Teesmouth Bird Club
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Skinningrove,  Cattersty Sands, Hummersea & Kilton Beck by Derick Pearson

I group these 4 together as they are all within a mile of Skinningrove’s main foreshore and all within the scope of a mornings Birding for all but the very infirm.    Skinningrove is “for the ones who don’t know” placed directly between the coastal places of Saltburn by the Sea and Hummersea followed by the Double Cliffs of Boulby beyond.

I will give directions to the 3 different ways there are to approach the Village & foreshore. The first and easiest accessible one is as one travels from the north on the A174 by-passing Brotton & through the village of  Carlin How continuing on your way down the bank toward Loftus. After negotiating a tight left hand Hairpin bend there is a junction at about 100 yards off to the Left toward The Mining Museum and Skinningrove. Take that one. Follow that road for approximately 1 mile passing the very good Kaskanes refreshment Café /bar on the right. A super meal can be had there from 11am to 8pm at very reasonable prices.   Continue down through the village until you reach the Village Square. (A Triangle in reality) At that point go straight on bearing to the left and go between the Old School (now called Larvic Court) on your immediate left and the Chapel on your right. Bear left at this point then sharp right down to the Pumping Station car Park at the Northern end of Marine Terrace. Postcode TS134BJ should get you there.

Skinningrove is steeped in history covering a wide spectrum and is mentioned in 1273 as 'Scinergreve', in 1301 as Skynnergreve and by 1579 Skynnyngrave, which is pretty close to its current name. The name is from Old Norse personal name Skinnari, meaning a tanner, i.e. a worker involved in leather production. The manor of Skinningrove belonged to the de Brus family of Skelton Castle then the Thwengs of Kilton Castle .  Kilton Beck runs down the ravine in which Skinningrove is situated. By 19th C the lands were owned by the Earl of Zetland.  The village goes back much further than that as Roman and Viking remains have been discovered in various places close by. I personally have found Roman coins close by when metal detecting here some years ago.

Skinningrove Hall (later Timms Coffee House) was built in 1704 as a manor house for the Easterby family.  John Paul Jones, a naval fighter in the American War of Independence, descended on Skinningrove in 1779 with his ship and crew and fired some cannonballs before allegedly raiding the village for provisions.

There have been not only rare birds here but also a Mega rare OARFISH. On 17 February 2003, a rarely seen Oarfish was caught by angler Val Fletcher, using a fishing rod baited with squid. The fish was 11 ft 4in (3.3 metres) long and weighed 140 lb (63.5 kg). Graham Hill, the science officer at The Deep, A large and famous public aquarium in Kingston upon Hull, said that he has no record of another Oarfish ever being caught off the coast of Britain.

Also like many other places on the north east coast it has its stories, folklore and legend. It claimed fame to a Merman.  The year was 1535 when a local man recorded these events, written in the old English dialect as follows ….Instead of voyce he skreaked, says the narrator, and showed himself courteous to such as flocked farre and neare to visit him; faire maydes were welcomest guestes to his harbour, whom he woulde beholde with a very earnest countenaynce, as if his phlegmatike breste had been touched with a sparke of love.

One daye, when the good demeanour of this new gueste had made his hostes secure of his abode with them, he privily stole out of doores, and ere he could be overtaken recovered the sea, whereinto he plunged himself; yet as one that woulde not unmannerly depart without taking of his leave, from his middle upwardes raised he his shoulderes often above the waves, makinge signs of acknowledgeing his good entertainment to such as behelde him on the shore, as they interpreted it. And after a prety while he dyved downe, and appeared no more."   Many additions to the story abound.

Skinningrove claims fame to Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia which was designed and built by British firm Dorman Long and Co Ltd with steel produced at Skinningrove, being rolled, bent, formed, drilled and shaped ready to be shipped there and to be put together like a Giant Meccano. The bridge was complete and opened in 1932.

Skinningrove also plays host to the only Bonfire of its type in the UK. A two week effort by locals and a skilled group of others to give a spectacular Bonfire and Fireworks display which has attracted tens of 1000s over the years.  This has gone on for about 30 years. Well worth seeing and unique.  Now to the Bird Watching site information which I hope will help produce further sightings at this sometimes under watched little place. If you already know the place, bear with me as I will describe the area as if you were a stranger for the benefit of those who have not been here before.

