Tales from the smug­gling past

The Scarborough News - - FRONT PAGE - By Sue Wilkinson sue.wilkinson@jpress.co.uk Twit­ter@SueWilkin­sonSN

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

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