By Jenny Lunnon, YHA’s family ambassador
There were hundreds of them bobbing in the bay, socially distanced two metres apart. From our cliff-top vantage point they all looked the same, and it was only when we had clambered down the steps to the shore that we could appreciate them as individuals: the young one with soulful eyes, the tired mother snatching a nap, the portly old timer with extremely long whiskers.* Visiting the grey seal colony at Ravenscar in Robin Hood’s Bay was a highlight of our summer return visit to YHA Boggle Hole. We had wanted to go back because this hostel has a special place in our hearts: it was where we had the first of our family hostelling adventures, in 2017.
My children love revisiting familiar places. I noticed it first on this holiday when we stopped off en route at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Just a mile from Junction 38 on the M1, it’s a great alternative to a motorway service station as a place to break a long journey. Big smiles of delighted recognition spread over their faces and they charged past the Henry Moores down the hill to the lake. Later we enjoyed the Damien Hirst exhibition (on until April 2022) and the giant, colourful cockerel created by Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos (on site until January 2021).**
But by the time we’d got to Boggle Hole, at twilight, my eight-year-old daughter Isla was wailing “I want to go home!” She suffers from motion sickness and neither tablets nor focusing on distant hills seem to help. I said that things would look better in the morning, and of course they did. She took her dolls down to the beach right outside the hostel for their first taste of freedom since lockdown. For months she’d been playing ‘holidays’ with them in our garden, in a sand pit and a washing-up bowl sea. At last they could all cartwheel across a real beach and take deep breaths of bracing, salty air.
The walk along the Cleveland Way coastal path from the hostel up to Ravenscar was something we all wanted to do again. It’s about five miles there and back, and involves some steep climbs, but we were powered by the prospect of Yorkshire curd tart in the excellent tea room in Station Square. Parts of the path had fallen away and been re-routed since our previous visit, a reminder that this coast is being eroded fast and that it’s important to be careful near the cliffs and caves.
Bearing this in mind, we didn’t go fossil hunting anywhere near the cliffs, but some friendly fellow-hostellers showed us where we could find some in the crevices between the black rock flats that are exposed at low tide. Isla was delighted to discover a tiny ammonite herself. A local amateur geologist told us that he sometimes finds dinosaur footprints after storms, when powerful waves flip over giant slabs of rock.
Our time at home in the spring opened our eyes to the variety and beauty of Britain’s wildlife. So on this holiday we didn’t see ‘sea birds’, but gannets, cormorants, oystercatchers, and sandpipers. From our window in the main hostel building we watched nuthatches, coal tits, and dunnocks at the feeders on the terrace. On a miserably rainy ‘Cat in the Hat’ day when we didn’t venture out at all a young sand martin spent an hour on our windowsill sheltering from the downpour.
YHA Boggle Hole is a magical, special place. At high tide it feels cut off like an island, though you can always leave if you wish, up the hill to the car park or along the coastal path to Robin Hood’s Bay village. Completely refurbished and extended in 2015, the hostel has been designed to appeal to children’s imaginations, with sea-themed decor and all sorts of things for them to discover around the building and grounds, such as a little trolls’ house nestled in the roots of tree, and art works made from flotsam and jetsam.
The hostel staff have been working tirelessly since it reopened in July to keep visitors safe and to provide a warm welcome. Thank you, Andy, Peta, and the crew! We hope to return soon.
* To protect the seals and their pups, visitors are advised to remain at least 10 metres away, and to keep dogs on short leads. Binoculars or spotting scopes are very useful.
** At time of writing, visitors to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park need to pre-book tickets.
Find out more information about fossil hunting, including safety advice.
Find out ideas about things to do if you’re on holiday with children along the Whitby-Scarborough-Filey coast.