After getting into the car park as described above, Look directly out to sea straight ahead to the horizon and then at an angle of about 50 degrees to the right of that you will see the cliffs which go all the way to Hummersea (more on that  later) and beyond. You will see the rough cut steps of the footpath that run up the edge of the cliff to the top which is part of the Famous Cleveland way. A lovely walk for the fit and able, with some good sea watching to boot.

At the bottom left of those steps hidden in the soil are the remains of an old Gun Box. Just to the side of that is a seat where some of our well respected members spend many hours sea watching. There is space behind the seat at the other side of the road for a couple of cars should you wish for a little bit extra height and a warmer environment on cold days. Just below the seat is a large concrete deck/plinth where a good view of the south side of the beach can be had. Time spent there or on a walk along the beach to the rocks and scar at Hummersea side (south side) has produced Oystercatcher, Redshank, Dunlin, Curlew, Sanderling, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Turnstone. Heron, and Little Egret which have been found out at the waters edge as well as Shelduck on occasion. Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper, Greenshank, Knot, Avocet, Cormorant, & the much less seen Shag. These are some of the ones that I personally have seen. Some other members have seen much more. If sea watching, many others can be seen passing by including Gannet, Scoter, various Skua, Tern, Shearwaters, various Ducks and Divers. The bay on the left often produces Eider Duck, various Divers & Red Breasted Merganser as well as frequent Seal in the bay, with Minke Whale and Harbour Porpoise further out to sea. The cliffs on the right often produce Peregrine and these are available all the way round to Hummersea and Boulby where they have been noted to breed. Little Auks have been seen here too with 2 found washed up on the shore in the last year. Kittiwakes nest on the cliff 200 yards further around the bay.

The Concrete Deck and area just in front abound with Rock Pipit, Pied Wagtail, occasional White & rarer Yellow Wagtail, Grey Wagtail and it’s always worth keeping a lookout for the other rarer species here.  Dunnock, Robin, and Linnet, abound with occasional Twite on the grass slopes around the concrete plinth.

Behind that area on the left of the old slipway going back inland toward the road bridge that crosses the stream there are shrubs, bushes and grasses and lots of garden sheds on the slopes etc, plus rocky areas around the stream which have produced  many other species including Blue Tit, Great Tit, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Brambling, Bullfinch, Greenfinch, Siskin, Redpoll, various Warbler, Yellowhammer, Spotted Flycatcher, Redwing, Fieldfare, Reed Bunting & Snow Bunting, with Lapland Bunting a mile up the road toward Hummersea and a Glossy Ibis another mile further on near Boulby. House Sparrows abound and occasionally Tree Sparrows on the slopes as well as Grey & Red Legged Partridges and Pheasant. Looking into the stream from the bridge often produces Grey Heron, occasionally Dipper and Kingfisher. Often Mallard, an odd Muscovy and other ducks frequent the stream. Coot and Moorhen on rare occasions. Mute Swans on the upper slopes and fields as well as many various Geese at times. 

If one wanted to specifically find Dipper, a good place would be to follow the Stream (Kilton Beck) inland from Kaskanes Café to the Road Bridge at the Mill on Loftus bank. One can pretty much guarantee finding them in this area. Also if one crosses the main road on Mill bank to the other side there is “Hope Animal Sanctuary” with a large Gravel Path / Road which passes through it. This is called Glovers path and leads up by the stream all the way to what is called the Roman Steps and some productive woodland. Good Birding can be had all the way on this walk which eventually leads south to either Espiners woods, or west to Kilton Woods, Kilton Castle remains and beyond. Both Green and Greater Spotted Woodpecker can be had at the junction 400 yards up this path. Jay are often seen. Various Tit members with Goldcrest, Willow Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Treecreeper, and many others all in their season. I won’t dwell on this spot too much but it is a superb walk on a good day with much to see on the woodland paths if one wants to venture further than the beach. Free Parking near the mill is available, for about 6 cars on the Skinningrove side of the Loftus bank road.

