New trail uncovers smuggling secrets of Robin Hood's Bay

Its puzzle of narrow alleyways and tucked-together cottages stretching up between cliff faces from the water's edge make Robin Hood's Bay the archetypal cosy hideaway.

Robin Hood's Bay, photographed by Ceri Oakes.

A very definitive sense of place is exuded by the intimate confines of this coastal village and by wandering the streets it is easy to imagine its 18th century past as one of the busiest smuggling spots on England’s east coast.

To immerse visitors in that experience even further, a new self-guided trail has been devised to bring the Bay’s infamy to the fore.

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A simple map and a booklet is now available for visitors which invites them to try and solve “the mystery of the missing stash” along a Smugglers Trail by matching photo clues at specific points as they amble from the main car park and past smuggling landmarks in the village towards the beach.

Along the way families can learn more about contraband such as gin and tea was smuggled ashore and quickly dispatched along moorland routes towards York.

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 so that they could slip into homes to avoid being caught.

Other markers along the route include the Lookout, a clifftop vantage point used by smugglers to signal to each other under the cover of darkness using lanterns or small fires.

The trail packs also provide a series of riddles, tasks and puzzles, and a guide to smugglers’ slang.

Yorkshire Trails has developed the route and accompanying materials with the help of the North York Moors National Park to complement the village’s guided walking tours.

Jane Harvey, who runs Yorkshire Trails, said: “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.”

Catriona McLees, head of promotion and tourism at the North York Moors National Park added: “Not only will the trail help visitors understand what they’re seeing and guide them around, but it will also help increase the length of time that visitors spend in the village and encourage footfall into the shops, cafés and pubs.”

Flush with holiday cottages, the ever-popular Mariondale fish and chip shop and a museum containing a treasure trove of smuggling artefacts, Robin Hood’s Bay is a favourite with holidaymakers and daytrippers. Just be prepared for the steep walk back up to the car park.


The Smugglers Trail pack is available from outlets in the village and in Whitby, and online at, priced £6.99.

Writer Leo Walmsley grew up in Robin Hood’s Bay and his Bramblewick series is set there.

The village is five miles south of Whitby, is the eastern end of Alfred Wainwright’s 190-mile Coast to Coast walk and is a popular stopping off point along the Cleveland Way.