Tales from the smuggling past
I magine a dark, moonless, starless night, a cutter rocks on the swell beyond the surf which laps softly against the sandy shore of Robin Hood’s Bay.
In the Mariners Tavern, smugglers bang down empty tankards on the wooden tables, put out their pipes and head out into the night to rendezvous with the boat.
Up on the cliff a lone revenue man sits astride his horse – heart beating like galloping hooves – watching for the signal from smugglers to sailors.
During the late 1700s and early 1800s, Baytown as it was then called was a centre for smuggling with most of its 900 residents involved in the trade.
Its secluded coves and high cliffs made it an ideal smugglers’ spot.
Free-traders flourished in times of war – England was at war with the French and embroiled in the American War of Independence. Taxes were raised to pay for the conflicts – and residents found ways round paying exhorbitant taxes.
Tea, brandy, tobacco, gin and French lace were among the contraband brought ashore which then found its way through tunnels and trapdoors, cellars and cupboards under and in the redroofed huddle of cottages to the moors and onwards to Pickering, York, Leeds and beyond.
Visitors can now re-live the infamous heritage of the North York Moors coastal village with the launch of a new trail.
Now Yorkshire Trails, in partnership with the North York Moors National Park, has introduced a self-guided trail to enable visitors to embark on their own smuggling adventure and learn more about why this popular beauty spot was once ideal for fuelling such an illicit trade.
The booklet has been researched and written by Jane Harvey and her partner Neil who are based in Ripon. They devise, research and write treasure hunts for across the county and beyond.
“The new trail is an ideal way of linking the legends and the many different visual references to smuggling in Robin Hood’s Bay as well as showing how routes across the moors from the coast were intrinsically linked to the illicit trade,” said Jane.
Armed with the booklet, visitors can follow the map which leads them down, up and along the winding, narrow cobbled alleyways and streets of Robin Hood’s Bay.
Participants are invited to try and solve the mystery of the missing stash along the 1.2-mile Smugglers’ Trail by matching photo clues at specific points as they wander from the main car park following a meandering route past smuggling landmarks in the village towards the beach. “The treasure hunt is designed to be done at your own pace with games to play, stops for lunch, or done over a few days,” said Jane.
The map markers point out places such as the tunnel below the slipway and The Bolts where smugglers would be warned by women banging drums of the impending arrival of customs officers before diving into homes to dodge being caught.
Punishment for smuggling varied from fines to deportation and from conscription to death by hanging. On an autumn evening in October 1779, Revenue officers backed by the local militia raided the now closed Fisherman’s Arms and seized 200 casks of gin and brandy, 150 sacks of tea and a small armoury of blunderbusses and cartridges. Local legend has it that the Customs men tasked with guarding the seized spirits sampled rather too much for themselves and fell asleep – allowing the
smuggling gang to return and retake the bulk of their contraband.
Do not miss the house called Lee-Side (named after the sailing term) once the home of Captain Jacob Storm – 1837 to 1926 – master mariner and marine superintendent of Robin Hood’s Bay or the whale bones – evidence of another major dangerous trade of Robin Hood’s Bay, whaling.
Stop and look at the mural which runs along a sea wall and includes images of smuggling activity.
Other markers include the Lookout, a clifftop vantage point that was used by smugglers to signal to each other under cover of darkness using lanterns or small fires.
Youngsters will soon be impersonating smugglers with phrases such as: “Tillytally, I don’t have enough shiners for that.” An expression in the trail pack’s list of smuggling slang that means: “Nonsense, I don’t have enough money for that.”
The pack also provides a series of riddles, tasks and puzzles – from a smuggler boat name generator through to the conundrum to solve the ship’s illicit cargo.
The trail complements the existing visitor experiences at Robin Hood’s Bay which include smuggler guided walking tours and the museum housed in the old coroner’s room which has a treasure trove of smuggling artefacts.
The Smugglers Trail pack is available from outlets in Robin Hood’s Bay and in Whitby, and online at www. yorkshiretrails.co.uk priced £6.99.
Jane Harvey, of Yorkshire Trails, takes a break on the trail following in the steps of smugglers from centuries ago . Pictures by Richard Ponter 184001c
Jane Harvey in the mouth of an underground tunnel 184001f
The old Police Station now the museum in Robin Hood’s Bay 184001h