Back to the beach car park again. If we look from the right hand side of the car park about 20 feet from the right hand edge, toward the stream there is a set of Tubular Steel railings about 10 foot in length and about 4 feet high. They are about 15 feet from the path going toward the stream. This is where the overflow outfall of the Pumping station runs out.  A little care is needed to walk from the path over the stones but if the tide is partly in or out it is a super place to sit with you Scope, Camera or Binoculars as the water line where the sea joins the out flowing stream can be alive with species. Especially if seaweed or debris has washed in on the tide. I took a photo of a 6 foot area with 6 different species in it.   A tip if I may. We all carry Heavy duty Carrier bags in our vehicles these days for shopping and may I suggest putting one in your pocket or bag as it is a real blessing when one wants to spend some time sat on damp/dirty stones/rocks watching birds. Keeps the pants dry and clean and it takes up little space when folded.  From this vantage point when conditions are right Redshank, Greenshank, Dunlin, Curlew, Sanderling, Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Pipits, Wagtails and many other species can be seen at close quarters. If taking photos it is ideal as you can rest on the railings to help stability. Also in the entrance to the stream an abundance of gulls are always there. If your passion is going through dozens of Gulls to find the odd rarer one or if you enjoy looking for rung birds then this can be a good place for that as well. As always a rare bird can turn up anytime. 6 species of gull can regularly be found here.

Back to the Beach car park again. If one now turns left “North” The path to the Jetty as it is called “not Pier” is sided by Grassy banks (photo 1) on your left which have subsided many times over the years.  This is a very good area for Linnet, Goldfinch, Stonechat, Wheatear, and many of the smaller species. Swift, Swallow, Sand and House Martins all cover this area in great numbers in their season. Brambling have been found here & also Snow Bunting. Magpie abound with Jackdaw resident.  On your right are the large Sea Defence stones (photo 2) that line the bay out to the Jetty. Here Wren, Robin, Dunnock, Stonechat, Rock Pipit abound with Black Redstart appearing almost annually.

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Now out to the Jetty which is always worth a walk along as certain species often roost on the last bit at the end beyond public access where the fishermen sit.  Also if one takes note as you walk along, there is a Low Plinth on the new section of rebuilt Jetty wall on the left which averages about 12 to 15 inches wide and about 18 inches tall. If one climbs on that you can see over the high section of the main wall down to the Sea defence rocks at the other side (Cattersty Sands side, or north side). This is always worth a look as many species roost on those rocks especially when the tide is high and they wait for the tide to turn. I have had Turnstone, Redshank, Dunlin and recently 3 Grey Plover and 2 Purple Sandpiper which were a first for me here. A word of warning. If one climbs onto the plinth, don’t do it rapidly, gradually pull yourself up looking over the wall as you do.   I have been there when folk have jumped up suddenly & all the birds that were at the other side flew off being startled by the sudden movement.

Now walk back along the Jetty inland until you come to the ramp on the right that used to go all the way up to the works. You can climb so far up there to the railings which stop one falling over into the “Tunnel” as it used to be called, and if you bear to the right one can look over the bank side onto the inshore Sea defence rocks (photo 3). This is the exact place where I first discovered the rare Eastern Black Redstart on 27th October 2016. At the time of completing this article he is recorded as the longest staying EBR in the UK, He frequents these rocks most times through the day and is very stable and presents himself readily for bird watchers and photographers alike. A truly superb subject.

 Also from here one can see the expanse of Cattersty sands (photo 4). On a fine day this can be one of the loveliest beaches in the country. Also on the cliffs to the left are large protruding round edged tops. (Photo 8) These were originally Molten Slag tips where small Steam Locos on the works used to shunt the slag ladles/bogies and tip them here. The night sky used to glow with them when tipped. The original cliff top is much further back inland and so the cliff tops here are artificial but play host to upwards of a 100 Fulmars at breeding time. They breed here and have done for many years. Kittiwakes frequent here and nest on the cliff nearer to Cattersty Rocks. (Photo 7).

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Photo 5 From Cattersty Rocks looking toward the Jetty, Hummersea & Boulby Double Cliffs beyond

Photo 6 Cattersty Cliffs with old Gunbox center left

Photo 7 From the Jetty to Cattersty Rocks and Wader Roost

Photo 8 Artificial Slag topped Cliffs. Fulmer’s breeding site.

The areas shown in the photos above are what are known as Cattersty Sands, or Saltburn Side. For those interested in local or industrial history, many of the Locos on the works that deposited the Slag on the Cliffs and at Cattersty lake were called after these cliffs. Cattersty, Hummersea, Boulby and so on. It is roughly a mile walk from the jetty to Cattersty rocks. An invigorating and pleasant walk if there is a mild breeze, which can also be very productive if one walks the tide line. Nearing the Rocks “if sand cover is low” the scar abounds with wading birds. If the tide is well out there are dozens of species. Well worth spending some time scanning out to the waters edge. Like all things in life, all days are not the same and if conditions are not right, it can be very quite. Once you have got to the rocks then the same thing applies. Spend time scanning all round the cliffs and scar.

