Village Focus: Ravenscar’s ghosts on the coast

Will Terry on the coastline in Ravenscar. Picture: Ceri Oakes
Will Terry on the coastline in Ravenscar. Picture: Ceri Oakes
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Today it is the seals who put on a show for tourists, but had Victorian entrepreneurs had their way, it might have been the location for an altogether more organised form of entertainment.

Ravenscar, spectacularly perched on the Jurassic coastal cliffs between Boggle Hole and Scarborough and squarely in the North York Moors National Park, is the town that never was.

At the turn of the last century, just as they had done in the wild west of America, speculators bought plots of land there. Foundations were laid and sewers dug. It was to be another Filey.

But the plans came to nothing. The developer, hoping to capitalise on the new railway that ran from Scarborough to Whitby, collapsed and the land returned to nature. On what was to have been the central square, the three or four semi-detached houses completed on one side, remain in place.

“The farmland even now has roadways and manhole covers, all laid ready for a town to be developed,” said Will Terry, who farms sheep, crops and a handful of beef cattle on the nearby hills and is chairman of the parish council which covers Ravenscar and Staintondale, two miles away.

The ghostlike streets on which no-one has ever lived remain an enigma to tourists – some on the 190-mile horseshoe-shaped trail of the Cleveland Way, some hunting fossils and others looking through long lenses at the common and grey seals that have for the past two decades colonised a large rock that reaches into the North Sea.

“That was the real problem with the plans for the town,” said Mr Terry. “The lovely boulder-strewn beach is good for seals, but it’s 750ft below Ravenscar and more or less inaccessible. So it was never going to have a pier or a promenade or a summer theatre season.

“But it was the Victorian equivalent of a timeshare.”

Ravenscar today, he said, could best be described as “quiet”.

Two other working farms remain – one a big dairy operation, the other specialising in sheep and beef cattle, and there is a village hall, a hotel, several B&Bs and a selection of holiday lets.

“A lot of people are commuters, not just to Scarborough or even York but all over the country,” Mr Terry said.

“It’s a place that really gets into people’s souls, but it’s also a real Marmite place to live. A lot of people love it, but after a hard winter you can predict in springtime there will be For Sale boards going up. Because if anything happens weather-wise, one of the first places it happens to is Ravenscar.

“If it’s going to snow, it’ll snow here, and if it’s going to be foggy, it’ll be foggy here. In wintertime it can be really rough.”