I went beachcombing last night. I scuttled under the immense Jurassic cliffs at Saltburn-By-The-Sea, and filled my carrier bag with rocks and driftwood and more rocks. (I really wanted to find sea glass but only scored two tiny pieces.)
It was the first time, in as long as I can remember, that I felt like I could breathe properly. That I felt like my heart was beating as it should. That I felt like I was, dare I say it, at peace? There were a few other scattered souls on the beach, but they were far enough away for me to feel as though I had that part of the Yorkshire coastline to myself.
I hadn’t been beachcombing in years, not since my Ma was still cutting my fringe with a bowl. But I’d never forgotten that sense of glee, upon finding an exquisite rock or a bewitching piece of driftwood below my feet. Nothing quite compares to beachcombing. Nothing is quite as satisfying or joyful or freeing.
On my way down to the beach, after eating my obligatory tray of chips with salt and vingear, I passed The Ship Inn. I knew that it was a pretty old inn, but was totally naive to the fact that it’s actually part of the original settlement of ‘Old Saltburn.’
The Ship Inn had, until 1881, doubled up as a local mortuary for victims of drowning. Bodies that would wash up on the beach would be kept at the inn while awaiting post-mortem.
In 1881 an actual mortuary was built, just a stone’s throw away from the inn. Being a complete tool, I didn’t take a photograph, but here are some I’ve collected the public archive. Gristly fact, the East Coast holds the record for the largest number of sea disasters around the shores of the British Isles.
The mortuary was in use until the late 1960’s and is now a Grade II listed building. It’s been open periodically as a very tiny museum, but from what I know, it’s been closed for a while and has been bought by an anonymous buyer.
I’ve been scrabbling around the internet, trying to find some unnerving stories about Saltburn to haunt myself – and you – with, but haven’t found much to put down here.
I did find out, however, that according to legend, there’s a maze of secret smugglers’ passages in Huntcliff (the cliff I’ve photographed) with one of them leading to the Ship Inn.
It’s said that it was used by the King of the Smugglers, John Andrew, a man who moved to Saltburn in 1780, after marrying the niece of the Ship Inn’s landlord.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the North East Coast of England was riddled with smugglers who would used the cliffs to hide their contraband.
There was a saying that went ‘Andrew’s cow has calved.’ It was known to be part of the Saltburn smugglers code and meant the smuggler’s boat was offshore and ready to be unloaded. The codeword would be spread the community, and pack horses would be loaded up and used to transport the goods to where they could be hidden safely.
*All the photos I’ve taken were caught using my phone.