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Jan, 2015

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Saltburn is something you don't come across too often these days, a hidden gem. Especially when you consider the Stockton to Darlington Railway arrived there 150 years ago and it's a stone's throw from densely populated Cleveland.

It remains relatively undiscovered by all but locals and a few people into niche hobbies. Yet it pretty much has something for everyone and does it with style.

The town itself is relatively small, it's almost an afterthought with the nearby resort of Redcar-on-Sea dominating the tourist trade. That said, it probably has far more unique features than its much larger cousin. Pride of place goes to the amazing water balanced tram system that takes you on an extremely steep 120 feet descent from the town to the beach. Its effectiveness is sheer genius of simplicity. The tram at the top of the bank is filled with water until its weight is sufficent to propel the tram at the bottom upwards. When the uppermost tram reaches the bottom station, adjacent to the pier, the water is pumped out, back up to the 2nd tram which is now at the upper station. It's not just brilliantly effective, it's a photographer's or artist's dream, a very attractive corner of this Victorian resort. As is the whole town.

The pier itself is said to be the most Northerly that survives today. It was badly damaged in the horrendous storms a few years back and it was touch-and-go whether it would need to be demolished. Luckily the present owner has a passion for the historic structure and is determined to return it to its former glory. I hope he realises his dream because a walk to the end of the pier with fish and chips bought from the nearby cafes is a treat indeed. Huntcliffe Cliffs tower hundreds of feet nearby, the surf can be relentless and inspiring, the tramway as I say stops right at the pier and the houses and hotels 120 feet above are just about attractive enough to add to the picture. I've always felt piers are one of the absolute musts of a British seaside resort and Saltburn is among my favourites.

The surf draws enthusiasts from all over the country, some rate it as second only to Cornwall. And the surf school, situated right next to the pier comes highly recommended. The owner is experienced, friendly and always welcome to share tips, advice and hire all necessary equipment at very reasonable rates. Many people, both very young and very old, mastered this tricky art on the beach in front of the tram way. The beach itself by the way is a good mix of soft sand with an apron of pebbles washed up by the powerful tides. Don't be daunted by that word powerful though, the beach is not steep and it's safe if you exercise common sense. There's an excellent promenade running a good distance six feet above the sand.

Talking of walking, the Cleveland Way runs by the resort and it's one of the most spectacular parts. It goes over those aforementioned Huntcliffe Cliffs but despite its height it's only considered an easy to moderate section. An excellent day's activity would be to hike eight miles to Staithes, a very quaint and picturesque fishing village, stay for lunch and take a bus back. If anything Staithes draws in even more photographers and artists than Saltburn. Its fishermans cottages, steep gorge and bobbing boats are a magnet for both. Just watch out for all those seagulls !

Parking in Saltburn is adequate on most days, possibly not weekends, and it's very well situated in the Valley Gardens. The valley used to get mixed reviews until recently because the stream running through it was badly contaminated by iron ore from an underground mine. The water ran orange brown and very little could live in it. Thankfully the council finally secured a grant to clean the stream up and this will eventually become an asset. There's a miniature railway that goes some distance and those who prefer to do the journey on foot eventually reach the Italian Gardens and the tea rooms, a delightful spot in the Summer. The gardenening team do an admirable job and there are plenty of benches to rest weary limbs.

All in all I would describe Saltburn as a resort that punches well above its weight. It isn't big but it has a number of one-off attractions and it's ideally located to use as a base to discover say the famous towns of Whitby and Scarborough and the North Yorkshire Moors. It's also pretty much self contained and there isn't a great deal shopping wise, as far as the basics go, that you'd struggle to find here. If you were self catering or simply looking for more choice, the centrally situated train station could have you in Redcar in literally ten minutes and the large town of Middlesbrough in just over double that.

Well worth a visit if you find yourself in this part of the world.


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