A WORD OF WARNING.. Many knowledgeable locals and people over the years have walked around the point to Saltburn when the tide is low. Unless you know the tide times with certainty and start your walk as the tide is going out, unless you know what to expect on slimy slippery rocks and scar covered with seaweed, unless you are 100% surefooted and fit, DO NOT in any way attempt to do this.  If you have timed it wrong the sea comes in at 2 places faster than you can run. One can be trapped very quickly and in many places there are no sloping areas to climb to higher ground, only sheer cliffs. Some have been lost by lack of respect for these things. Also keep well AWAY from the cliff face. 30 yards is close enough. My Son recently highlighted that in the Newspapers and on TV with photos at Saltburn of the cliffs falling just as some fossil hunters had moved. One piece of falling cliff was as big as a Mini car and weighed tons. Treat the elements with the respect it deserves. One of the photos as it was falling, below. If the fossil collectors had not moved the consequences would have been grave.

Now back to the beach walk. On your return to the Jetty try the sand dunes path. Fulmars and Kittiwake can be found on the cliffs just prior to this. Then when one gets a third of the way back there is on old upturned WW2 Gun Box on the edge of the beach. The area above this is covered with Grasses, Bushes and Shrubs and is a very good place to see visitors as they come in off the sea. Many good sightings have been had here and on the top of the cliffs above. Halfway along this path a set of steps rise up the cliff on your right to join the Cleveland Way, photo 9. Just over the top a few hundred yards going toward Huntcliff is Cattersty Gill or lake on your left.  Another remains of an industrial slag tip and a natural catchment area. This can be clearly seen in the distance when travelling down from the top of Brotton Bypass toward Carlin How. This is a nature reserve and many good sightings have been had here. Surroundings are ideal.  However great care is needed as it can be hard going around the waters edge.  Always worth a look if you have spent the time to climb the steps. Don’t forget to scan all around as you climb the steps.  Once upon top some good Seawatching can be had at a few places along the route. Photo 9 shows the area of the steps dead center.

Now earlier I said I would explain 3 different ways to this area.  The 2nd way which also produces some good bird watching is to come into Carlin How from the North as explained earlier but as one gets to the traffic lights in the village at the top of Carlin How bank, turn Left at the lights before going down the bank to the hairpin bend. This is toward Skinningrove Steelworks, which was formed in 1874 as Loftus Iron Company then Skinningrove Iron Company 1880, Nationalised as the Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain 1951 and then as British Steel Corporation in 1967 and  later as Corus 1999, Tata Europe 2006 and finally in 2016 Greybull Capitol. Blimey what a history.

Passing the gate entrance to the works continue down the road ¼ mile passing a row of terraced houses (Mount Pleasant) on your left. You then come to a fork in the road. The right one takes you down to Skinningrove again but leave this for the time being. Also anything larger than a Transit van would have problems passing someone without shunting as there is a very, very tight hairpin bend nearing the village. Instead take the road bearing to the left along the front of  Rockcliffe View and on to a large parking area (30 plus cars) in front of Saint Helens Church. (The Church on the Hill) Postcode TS134ES should get you there. 

When departing your vehicle walk over to the edge of the road overlooking the valley. Shrubs and Bushes abound with many species coming in off the sea onto these areas.  After spending time here, walk left passing the south end of the Church and you come to some metal gates (unlocked) walk through them and this leads onto open ground again with plenty of cover and another very good area at times for visitors. This open ground can be a pain if one does not watch their footing as Dog walkers abound and many don’t bother to clean up the waste. One can walk to the right with the path overlooking the valley and Skinningrove with much to see. If one continues on this route it eventually bears left along the cliff top overlooking Skinningrove bay and the jetty.  If Hirundines give you joy then you will see 1000s here zooming along the cliff top and all round about you in their season. Photos in flight are easier here. So far along this path is a very sturdy metal table and 2 bench seats. This is a super place for Seawatching as the elevated view provides good views for miles. A flask, some sandwiches and a good warm coat may be the order of the day as it can be cool.

If one takes the path to the left through the metal gates then it eventually joins the one from the right and they both lead to Jetty bank as it is known. This gives and elevated view of the jetty and surrounding area. If one walks down this bank it leads directly to the place the Eastern Black Redstart was present from October onward in 2016. Wheatear often frequent here too. However if one stays on top and bears left, there is a walk along the Slag Cliff top edge for the more surefooted. One can be quite close to the cliff edge here (6 feet in places) so if the wind is strong from the west, Keep hold of the railing wires. This eventually leads to the same place as the steps rising from the beach, to join the Cleveland way. A super area for photographing Fulmar from above as they dominate that section of cliff.

