Long after it was written off as a resort, Ravenscar the cod haven is thriving. Steve I’Anson explores a Jurassic classic
Ravenscar is the town that never happened. Back in the early 1900s, builders hoping to cash in on the new Scarborough-Whitby railway got as far as laying out roads, sewers and foundations for a town called Peak, which it was hoped would provide Victorian city dwellers with homes near the beach.
That the beach lay at the foot of a 600ft cliff only seemed to register with anyone late in the proceedings. The idea never took off, only a handful of houses were built and in the 1930s, Peak was renamed Ravenscar.
History also links this building with mad King George III, who was reputedly treated here, and with the smugglers and pirates who took advantage of its difficult access to smuggle tobacco and brandy.
Nowadays, the sea’s produce is more legitimate, although the angler who hankers for the good old days shouldn’t look too closely at the cliffs as he descends to sea level. This is prime Jurassic period coastline and those craggy walls offer much fossilised evidence of the denizens of the deep that lurked here millions of years ago.
Their fishy descendants, though, are not to be sniffed at. Indeed, it is the chance of cod of monster proportions that regularly draws a loyal legion of foot soldiers to fish this mark, despite the physical rigours involved.
In the descendancy
The good news. This is a beautifully wild, untouched place to go fishing. High, terraced cliffs, lined by trees and decked in bracken enshrine the rocks below in a mysterious cloak of shapes and shadows.
Let your imagination run on a murky day and you could really imagine you are in a scene from Steven Spielberg’s epic movie Jurassic Park, the rocks shuddering underfoot, especially as your rod creaks seaward in a seemingly unstoppable arc.
The bad news. The cliffs here are over 500ft high - some of the highest in the country - and the sea can seem a long way down when you walk the path from Raven Hall. While the track is steep and basic, however, it is quite manageable and some steps have been cut out and reinforced for part of the way by the National Trust.
A quick look over the cliffs before the descent gives you an idea of the venue’s basic layout: a boulder-strewn shoreline tight against the bottom of the cliffs, trapped between two prominent scaurs that become exposed at low tide.
The scaur to the north, below the Raven Hall, is Peak Steel and the scaur to the south, below the old village car park, is Blea Wyke Steel.
Three routes lead down to the beach below. One is down the track below Raven Hall Hotel, which sits proudly on the South Cheek of Robin Hood’s Bay. Follow this down past the golf course and progress to the beach. The track splits towards the bottom; continue straight down to fish Peak Steel and turn right through the bracken to reach the shoreline beneath Raven Hall, which leads south to Blea Wyke.
Here can be seen wreckage of an old Ferguson tractor and caterpillar tractor from 1965, abandoned after an abortive attempt to salvage the wreck of the Fred Everard, a cargo ship that ran aground, some of whose remains can still be seen at a spring tide’s low water mark.
The alternate routes are the spiral staircase that leads down from the old village car park, and the other is above Lady Green, about half a mile further south on the Cleveland Way cliff path.
Take my advice, use the track under Raven Hall and leave the others to the local wildlife and experienced anglers.
Most fishing takes place over low water on and in between the two Steels, although south of Blea Wyke Steel is a good area known as Lady Green and Common Cliff, which runs to Rocky Point, marking its boundary with the village of Staintondale.
Straight below the path is Peak Steel, which is exposed to its full length at low water and fishes best two hours either side of low tide.
The Steel can be fished in all but the roughest weather. During winter, the best place is fishing the north side and end of the Steel, fishing into kelp-lined gullies with a relatively clean bottom. In summer, the best place is halfway back along the south side of the steel, casting into the thick tangle beds. Beware that the Steel does get cut off from about mid tide.
To the south of the Peak Steel, under the cliff below Raven Hall, is a shoreline comprised of a room-sized boulders that plunge into the deep, kelp-festooned North Sea. This shoreline stretches south right up to the opposite side of Blea Wyke Steel.
This rough ground has very few prominent fishing holes, but one that is easy to spot is an area of clay scaur exposed between the rocks. A third of the way between the Steels, it marks what is a cut-off point between the two Steels from about one hour before high water.
About halfway along, the boulders come back in towards the cliff slightly, marking another popular mark called the Pulpit Rock, where you will be fishing mostly from boulders into thick kelp and deep water.
Fish can be taken here at most stages of the tide, but most anglers tend to fish it over high water after they have been washed off or are waiting to go onto the Steels. Unless you know where to fish, the best way is to have a cast and move on until you come across fish; anywhere along this front can produce.
Blea Wyke Steel
Probably the most popular venue at Ravenscar, but it takes about 20 minutes to walk from the bottom of the track to Blea Wyke Steel. As the tide starts to ebb then the Steel becomes progressively more exposed.
Once onto Blea Wyke Steel you are fishing into very deep water. Fish can be taken here all year round and it fishes well in both summer and winter, best months being from December to March, but good fishing can be had in June and July for red cod.
The ground is very heavy kelp at the point nearest the shoreline, and, as you progress to the end of the steel, the snags become less and the water deeper with more tide. On the very point of the Steel, sub-surface ledges can be felt as fished are dragged up from the depths. Fishing is best here from about two hours either side of low water.
Directly South of Blea Wyke Steel is Lady Green, where the ground becomes more boulders and kelp. The cliff directly behind is very low, forming a bracken-covered depression at the foot of the higher cliffs.
Fish can be taken throughout the tide; best times are over high and low water on spring tides. It can fish well in summer.