Dracula's old hunting ground has become a walk on Whitby's wild side. Matthew Brace goes coasting
The cliff path from Whitby to Robin Hood's Bay in North Yorkshire follows one of Britain's most exhilarating stretches of coastline. Start at Whitby's small bridge across the harbour and leave the town by the 199 steps of Church Stairs to St Mary's church, made famous by Bram Stoker in his novel Dracula. But a sunny summer morning is unlikely to yield a close encounter with the vampire emerging from his grave in the churchyard next to the ruined abbey; you are far more likely to be terrified by swarms of children dribbling ice-cream and shouting at their parents.

Leave the tourist throngs and the view over the harbour and head down the road south of the abbey, past a new car park. Pass a farm on the right with a large and keen-nosed rottweiler - chained up, I'm glad to add - and take the first side road on the left, which will bring you to the coast by Whitby lighthouse.

Here you will join the Cleveland Way, one of Britain's 12 National Trails. It is a 93-mile route running through the Cleveland Hills, across the northern rim of the North York Moors and down the coast to Scarborough.

The path south from here follows six miles of breathtaking scenery. The cliffs have been contorted by thousands of years of geological pressure and are home to numerous colonies of seabirds. From the relative safety of the clifftop, you can see the North Sea raging a few hundred feet below. The path passes along the very edge of the cliffs, so be careful - especially in high winds, which are common. Coastal erosion has taken its toll and some stiles are perilously close to tumbling over the edge.

As this is a short walk, no more than eight miles in total, take your time and stop frequently to admire the view. And what a view. On days of busy weather in mid-summer the storm clouds race out from the shore, the sun breaking through to spotlight patches of sea. The fishing smacks bobbing a few hundred yards offshore look impossibly small from here. If the winds are blowing on shore and the weather turns nasty, you will find some shelter behind isolated bushes bent double by years of storms.

Follow the path skirting high above inlets and beaches until you round the headland at Ness Point, where the snug fishing village of Robin Hood's Bay comes into view. Its huddled red roofs look out-of-place along this wild coast - and inviting.

The route will take you slightly inland before ending by the car park above the town. Take the steep road down among the houses. Pass the cosy Laurel pub (or drop in - the bitter is comforting and the atmosphere warm), and continue to the Bay Hotel, teetering above the boats moored by the waved-washed slipway. Here you can tuck into fresh scampi and chips and a well-deserved pint.

Then, if you are heading back to Whitby, take a deep breath and climb out of the village to meet your bus. They run hourly and take 25 minutes, but check the timetable before leaving Whitby (Tees and District Transport, 01947 602146).

If you are staying in Robin Hood's Bay, the Bay Hotel is a great place to rest tired feet. It is journey's end for sunburnt walkers on the Coast- to-Coast route who have crossed from Cumbria, and the victorious long- distance walkers will no doublt be all too pleased to delight you with tales of derring-do and describe in detail the state of their blisters.

Try to book the popular room above the bar. It is fairly noisy until after closing time but worth it to be lulled to sleep by the sound of the North Sea crashing below, and dream of the colonies of birds back up the coast doing the same.

Directions

Cross the small bridge over the harbour in Whitby

Leave the town by following signs to the Abbey

Follow the minor road south and turn left to the lighthouse on the cliff

Join the Cleveland Way coast path

Follow the path all the way down to Ness Point

From the car park, take the road into Robin Hood's Bay

The Laurel is on your left, just over half way down. The Bay Hotel is at the water's edge

OS map Landranger 94 (Whitby and Surrounding Area)

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