This eventually leads back to Cattersty pond and beyond to Huntcliff and Saltburn which has been covered far better than I could possibly do by some of our long term members, including one very respected club member (Damian Money) who has made this area his own over the years and found many rare species for us. As also the same applies for the Hummersea to Boulby Cottages area where other members have put in much effort, with men like Ian Boustead, a very dedicated member who spent much time and years planting trees/bushes to provide cover for incoming species and to enhance our hobby. We owe so much to all of these members. Thank You.

Now to the third more scenic access road to Skinningrove. If one is coming from the south “Whitby area” as one leaves Staithes and climbs Boulby Bank passing the Potash Mine entrance on your left, about 300 yards after that is a turn off to the right toward Boulby Cottages and the Double Cliffs. Take this; however ensure you get across to this junction quickly as traffic can come down Boulby bank at speed.  Climb the very steep bank passing the cottages all the way to the top keeping a lookout for Kestrel, Peregrine and occasionally Buzzard.  Once over the top there is a pond on the right of the road over the wall near Boulby Barns farm. Always worth a look as often various Ducks, Heron and some waders here. Also not far from here is where the Glossy Ibis was found. Travelling on to the aerial mast on your left provides a superb elevated view of Skinningrove, Huntcliff, Saltburn, Marske, Redcar plus vertical pier, Tees Bay even out to Hartlepool and beyond on a clear day. If one parks carefully on the left here (space for 2 vehicles) at the mast and goes on the footpath to the right it leads to Boulby Double Cliffs some of the highest cliffs in England, at 203 metres (666 ft) above sea level. Spectacular views can be had here. Also Barn Owl almost daily, S E Owl and Peregrine are found here and breed here. The same place can be reached walking over the cliff path from Skinningrove.

 

Continue down the bank passing Street farm on your left, then Upton Cottages on your left, while keeping an eye open for Short Eared and Barn Owl which are in this area daily. After that one comes to a fork in the road. Left goes to Micklow and Loftus and Right goes on to Hummersea and Skinningrove . Take that. At the next Junction turn right and then straight on for Hummersea. Parking on the verges here and walking down through the cottages may be the best bet, however if you don’t mind a bumpy road keep going down the short bank passing the home of Vin Garbutt “Country/Folk Singer” and continue past the gardens on your right. Spend time scanning the overgrown one, last on the right. Many species to be found here. Please don’t enter them, they are private. Continue another 80 yards or so and there are double hedges on the left. Space to park 3 cars here if careful and don’t obstruct farmer’s entrance to the fields. Don’t go beyond the gate in your car. It is private. Don’t spoil it. Walk this gravel road by all means as this joins part of the Cleveland way going on toward Boulby Cliffs and beyond. While walking this road look for the Little Owl who frequents the walls on the right at the top of the fields. Also about half a mile from the “private road gate” a path on the left of the gravel road goes back down by the hedge back to Hummersea cliffs and back on a circular route to the cliff top seat, the double hedges and back to the car. If one does not want to go on that route simply go straight from the car down through the double hedges to the cliff top, cleveland way and down to the beach beyond.

 

Hummersea is always worth a visit as it has ideal surroundings for all manner of visitors as well as the regulars such as Little Owl already mentioned and Kestrel. Cuckoo has been frequent here and over the years Woodchat Shrike, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Pallid Swift, Waxwing, Pallas’s Warbler, Yellow- browed Warbler, Ring Ouzel, Red Backed Shrike, a Rustic Bunting recorded, Siberian Stonechat, and in 1875 an Eagle Owl was found and shot here. I don’t expect you to find one of these but Hummersea is always worth a call with a walk down between the hedges to the cliff top seat. Seawatching can be had here too and if one ventures further down the path from there toward the beach there is often plenty to see in the scrub all around. A walk along the top of the gorse from the seat going south can produce all the regular Buntings, Larks, Pipits, Linnets, Finches, Tits and Warbler families as well as Hirundines.

 

Now back from Hummersea to the first Junction and take the one right for Skinningrove. This takes one down the bank passing the farm on the left and before going down the last very steep section of the bank (1 in 3 in old speak) stop and take advantage of the excellent view over Skinningrove bay on a clear day. Well worthy of a photo. This then leads back to the foreshore and the boat park. Back almost to where we started.  I hope you find this area productive.

 


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