I needed to unravel a few knots and put some ground under my boots. I was undecided as to where to go…time for the coin. A flip of the coin as to whether it would be moorland or coastal, a second flip to decide on a old favourite on a new site. The outcome, coastal/new.
A while ago I was reading about the Boulby Alum Quarries, I’d never visited the place, I did once try to get there via the the Loftus quarries but failed. I had read that Boulby was one of the best examples of its kind in the country, so that was that, Boulby was the place.
I walked along the Cleveland way to Rockhole, looking for a path into the quarry. All I could find was the trace of a track heading towards Rockhole Hill. I followed the track which got fainter and fainter and took me deep into the quarry. The vegetation got higher and thicker and the track eventually petered-out completely at a large pile of droppings. I’d been following a rabbit track which had led me into a deep thicket of gorse and brambles. I looked for a way forward but couldn’t seen anything that resembled a path.
I had a choice, try and push forward through the quarry or retrace my steps back up to the main footpath and start again. I decided to push on and look for another path. I thought that if I could skirt around Rockhole hill towards the cliff edge I would come across a path, a simple enough plan. The problem was that the foot of the hill and the quarry floor is covered in chest-high rosebay willowherb, bracken, gorse, brambles and boulders, there are also a number of small, steep-sided beck channels concealed beneath the vegetation. The flanks of the hill are steep but less treacherous, they are covered with deep heather and large, impenetrable patches of gorse and brambles. It took me about half and hour of constant scrambling and slipping to cover the short distance to the cliff edge.
Much to my relief, my efforts eventually led to an overgrown track that looked as though it was heading towards the main quarry and alum works. After that it was fairly plain sailing, there were still patches of gorse and brambles to get around but the ground was fairly level and the surrounding vegetation was fairly low.
Moving along the track I began to noticed low walls, the remains of a building, a stone-covered culvert and two beautiful circular stone-lined tanks. The production of Alum started here in the mid 1600s, the Rockhole quarries and structures are the oldest part of the site.
I continued to walk north into the later sections of the works and suddenly found myself standing in the quarry, an amphitheatre of alum, ruins of massive stone walls and heaps of alum shale, facing the sea and backed by the massive sandstone cliffs, a wonderful sight.
The cliffs are never static, large blocks litter the site, some bearing fossils.
Walking around the ruins, the mind starts to wander. It is easy to forget that this was a place of industry and imagine that these are the remnants of a cliff-edge citadel whose myths are still waiting to be discovered.
These cliffs are the highest point on the east coast of our island. The land above the quarry has been occupied for thousands of years, its soils contains the evidence of the district’s earliest house. Archaeologist Steve Sherlock has also found evidence of prehistoric salt production and jet working on the land behind the clifftop, evidence of early industry, albeit on a small scale. Our prehistoric ancestors performed rituals and buried their dead on these clifftops. It is also the location of the famous Saxon Princess burial.
I left the quarries and followed the path that runs between Rockhole Hill and the cliff edge. The track is becoming overgrown, an indication that this site doesn’t see many visitors. A couple of short sections of the path have eroded away, this is not a place for anyone who is nervous of walking along a cliff edge. The track leads back to the Cleveland Way via a couple of lovely tiny woods, shoehorned into the short valleys running down to the cliff tops.
If you are going to visit the quarries I would advise that you avoid following the track down into the Rockhole Quarry, my legs are covered in small cuts, pin-cushioned by brambles and gorse and it took a fair bit of effort to escape the quarry. The cliffs along this part of the coast can be unstable, the track around Rockhole Hill is difficult to find but definitely the one to take, however it is not without danger and should be approached with great caution.