So what’s so special about Port Mulgrave that I should risk life and limb to reach it? (An exaggeration I know, but I could easily have turned back.) That’s a question that would have been very easy to answer 150 years ago when the little port was a very different place to now, as can be seen from this old image.
In the mid 19th Century, local landowner Sir Charles Palmer began mining for ironstone on his land (this being the same area as the workings I visited a couple of years back). With that mine being so close to the coast he very quickly established a complex of ramps, piers and staithes that enabled him to load the ore straight onto waiting ships. Archive images show at least four could be loaded at any one time and so the port soon became a very busy establishment. Fifty years or so later and it was redundant as deposits were worked out and a more productive mine was established that could ship its output from the much larger port of Whitby nearby.
The entrance to the mine, now sealed up for safety, is still visible behind some of the vegetation that gave me so much trouble getting onto the beach, but there’s little evidence of the rest of the workings. The northern pier was deliberately blown up by the army in WWII as a barrier to German invasion; the southern pier has fallen prey to natural forces. Even so the fragments make for some interesting marine photographs, as do the rusting engines scattered amongst the rubble; this is a coastline with wrecks aplenty, including of course the Admiral Von Tromp further south at Saltwick Bay.
No, the real attractions of Port Mulgrave were onshore. Beyond the high water mark is a remarkable collection of fishermen’s shacks which show off a great deal of creativity on the part of their owners. They do raise a question however. Since none of the boats dotted about on the beach actually looked seaworthy, what do the owners of these boltholes come here for? The challenge of maintenance? An escape from home? A place for male bonding?
Most visitors come here for another reason (though I had the place to myself when I was there) and one that doesn’t immediately become apparent. I often photograph the coloured patterns and random juxtapositions of rocks at the coast, and there was plenty here to stimulate. Look more closely at those patterns and it becomes clear that they are not so random after all; they are the product of evolutionary and geological forces that have been at work for millions of years. Port Mulgrave is a leading beach for finding fossils, and arguably the best in North Yorkshire. I’m no fossil hunter but once I started looking more closely at the broken shales I found more and more interesting geology.