary walkers could do? I'd enjoy seeing photos of the town if you're ever back there. I love these little history lessons.